As you may have gathered from my previous posts, my first depression was not an isolated incident. I think I’ve probably had about four major depressions in my lifetime, but each time there has been a different ‘flavour’ to the experience.
One of the mistakes I continue to make is thinking something along the lines of “I’ve had depression before, I know the route out now – I don’t have to have this experience again”. This thought is wrong. Wrong, wrong and never been right. Each depressive interlude has been unique, and each exit has been unique. In the first case, the medication I took was my major prop while I thought my way out; my last incident was more to do with toughing it out and just waiting for relief.
I think the lesson for me is that depression is so insidious, and slots so perfectly into your current circumstances, moods and surroundings that it isn’t ever possible to offer a ‘cure’. If you’re short of cash, jobless or lonely then your depression will use these features as part of its shape – equally, you can be successful and surrounded by signs of your achievements – it may instead centre on feelings of inadequacy, guilt or reflections on emptiness. You’re never immune, there is no single panacea.
As I mentioned in my previous post, it felt to me as though depression sidled up to me – the modes of thought which form the depression became a new normal, integrating with my normal day to day in such a way that the transformation felt almost seamless. Fortunately, there are some things which I have found to be common to the early stages all of my depressive episodes; a shift in my sense of humour, excessive feelings of nostalgia, trouble keeping my temper – these I now know are my “breakpoints”. When any of these items show up, I have trained myself to be more critical in my thinking, examining my feelings with a little more care. Whilst I can’t claim any success with being able to prevent or shorten a depressive episode, it’s as well to have yourself prepared for it. There are some key people in my life who I warn, and ask for their forbearance – better they know it’s another incident than thinking I’ve fallen out with them, or that I’ve lost my decision making capabilities.
There is a huge amount of advice regarding what to do when you are depressed, from the sensible “do more exercise”, to the suspect “detox against depression” – as though my liver is not capable of dealing with the toxins it has to face. This proliferation of advice, largely presented with a few important caveats (like, this may not work for you), is both a feature of the unique nature of each person’s depression, but also the fact that you cannot really tell what has helped and what has not.
During one of my earlier depressions, I took the whole exercise thing to heart and attempted to sweat my way out. As it was, the depressive period lasted about five months – about average for the episodes in my adult life. Did the exercise help? I can’t tell, there is no way of knowing if that depression would have lasted any longer if I’d have succumbed to my strongly felt need to curl up into a small beer-consuming ball. Emotions on the scale we’re talking about have huge inertia, so although you can feel large shifts across weeks (the relief as a depression lifts for instance), any benefit from any specific topical treatment like exercising regularly is likely to be lost.
Of course, what I’m saying here is not don’t exercise, but instead be prepared for your depression to appear not to respond to anything in particular. You may get good days, you certainly will get bad ones – but I have never spoken to anyone who’s depression just lifted because of a single change they made. Some of my friends quite literally wait their depressions out, warning family and colleagues and trying not to make any key decisions until things have passed.
Until next time, and as always – if you are currently experiencing depression or depressive thoughts then I strongly advise you to consult a professional as soon as practical.