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depression advice

Depression: 6 bits of unwanted advice and my (unspoken) responses.

Having battled depression since I was in the first grade, I’ve gotten lots of suggestions and advice over the years on how to “get over it.” Here are just a few of those and the responses I would love to have given.

  1. “You take things too seriously.”

See, me, I think you just don’t take things seriously enough. Have you given any thought to world hunger lately? Poverty? Abuse? Because I have and it’s pretty serious stuff. You see me getting upset because of one (so-called) minor incident and you think I’m overreacting. What you don’t get is that, I’m not just responding to this occurrence. I was already thinking about the world’s pain and suffering. Then this thing happens and I’m catapulted into a thought process that attempts to take into account all sadness, all pain, all brokenness of all time. You try thinking about that without getting serious.

  1. “Just don’t think about that stuff.”

Oh okay. If you’d just hold my brain for a minute or . . . I dunno . . . a decade.

  1. “You’re just too sensitive!”

What you don’t understand is that I do not have an emotional epidermis. Think of me as a hairless cat. Wait no. No one should think about that. Ever. Think of me as . . . well . . . think of me as someone who doesn’t have an emotional epidermis. Best I can tell, my filters are super permeable. More stuff just gets to me.

Also, I’m not consciously choosing to be “too sensitive” as you seem to think. I’m trying to handle emotional difficulties better; but when you say “You’re just too sensitive,” what I hear is, “You are broken. Fix yourself.” Your not-at-all-well-thought-out advice reinforces what I already believe about myself. And that makes me want to curl up and sleep for a week. Which just makes people say, “You take things too seriously.” (See above.)

I promise you, I’m working on it. You can’t imagine how hard I’m working on it. This time, I just didn’t have the energy to use the coping strategies I’m developing. And I’m tired of picking up the mask every time I face people. So when you see me like this, please refrain from giving me your pithy solutions; instead of reducing my depression, they actually inflame the condition.

  1. “Perk up!”

On it! Thanks for the suggestion. Wow. Wish I could have known you 45 years ago. Would have saved lots of money in counseling and pharmaceuticals. Gosh, really! I’m all fixed now. Thanks!

  1. “It just doesn’t make sense. You don’t have any real problems!”

You are so right. I don’t. That’s why I don’t understand why I feel this way. Nothing is wrong. Except for everything. And also nothing. But everything.

Here’s the way things go down inside my brain:

Brain: You have no real problems.
Me: Then what’s wrong with me?
Brain: Lots of people have it worse than you! You have no reason to be depressed.
Me: You’re right; I’m such a loser.
Brain: Think about all the people who have truly difficult struggles. Victims of assault or abuse, people in poor health, those who are bereaved. You literally have no problems.
Me: You’re right. I have absolutely no right to feel this way.
Brain: Then stop feeling.
Me: Okay, how?
Brain: Ummmm. Yeah, I got nothing. Not my expertise.

So I hear you, I do. I even quote you to myself all the time. As a matter of fact, there’s no need for you ever to say this to me again. I say it to myself plenty.

  1. “Why don’t you just . . . [add overly simplistic, completely ludicrous, non-solution].”

Is that a question or an accusation? If it’s a question, settle in friend. I’ve got lots to say. Most people, though, don’t really want to hear the “why.” It’s not really a question at all. It’s an expression of frustration and I get it! It is hard to live with or around someone who is chronically sad. But if you really want to help, give me compassion not judgment. Compassion is infinitely more effective in reducing depression’s symptoms. So instead of making the above statement, why don’t you just create a safe place for me where love is plentiful and mercy is abundant, k? Thanks.


Here’s the thing: if someone you know or love is suffering from chronic depression, resist the urge to give offhand advice. Instead, offer grace: because grace, like love, never fails.

Depression and medication

Depression: Taking Antidepressant Medication

Though I was in my early 30’s when I was diagnosed with chronic depression, I had gone to counselors from time to time since my teens. And listen, I’m a big believer in therapy. Frankly, I don’t know why everyone doesn’t go to see a counselor.* I mean if you can afford it, for heaven’s sakes get into therapy. Actually, even if you can’t afford it, check into some options for inexpensive or even free services. Really.

Anyway, counseling was familiar and comfortable and not at all scary. Antidepressant pharmaceuticals? Pills that chemically alter my brain? Yikes!

Plus, at the time of my diagnosis, I was nursing my youngest child; I was wary of anything that might affect her nourishment. So, I did my research, using a new resource called the world wide web, and asked my medical doctor and counselor lots of questions.

