I was diagnosed with major depression at age 17. I think, though, that I had been depressed for many years before that. As a child, I was very quiet and withdrawn. I had few friends. My self-esteem was low. I remember thinking of suicide sometimes in junior high school. But it wasn’t until I was 17 that I sought treatment and finally got a formal diagnosis.
Depression can have many causes, both physiological causes (basically, there can be a chemical imbalance in the brain) and psychological causes. There is often a hereditary component to depression, as well. In my case, I believe my depression is causes by a combination of physical and emotional causes.
I do think there is chemical imbalance in my brain. Sometimes I feel like my hormones are out of control or something. Sometimes I get very depressed when there is nothing depressing going on in my life. It will seem like I ought to be happy, or at least content, but I’m not.
But I think there is a psychological component to my depression as well. I was sexually abused as a child and have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as depression. And I think the after effects of the abuse cause me some depression.
My depression comes and goes. As I have gotten older, the intervals between episodes of depression have gotten longer. Between the ages of 17 and 20, I was in and out of the hospital a lot. And I mean a LOT. I have been hospitalized for depression since then, but far less frequently. I think over time I have gotten better at coping with the depression.
In those early years, I made a couple of suicide attempts. I overdosed a couple of times, and cut my wrist once. I also self-mutilated a lot. I would cut my arms with a knife or razor. Those were not suicide attempts. I did it in an attempt to lessen the emotional pain I felt, or I did it because my self-esteem was so low that I hated myself. I haven’t done that in a long time, though. I have learned other ways to deal with my feelings, and my self-esteem has improved.
I was in and out of counseling a lot for many years. I would go for a little while, then decide it wasn’t helping or that I didn’t need it and quit going. For the last several years, though, I have been working consistently with a very good therapist. I think that is one of the reasons I have been more stable lately.
I was also on medication off and on. When I was first diagnosed with depression 20 years ago, most of the available medications had a number of potential unpleasant side effects. I seemed to be particularly sensitive to the medications and had a lot of side effects. I was dizzy. I fainted. I was nauseous. My hands shook so badly I could hardly tie my shoes. I have horrible headaches. I was exhausted all the time. I would take the medication for a little while, then stop because I couldn’t stand the side effects any more. I didn’t think the medication was really helping much anyway.
There are much better medications with fewer side effects available now. I’ve been on meds for several years now, and I really think they may have saved my life.
As I mentioned, I have been hospitalized many times for depression. More than a dozen times, in fact. I go to the hospital when I’m suicidal, or when the depression is bad enough that I can’t really take care of myself. Like, when I go for several days that I can’t get out of bed. I’ve had some good experience with hospitalization and some bad experiences. The psych unit in the hospital near my house is awful. So I travel a little ways to another hospital that does much better.
I try to take care of myself in order to help prevent depressive episodes. I try to eat well, get enough sleep, get a little exercise, and manage stress well. I will say that exercise really helps, but I’m not very good at doing it consistently for some reason. I’m working on that. Keeping a journal helps, as well.
I believe my depression will be a lifelong illness. That’s not true for everyone who experiences depression, but I believe it is true for me. That’s partly because I do believe that part of my depression is biological, and partly because I think my childhood affected me deeply enough that I don’t think the effects will ever completely go away. So I believe that learning how to manage my depression is of utmost importance.
Part of managing my depression has been coming up with a self-care plan. You know, the healthy diet, the exercise, all that stuff. And I surround myself with supportive people as much as possible. And I take my meds, and I go to counseling regularly.
Another part of it has been coming up with crisis plan. I keep a list of phone numbers of people I can call in an emergency, and I use those numbers when I need them. I keep a list of situations in which I need to go to the hospital. That may seem odd, but when in the midst of a severe depressive episode, I don’t always think very clearly. Having it written down helps me.
What I hope that people get from reading my story is hope. There are ways to deal with depression, even really severe depression. I will say that it took me a long time to get it worked out, but it certainly can be done.