Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dealing with Depression.

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My uncle and his family had come over to visit a few weeks ago, and in the middle of some idle chit-chat, Dad asked us a question.

"What gives you happiness?"  

After a few moments, and a few awkward looks around the room, everyone simultaneously blurted out their response.

"Success," said my uncle.
"My children," said Mum.
"Gaming," began my brother, "And pizza." Typical Nirav.

Dad looked at me expectantly. He'd already asked me this a few weeks ago, and I knew why he was asking it now. One of my family members, let's call him Steve, had just been diagnosed with depression - and Dad thought my answer may just help.   

"So, what's your answer, Nikhil? What gives you happiness?"

"I do," I responded.

Everyone was taken aback.
After a few years of bad news, pain and struggle, my perspective on all this was a little different. I'd realised that you always had a choice on how you viewed your life.
"I mean, it's your brain. You control how you respond to things. And me - I choose to not let things affect me negatively, I guess." I continued, glancing at Steve as I said this.

Dad was looking that way too. I guess both he and I expected a sudden flash of realisation to pass through Steve's eyes. But it didn't. He just sat there, looking utterly bored by the conversation, the same expression he had the whole visit really.

What I said made sense to me and to the rest of the family sitting around in the room.
But when you've been wired, emotionally and physically, not to feel anything over weeks, months or even years, it's not like you can change straight away.

That's what clinical depression does.

And after talking to Steve, and a few other friends of mine who are going through it at the moment, it's made me really rethink a few of the misconceptions and attitudes out there about depression...

Here are a few of them.

1) Why can't they Just "snap out of it" and "be happy"?

That's something people going through depression hear a lot.

But think about it this way - don't you think they've tried this already?

 When you're depressed, you get a physiological change that accompanies psychological change in your brain, meaning that the chemicals that are usually released in your brain to make you feel happy aren't performing that function anymore. So a lot of the things that used to give you happiness don't anymore. And  because of that, you find yourself just not caring about things.
The spiral downwards can make patients more likely to go through anxiety at the same time as depression. And when you're worrying about things, yet at the same time can't find the energy or motivation or care to deal with them, it can all build up like a snowball. 

So telling someone going through depression to snap out of it is like me telling you to throw a 10 kilo shotput 20 metres. You know that it is physically possible. Hell, in your youth or at your peak, you may  have been able to do it at some point in your life. But if you were to try it now, you'd probably fail. 

Now imagine if everyone close to you and wider society told you to keep trying, no matter how unfit or how physically impossible it is. Imagine if they sat by, jeering, booing, even screaming at you, as you tried, over and over again to do the impossible. 

That is what someone going through depression feels like when you tell them to be "just be happy". Hopefully, by understanding that, you won't inadvertently kick someone when they're down next time...

2) So, it happens to those going through some form of loss or through some recent dramas right?

Depression can affect anyone, at anytime and there are many things that can cause depression.

Often, it's long term things like unemployment, isolation or loneliness, low self esteem or prolonged exposure to stress at work that can cause it. Recent events such as the loss of a job or poor exam results or a breakup can trigger it, but often there is that underlying cause behind it.

There are a lot of other things that can cause it too. Things like alcohol or drug abuse, medical illness, a family history of it and your personality (being a sensitive person, or a perfectionist for example) can predispose you to higher chances of getting depression.

And in a lot of cases, people just don't know why it's happening. They've been conditioned to feel pity for themselves, to not feel; too used to failing when they try to get better that they don't wanna try anymore. And that can be frustrating as hell.

3) But they seemed happy when I talked to them... I mean... they didn't seem depressed.

A lot of people going through depression  go through phases. They will often go weeks or months feeling and functioning normally until they suddenly get into a rut for a few weeks, where they start to feel less connection to things around them and less enjoyment from things they used to like.

As you know now, when they get into that rut, it's not like they can just climb out straight away. And if you don't know or can't explain why it's happening, if you can't see what's going on, that hill you're trying to climb becomes the sheer wall of a mountain.  

Often people will put on a mask in the form of a second personality to the outside world during this time out of fear of what others think of them. 
In a fair amount of cases, they may even have bipolar disorder, or a milder form of it (cyclothymic disorder) - making them more likely to have more severe shifts in their mood.

They may even deny it. Because it's not the "manly" thing to do. 

In truth though, coming out and admitting you may need help takes more courage than hiding behind a wall. Great organisations like Soften the F*ck Up wanna make that clear. if you're feeling that way... why not check them out? 


