Wednesday, 11 January 2012
"The Big Bang Theory"
People almost always ask me what triggered "IT", what was the cause of my depression? Surely there must have been one life event that I could point to as the root cause of my illness. Was there a death of a loved one? No. Was I abused as a child? No. Was I fired from a job or have a marriage end? No and no. Depression, like life, is rarely simple.
No, this post is not about exploring how the world came to be. It's more of a look at how my journey through depression came to be.
I had a happy childhood. But from an early age my mom called me her "melancholy baby". Although far from shy, I was always sensitive with an inclination towards introversion. It wasn't until my early twenties that I had my first taste of depression. In preparation to begin this blog I spoke with my mom about her memories of my childhood and my illness. She shared this with me: "The first time I remember you falling into a true depression was when you were about 20 and had started taking birth control pills. The effect they had on you was devastating. I clearly remember standing in the kitchen on Larkfield Drive talking to you on the phone and you telling me that you would be better off just not being alive. I will never forget that day. Luckily, a change in birth control pills cured that depression." I don't remember this conversation but, clearly, when a child speaks of suicide a parent remembers.
I fought the illness off and on to varying degrees throughout my twenties. It wasn't until 2003 that I suffered my first true major depressive episode. The second was in 2010/2011. OK, what's a major depressive episode? Here's the definition as stated in the book Your Depression Map: A major depressive episode is a period of at least two weeks of severe mood disruption accompanied by a variety of other symptoms. The person must have a severely depressed mood most of the day, every day, or a marked lack of interest or pleasure in almost all activities or both. To count as a true episode, at least four of the following must also be present: significant change in appetite; insomnia or excessive sleep; speeding up or slowing down of movements; fatigue or loss of energy; feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt; impaired concentration or decision-making ability; and/or recurrent thoughts of death (such as suicidal thoughts or a wish for death. The cluster of symptoms has to cause significant distress or impairment in functioning and cannot be due to medication, recreational drugs, a medical condition, or recent bereavement.
In a nutshell, suffering a major depressive episode is a little bit more than just feeling sad. And yes, I suffered each and every item on the list of criteria above. Both times for months on end.
As for the "trigger" there wasn't really one in any of the instances that I have fought depression. I have a family history of depression. My mother has suffered depression off and on throughout her adult life. My maternal grandfather, although not officially diagnosed until he was 90 (!) probably suffered throughout his later adult years. I have a great grandfather on my mother's side who died in a mental institution although we don't know for certain if it was Alzheimer's or another mental illness. And there are others but since I signed up for full disclosure and they didn't, I will leave it at that.
Depression tends to cluster in families but it isn't inherited, however. That is a common myth. What is inherited is a vulnerability to depression, not depression itself. I won't try and explain this further since I am certainly not a doctor but if you are curious about this you can learn more about it in Your Depression Map by Randy J. Paterson, P.h.D.
But let's go back to the question of how it started and maybe dig a bit deeper. With the most recent episode, I must admit, there were some things in my life that I wasn't completely satisfied with. A big one was my job. I loved the company that I worked for and I was in a job that I had aspired to for many years. But once I got to where I thought I wanted to be I had to ask myself, is that all there is?! It was challenging, interesting work but it wasn't feeding my spirit and soul. While fighting my way out of the depression, I was forced to really examine what was important to me in life. Climbing the corporate ladder wasn't what I wanted. Doing the job that I had been doing for the better part of two years was simply not what I wanted to continue to do. So I left the job. Luckily, I was able to continue working within my field (at my wonderful company!) but in another capacity, in an area in which I am very content. Today, I go to work, do a job that I am proud of, and when I leave at the end of the day it doesn't come home with me.
So no, there was no "big bang". My journey with depression ebbs and flows. Every time that it rears it's ugly head I get a bit smarter and, yes, a bit stronger. I have learnt to look at life as a whole - to not be afraid to make changes if I need to, and to put my wellness first above all. I may suffer again or I may not. But I am pretty confident that I can survive whatever comes my way. And you know what? You can too.
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