I used to work retail sales, in the jewelry department of a mid-level department store. I was good at what I did, and would perform well for several months in a row, but then my performance would start to slide downhill. I would become morose and mopey, I would take critique from my manager poorly, I would be short and snappy with co-workers and with customers. I was sick all the time, desperately unhappy, and often thought of death.

I had no clue that I was suffering from repeated cyclical bouts of Major Depressive Disorder, a subset of Clinical Depression.

When a co-worker told me that I was too stressed out to be working, I started looking for information on stress and job performance. I wanted to see if stress really could effect me that greatly, and if so, what I could do about it. There’s quite a lot of information out there on stress and job performance, and on stress and your health.

In the course of my searching I found an online test to measure the amount of stress I had in my life. It was shocking to me that I could be that stressed, according to their calculations, and yet I didn’t seem that stressed to me. (3) On the same pages I found information about stress, I also found a test to determine if I were depressed. Here’s a link to one from the Mayo Clinic.

When I took the assessment, it advised me to see my doctor immediately.

I didn’t.

It wasn’t until I was fired, during a depressive episode, and had been out of work for four months, that I finally sought help.

I woke up one day, at home, and looked around me. I saw that I had been living off of fast food, that the cat litter boxes hadn’t been changed in, well, months. There was a foot wide path from the door of the apartment to the bed through dirty laundry, old fast food cups and wrappers, cat toys, books, and other random things. My air conditioning unit was broken, so was the refrigerator, and I had a roach problem of epic proportions.

I went outside, to find that my neighbors had moved a couch onto the porch. The couch had been peed on by their cat (I hope), and so, in the hot summer sun, it was fragrant. A homeless man was sleeping next to my car and the rent was late.

I hadn’t noticed these things. I had thought I was doing allright, that I was handling things and doing better. I had been in a deep depression.

I had to face that it really wasn’t work related stress causing all my problems, that there was in fact something organically wrong with my mind.

The hardest thing I’ve ever done was to go to the Mental Health Mental Retardation office, and wait to be assessed. I told the man in the office my tale; I left nothing out. I told him that it felt like a gray fog in my head, that I couldn’t clearly remember the past few months, that I’d woken up to a trashed apartment and a life gone to hell. He told me that I wasn’t crazy enough for them to help me (I’ve found out since then that due to budget cuts they can only help dangerous psychotics), but that I did need help. Then he gave me a paper with phone numbers to call and find low cost therapy and medications. I called the first number from the parking lot, then I went home and cried.

By the time my first appointment rolled around, I was starting to slide back into another depressive episode. I could feel it creeping in around the edges of my mind, and I was terrified.

Those first few therapy appointments, we worked on figuring out what was wrong with my mind. I got labels to put on it, names to give these demons I was fighting. Major Depressive Disorder and Dysthymia.

I’ve been attending therapy since September 2008, and so far, I haven’t had another episode. The Dysthymic Disorder seems to have been successfully treated, and if it returns, I’ll know what to do about it. I’m more aware of my daily moods and pay better attention to my mental landscape.

I don’t know that I’ll ever really be able to say that I have been cured. The odds of a relapse are incredibly high, given that I’ve been depressed since high school (I missed my ten year reunion four years ago…)

Mental Illness can be a difficult and stigmatizing thing to talk about. Depression effects 9.5% of Americans age 18 and over(1). Most people will be affected by depression, whether their own or a loved one’s, in their lifetime.

And yet, we keep silent about it. When someone is depressed, we shrug it off, with a ‘oh, he’s just down’, or ‘she’ll get over it’. The reality is, without outside assistance, it is very difficult to ‘get over’ clinical depression.

Clinical Depression is a mental illness characterized by profound changes in a person’s lifestyle and habits. It goes beyond merely ‘feeling sad’, and effects your sleeping patterns, your appetite, and your mood throughout the day, leaving you feeling sad and hopeless.

Symptoms of Clinical Depression:

Physical:

  • Sleep disturbances-insomnia, oversleeping, waking much earlier than usual
  • Changes in appetite or eating: much more or much less
  • Decreased energy, fatigue
  • Headaches, stomachaches, digestive problems or other physical symptoms that are not explained by other physical conditions or do not respond to treatment

Behavioral/Attitude:

  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed, such as going out with friends, hobbies, sports, sex, etc.
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Neglecting responsibilities or personal appearance

Emotional:

  • Persistent sad or “empty” mood, lasting two or more weeks
  • Crying “for no reason”
  • Feeling hopeless, helpless, guilty or worthless
  • Feeling irritable, agitated or anxious
  • Thoughts of death or suicide        (2)

When I realized how much stigma is attached to mental illness, to being depressed, I also realized that I would have to fight against it. There is nothing bad about having an illness of the mind, any more than there is something bad about having an illness of the body. It’s an illness, it can be treated, dealt with, and healed from. You can live a full and happy life, even when you have mental health issues.

If you’re reading this, and you think you might be depressed, please know that even though it’s scary and big and intimidating, you can seek help. There are people who can and will help you, and you can get your life back. The gray fog of depression doesn’t have to be your future, you aren’t doomed to always feel like this.

Should you feel that you aren’t strong enough to do it all alone, you can leave a message here, I’ll be reading your words and will get in contact with you. (don’t forget your email address, it won’t be visible, but I’ll see it.)

One Response to “Depression”

  1. Will Shetterly Says:

    Good to share. My wife made use of the local government-provided therapy, and it helped enormously. You can get your life back.

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