4) It's only a sign that they're weak in the mind. I've been through things 10x worse and look at me - I'm fine.

Congratulations...

No, but seriously, good for you.

But when you've been brought up a certain way, when you've been feeling that way for a while and when your brain is literally wired to keep you feeling that way, it's not like you can just change overnight. 

And why should the fact that others have been through worse times make them feel better about themselves? In truth... the shame that makes them feel when they can't do what you did digs them only deeper into that hole. The fact that others' suffer more only makes them more likely to see the world through negative lenses; and push them to even more drastic actions.

5) They're only having a sook. Depression can't actually affect you physically...

As I said before, depression not only changes your thinking, it also changes your brain and body's normal functioning. So not only do you lose motivation to go out, to do work or school stuff or your usual enjoyable activities, you also lose the ability to concentrate, you feel tired and sick all the time and you get other symptoms like headaches, sleep problems and significant weight loss or gain. In severe cases, thing like psychosis and hallucinations are possible as well.

Check out these links for examples of what it feels like to go through depression:


If you've got depression, and if you'd had it for a while, it can seem like it's a pit that you just can't get out of.

But there is a way out. It isn't something that can't be cured. And you CAN be happy.
It will take time, it will take effort, and you may fall a few times on your journey.
But you CAN beat depression.
And here's a few tips on how:

1) First of all - don't be ashamed of it.

Depression affects a lot of people. And if you feel ashamed about having, or maybe having it - ASK YOURSELF WHY.  
Why is it shameful to have a medical condition? As you know now - that's exactly what depression is.

Why should you let what others think dictate you and stop you from trying to get better? Why should you let what others THINK about you cause you harm?

If other people don't understand your condition - that's just showing you that they don't have the capability of understanding what depression really is. So why should you feel ashamed for their ignorance?

2) Don't be afraid to ask for help.

A lot of people - men in particular - feel that it's something they have to tackle on their own. That asking for help is a sign of weakness or something they don't want, or can't do. Well, you can do it that way.

First of all, why view asking for help as a sign of weakness when in truth, putting yourself out there to someone is a sign that you're not afraid to put yourself out there. 

Why make it hard on yourself?

If you have someone close you can talk to - a friend, family member or partner - be open with them. They'll understand if you tell them how you feel, and having someone to talk with through your journey makes you more likely to beat it and more likely to be happy. If not, that's fine - you can always talk to a psychiatrist, you will have access to resources like www.headspace.org.au or depression hotline (depending on where you live) and you'll always have me as well . Feel free to drop in a comment down below (anonymously if you prefer) or hit me up on facebook/youtube/email as others have before on my blog posts and I'll try to help you out.

If you think it's something you shouldn't talk about openly - that's fine. I mean not everyone thinks its dinner conversation and some people may not know what to say. 
But having at least one person who you can talk to openly during your battle will make you that much more likely to succeed. And if you don't have that person, or aren't too comfortable talking openly about it, here's a great site that helps Real Men get to the deeper issues affecting them. 

If you're scared of taking that first step with someone in real life - here's another site that may help:
https://moodgym.anu.edu.au/welcome/new/splash

3) Cognitive therapy

A major treatment pathway that psychiatrists use to treat depression is Cognitive therapy. It's where you attempt to fix your current thought processes by confronting and challenging them, and replacing them with a more positive, better outlook. It isn't an easy process, it takes time and effort and it REALLY helps to do it with someone you can trust.

But the hardest part is the first few weeks, those first few steps. Once you muster up the energy and will to try and get better and get past the first few weeks, things WILL get easier.  

In the end you've got to believe one thing. You CAN beat it.
That word depression is a useful label. It allows people to understand that what they're going through isn't fake. It's a real problem. With real solutions.
But that label becomes a liability when you let it define you. 
Never do that. 

If you, like millions of others around the world, really find yourself wanting to break free of depression, then:

 i) Take a step back and analyse yourself
ii) Acknowledge that your journey forward may be hard and long. But realise that instead of getting scared of that fact or making excuses not to try, doing this will ensure that you won't give up at times when you may feel like everything's against you.
iii) Challenge any notion you see that is negative by asking WHY.

Soon, you'll be able to see another way of looking at things.
And that's the first step to getting better.


Thoughts like "I'm a failure," or "Nothing ever good happens to me," or "There's nothing special about me," are commonly seen in depression and this questioning of self-value or self-esteem can lead to ultimately deadly thought processes like "Life's not worth living."

During my first bone marrow transplant, I was put on a treatment protocol which made me gain a significant amount of weight (20kg in about 2-3 weeks as a matter o' fact), get a moon face and lose a lot of my physical prowess.

