I still haven't been feeling back to normal, so I went to a new doctor yesterday to try and come up with a plan and possibly switch medication. I really liked the doctor, and he added one medication that should hopefully help me get through this. I don't really enjoy writing about depression, because it's so stigmatized, but I know a lot of people have found it helpful to read (if only so that they don't feel alone in the battle). I also hope by explaining it in-depth, it'll help people to understand what a loved one with depression may be going through.
Depression is a scary beast to deal with. I remember feeling depressed when I was as young as about 9 or 10 years old (although I didn't know that it was called depression then), but I don't think I was officially diagnosed until I was 20. It was never triggered by anything; I think I was just born this way. Antidepressants certainly help, and I've done the natural treatments as well--exercise, mainly, but also psychotherapy. Once I started running in 2010, my depression felt very under control for the most part, other than a few mildly bad days or weeks here and there.
(It literally just occurred to me as I was typing this that maybe my current episode has been so bad because I cut way back on my mileage and haven't been nearly as active as I'd been in the past six years. Now that I'm training for Indy, and picking up mileage, it'll be interesting to see how it helps my mood.)
I've always been pretty good at hiding my depression from friends and/or family, because I don't want to "bring people down". Jerry and my friend Andrea are really the only people who know and understand the full extent of it. Here on my blog, I always try to write a positive spin on things when I talk about it, but even that is hard to do (which is one of the reasons I haven't been writing much through the fall and winter).
Depression is very difficult to describe to someone who has never felt it. As hard as I try to be happy when I'm having a depressed episode, I just feel sad, anxious, hopeless, and pessimistic about life in general. Every little problem that arises in "normal" life feels like a catastrophe--where in a non-depressed person, that little problem is no big deal.
There are physical symptoms of depression as well; it's not "all in your head", like some people believe. A few common physical symptoms are: digestive issues (feeling nauseous or upset stomach); sleeping problems (either insomnia or sleeping too much); fatigue, even if you're getting enough sleep; dizziness or lightheadedness; excessive hunger or loss of appetite (unfortunately, I experience the excessive hunger!); memory loss; and lack of concentration. Depression can even weaken the immune system! Remember how I got sick twice in the fall, and it lasted a long time? That never happens to me.
Some people think that when you're depressed, you can just force yourself to be happy, but it doesn't work that way. Sure, you can fake being happy, but you can't actually change your feeling. (Try to imagine that you just won a million dollars and how happy you'd be--and then after you found out you won, someone told you that you have to "just be sad". That would be difficult, if not impossible, to do! It's the same way with trying to "just be happy" when you don't feel that way. Hopefully that makes sense.)
It would be awesome if it was that easy to fix depression! Believe me, depression is definitely NOT something that I want to feel, and I will do just about anything in my power to not feel that way. I really don't think that there is a single person on the planet who would choose to have depression.
Being a mom with depression is even more difficult. I don't want my kids to see me feeling sad, so I do my best to hide it, and to not let it affect their lives. There have been many times where all I wanted to do was lie in bed all day, but having kids forces me to get up and do what's best for them. In that way, the kids are very helpful! I have talked a little bit about depression and anxiety with them so that they at least understand what it is--and if they ever feel that way, they know they can come talk to me about it and I will listen and take them seriously.
My point is that depression a real illness with real symptoms, and it should be treated as such. For some people, exercise is enough to help them through it; others use medication; some use supplements; and still others use psychotherapy ("talk" therapy) as another common treatment (or any combination of these, or other treatments). Unfortunately, some people cope in unhealthy ways, like alcohol, overeating, drugs, excessive shopping, etc. Basically, anything that makes them feel better.
Since my blog is usually categorized as a weight loss blog, I figured I'd write a little about how depression can affect one's weight loss journey as well:
- Fatigue, even with a lot of sleep, makes it difficult to stay motivated to exercise.
- Lack of motivation (just feeling like you really don't care)
- Medications (many antidepressants are known to cause weight gain)
- Increased hunger (some people overeat when depressed simply because they feel hungrier than usual.
- Unhealthy eating ("comfort" foods are called such because they are comforting--a natural choice for someone with depression. Unfortunately, these foods only make us feel better temporarily, and they usually have a ton of calories.)
- Alcohol (if someone turns to alcohol to feel better, that can obviously affect weight)
- Cortisol (when we're depressed, we tend to have increased levels of this "stress hormone", which can make it difficult to lose weight)
I'd like to end this post on a positive note, since depression is kind of a downer of a topic! Here are some things that have helped me in the past to get through a bad episode of depression. I'd love to see more ideas, if anyone would like to share. It's a sensitive topic, so I understand if it's not something you want to post online ;)
- Exercise. It's cliché, but it's true what they say--exercise really does help with depression. Even if it's something as simple as going for a stroll every afternoon, getting outside and doing something physical changes my mood better than comfort food, that's for sure.
- Medication. It's not shameful to take antidepressants if your doctor thinks you would benefit from them.
- Distraction. Staying busy, and not having a lot of time to really think about it, has helped me quite a bit. I had a very bad day on Tuesday, because I didn't really have anything going on. But yesterday, I was busy non-stop all day, and I actually felt pretty good. The distraction was nice.
- No alcohol. As much as I love my wine, I do feel better when I don't have anything to drink.
- Having a close friend to talk to. My friend Andrea has been a godsend, truly. I feel comfortable telling her anything at all, and she always seems to know just what to do or say to help.
- Talk therapy (psychotherapy). If you don't have a close friend to talk to (or even if you do), talk therapy has been very helpful for me. It's really nice to talk to someone who is unbiased and doesn't have any sort of role in your life other than "therapist".
- Say yes to events/invitations even when you want to say no. It's easy to stay at home and not see friends, but I know that I always feel better if I go and do things.
- Healthy eating. I think this one is probably obvious, but when I'm eating well, and not too much, I feel my best.
- Pets. Pets are a very real form of therapy! My most therapeutic pet is Phoebe. When I'm having a rough time, she just knows. She wants me to hold her while she purrs loudly in my ear.
Depression is such a heavy topic, but it affects 15 MILLION American adults in any given year (source). Chances are, you or someone you know is affected by it. It's my hope that it becomes more common to talk openly about depression instead of feeling ashamed of it, which is why I decided to write about this (very vulnerable) topic.
To read more about depression, a good place to start is the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) website. You can also find help there if you think you may have depression and would like help seeking treatment.
As for myself, I am feeling hopeful that 2017 is going to be a great year! Instead of being so focused on my weight, I want to really work on my mental health and being the happiest ME I can be--exercising, spending quality time with family and friends, and continuing therapy and medication as needed. I'm looking forward to a good year :)