Thursday 26 January 2012


"What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, stand a little taller...What doesn't kill you makes you a fighter" ~ Kelly Clarkson

Truer words have never been spoken or, in Kelly's case, sung. The last major depressive episode that I experienced was a close call for me. I have never been so low or in such a dark, cold, lonely place. Some days I fought with all my might to make it to the next day. And there were a couple of days when I was pretty close to giving up. Yes, it's true.

But what does depression actually feel like? There is a commercial on television right now that was filmed in muted tones and the tag line is "depression hurts". Yup, it sure does - mentally and physically. Here are just some of the symptoms that are common and that I certainly experienced:

* Weight gain: Often a common side effect of medication used to treat depression but, obviously, it can also be a result of simply overeating - food can be a comfort.
* Insomnia and hypersomnia: There were nights that I could not get to sleep and then would wake up throughout the night. Other times I would take two long naps in a day plus sleep 11 hours at night.
* Agitation: Sometimes I would feel like I was going to jump out of my skin - I couldn't sit still, I would become instantly angry, and feel like I wanted to punch something. Little things would set me off and then half an hour later the agitation would have left me.
* Fatigue: I felt a profound loss of energy and I was extremely lethargic. Before I went on disability leave there were days at work when I knew if I closed my eyes for a second too long I would fall asleep.
* Reduced sex drive: 'nuff said!

In addition to the above I also suffered headaches and backaches (backaches are very common), and would sometimes cry so hard that I thought I would break in two. At times like that I would curl into a little ball and literally sit on the floor in a corner of a room. Depression is an illness that hits you from all directions and can be relentless. Not exactly sexy stuff, is it?

So how do you become well - chicken soup, Kleenex, and fuzzy slippers? Not exactly, although those things do help! I regularly visited my family doctor who has treated me since 1987 and knows me well - he has seen me through the highs and lows. He adjusted the dosage of my medication and referred me to the mood disorder clinic at the University of British Columbia and a psychiatrist (more on my experience at UBC and medication in another post).

I also worked with a psychiatrist for a few months. He formally introduced me to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and, again, my medication was tweaked. This time a second drug was introduced to compliment the one I was already taking and to address some other chemical  imbalances that I was experiencing.

In addition to the medication, the CBT, and the regular contact with medical professionals, I began taking walks, spending time outside in the fresh air and sunshine, establishing routines and setting daily and weekly goals. Also incredibly important to my recovery was the support that I received from some key people in my life. My parents were simply amazing, my boss was remarkable, and some of my friends were absolute rock stars.

Remarkably, the days gradually became easier. I slowly came out of the darkness. It was a painstaking process, almost like learning to walk again. But it didn't happen by the grace of god - it was hard work and dedication to getting better.

There is no magic formula but we know that some things work. CBT, for example, is hugely successful in the treatment of depression and anxiety. I cannot stress enough how much of a game-changer it was for me and I have heard the same thing from a friend of mine who also suffered depression. Medication, although not the answer by itself, can be another useful tool. And, of course, exercise, good nutrition, and a strong social network also contribute to recovery and sustained wellness.

It's been five months now that I have been in remission (yes, that's really a term applied to depression) and I haven't let my guard down. I want to maintain wellness and keep the devil at bay so this has become a priority to me. But it's still a challenge. Some days are a piece of cake but some are brutal - this week has been a tough one. But the consistent thing for me is to take things one day at a time.

The big lesson for me after all of this is that I really am stronger than I ever gave myself credit for. I'm kinda proud of myself for making it through, pretty much in one piece. "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, stand a little taller...What doesn't kill you makes you a fighter"

Amen, Kelly!

KB xo

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