I went from being pretty fit and sporty to not being able to run more than a hundred metres without fainting, and I went from looking like this:


To this (I'm the one in the middle):



So when I got back to university and started mixing with people my age who were much more energetic and, well, normal, compared to me, I began to really doubt myself. I'd begun to look in mirrors with disgust at what I now looked like. I kept thinking to myself, "Imagine what other people are saying behind my back." Before I knew it, I began to question myself more and more until I, subconsciously, started making my health an excuse not to go out with friends and have fun.

Whenever I got to doing exercise, I'd always do so under the cover of night or where people were less likely to watch in fear of what others would think about my huge level of unfitness, or worse yet, I would opt out of doing any at all because people would see me and laugh at me.

I was getting frustrated all the time, and I was began to hate myself. But then, one day, I took that step back and I asked myself why.

Why was I afraid of what other people were thinking of me?
First of all, were they even thinking about me in the first place? I mean, when I walk down the street, other than noticing a few finer specimens of the fairer sex, I don't really take too much notice of other people unless they're literally about to walk into me.

Even if they were thinking "WOW, what an ugly bastard," - Why was I letting their thoughts affect me? In the end, wasn't I putting myself down in order to please someone else - most of the time, complete strangers - over something I couldn't control?
I did the same thing with my exercise patterns and I found myself more comfortable running around over the next few weeks. I did little things at first - like walking few laps around my suburb and saying hi to people (most people are friendly and just say hi back - like you probably would) and soon I was comfortable enough to start running again.

Along the way - it was frustrating. I'd go weeks on end not gaining any fitness whatsoever and seeing no changes at all.  But each time I felt that way, I challenged that thought process and got to a stage where I realised that, maybe not now, maybe in a few months, I'd be back to being better. 
So why get frustrated that I was not getting there quickly? In the end that'd only cause me to stress (which is huge in reducing your progress) and if anything push me to overexerting or even injuring myself, which would only make my journey longer.

It was hard at first. I found myself looking over my shoulder and wondering what others were thinking about me all the time. I did it the hard way - I didn't talk to anyone about it.
But, over a few weeks, taking that step back, acknowledging the obstacles in my path and challenging my doubts allowed me to become comfortable with who I was.

I know that my depressive mood was self imposed and not the same as being depressed for years on end. I've come to experience real depression since I've written this, and will be writing about it soon... so hopefully my insights from the inside out can help you even further. While I write it up though - I'm always happy to talk - do so here or on my other links.

But if you think that you just can't do what I'd done in your battle with depression - ask yourself why.

Those thoughts you may have that stop you from trying to break free of its hold - those thoughts  of being a loner, of being  too stupid or dependent or scarred... that idea that you're worthless or don't have the energy... aren't they just reasons you're giving yourself to not try? 
If you really believe they're true and that it is a good reason to stop it - then why put yourself down over them? Isn't that just stopping you from doing what's logical - making an effort to change yourself for the better?

It is hard - it may take weeks or months to change yourself. There may be times when you fall back into pits. 

But if you talk to someone about it and give it time, you CAN get better.   

You're the end result of millions of generations of evolution. The very fact you exist, and that you can hear, touch, see and simultaneously  feel is incredible. Even if no-one else in the world recognises it - I think you're amazing.

For more info on how you can change yourself --> Check out this post:



7 comments:

  1. Just sharing for any/ all: ANU runs a free, online, open access (anyone can use it) CBT program, which is really pretty cool:
    https://moodgym.anu.edu.au/
    I've not checked, but am pretty sure they also offer individual e-counseling.

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    Replies
    1. Awesome link Claire! Added it into the blog actually - one question, where did you find it?

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  2. Thanks so much for taking the time. Really helpful.

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    Replies
    1. Hey Fiona. No worries for doing it, I hope it helped you or someone you care about.
      Do have a read of my other blogs on this topic, or of my story, which a lot of my more inspirational posts feed off, as they all point out 1 thing: No matter how hard things get, you'll ALWAYS have a second, better way of looking at things, and that you have the choice to look at life that way - sometimes it just takes time and help to get there.
      If you want someone to talk to - for anything really (doesn't have to be related to this topic either), feel free to contact me, either here, through my email (nikhilthegrizzlybear@gmail.com) or on my facebook page here https://www.facebook.com/musingsofamedstudentpatient (or just look up musings of a med student patient on Facebook) or get in touch with family, friends, close ones - anyone - to help with any issues in life.

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