(An aside: I learned how to do efficient and thorough research thanks to my undergrad degree in history from Campbell University. History majors—and other liberal arts grads—learn how to collect and process information, and to draw conclusions from that data: helpful skills in any career. Hire a liberal arts major. We are good deciders.)

After weighing the benefits and risks, I decided to give Prosac a try. The initial dose was ineffective, so the doctor increased my prescription to the next level.

Now remember, pre-antidepressants, I cried a lot. Everything made me sad. I had to be careful watching movies or reading books, listening to the news, whatever. Crying was the norm. It was as if I put my whole self into the story—true or fiction—and experienced the same reality as those in the story.

  • Flooding in the Midwest? Like everyone else, I would think of the loss of loved ones and pets, and the pain of losing things like heirlooms and family photographs. Yet, not only did I grieve with these strangers, I could almost feel the despair of sorting through soggy belongings, hoping to find any tangible shred of family memories.
  • Character kidnapped in the novel? What must the family of the missing one be experiencing? And how did the kidnapper become this way in the first place? Was this person a victim of child abuse or neglect? What makes someone do this to another human? I truly ached for the real people the characters represented. Agony.
  • And the TV show Roots, based on Alex Haley’s biographical novel of the same name? I may never recover from that one.

I upped the dose of Prosac. Soon, I realized I wasn’t constantly on the verge of tears. In fact, I felt almost nothing at all. It was glorious (in the beginning). Freeing. I flat did not care! My mantra may actually have been the original “sorry, not sorry.” Then came the night when I was watching 60 Minutes or 20/20 (one of those human interest/news shows). The story that night told of a man and his wife, their beautiful love story that began in grade school and continued into their golden years, and her agonizingly pointless battle with pancreatic cancer. Her dear husband cared for her tenderly until she passed away; now, according to the show, he grieved so profoundly that he struggled each day to achieve basic function. It was a gut-wrenching TRUE tale of love and loss, pain and death.

And yet, as I watched the weeping widower on the screen, I thought, “Dude. People die. Get over it. What? You didn’t think she was going to die? We’re all dying. You, me, all of us. Geez, get a grip.”

I talked to the doctor the next day about considering another medication.

Eventually I tried Effexor and did really well with few side effects. I did so well, in fact, that after just a few months (never mind I’d struggled with depression for the better part of three decades) I decided I probably didn’t need medication at all (raise your hand if you’ve been there). I contacted a local psychiatrist and scheduled the next available appointment; my visit with him lasted an hour. It started with me telling him I thought I could come off the medication, continued with me giving him a detailed history of my depression, and ended with him giving me a prescription for double the dose. True story.

There’s been a time or two over the years that I’ve tried something new on the market, wanting to see if I had fewer breakthrough episodes and if the newer med suited me better. Not a good idea for me: I've just never done a great job of transitioning off one and onto the other. I always ended up under my covers, curled in the fetal position, overwhelmed by such things as poverty, oppression, and world hunger (which I think we can all agree are, in fact, overwhelming in nature).

So now it has been about 20 years since I started taking antidepressant medication and I no longer try to rationalize myself off of it. Here’s why:

  1. The medication does not conceal my true self. Instead, it removes the barriers that block me from feeling like me.
  2. Chronic conditions of many types require medication for relief. Diabetes. High blood pressure. Migraines. Think about it. No one says, “Don’t you think that insulin is covering up your true self? Being in a diabetic coma is just part of who you are.” They also don’t say things like, “You know, if you had prayed more, you’d never have gotten high blood pressure.” Instead, they say such things as, “Wow! You must have gotten your migraines under control! You seem like your old self again!” Depression is like these other chronic medical conditions: when you treat it, you feel better.
  3. The medication is one part of a three-part treatment plan I follow. I exercise regularly and attempt to consume healthful foods. Additionally, I take an antidepressant. When the three of these are in place, I can manage the depression. Without one of those parts, I don’t feel my best. Simple as that.

Bottom line? If you’re on the fence about taking antidepressants, keep researching, keep talking to your doctor, and keep considering your options. But remember that taking a medication is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of wisdom. And it is okay.

What about you? What are your thoughts on antidepressants?

 

 

*One thing about counseling: it’s hard; exhausting at least, grueling at worst, but in any case, seriously hard. And it often takes a while to find the right counselor. I have the world’s best therapist now, but it took many attempts. If you need a break from the effort, I get it. But don’t give up. Finding the right counselor is like finding true love: totally worth kissing a bunch of toads to get there.