Living with Depression: Taking the Time and Setting a Course of Action to Heal
The first thing I wanted to tackle with my newfound freedom after leaving a decade long career in corporate journalism was my mental health. I’ve been depressed and melancholy since childhood which is usually an indicator of some intense trauma at a young age. I knew that trauma existed, had worked painstakingly for years to face it head on and extend forgiveness, but the depression still stayed with me like a phantom.
Luckily I wasn’t in what I call a hole. There have been certain points in depression where I can’t do anything. Literally, I just don’t have the mental of physical ability to do anything. Brushing my teeth or taking a shower can feel like daunting, impossible tasks. They are days of small wins where just getting out of bed to watch TV in the family room instead of my bedroom is a victory. Typically these instances are trigged by an external force like a death of someone close to me or a breakup or even an identity crisis.
Since I was aware of this about myself, I decided to use my company’s employee assistance program and get hooked up with a counselor to help me with two goals. The first was that at the end of my career I was covering a lot of very extreme news cycles including multiple mass shootings, wildfires and other heartbreaking stories. Normally there is a lull between tragedies, but because my team worked with more than 30 publications, we kept getting inundated with atrocities and it was wearing me down.
For the first time in my life I was afraid and would get panic attacks when out at mass events or conventions. After the Texas shooting, I couldn’t even bring myself to go to Walmart because I kept seeing the map and schematics of the path of the shooter we had published and hearing the cries of victims’ families.
I knew it was temporary trauma for me, but trauma none the less.
The second thing I wanted guidance through was my transition from being a high-power manager at a top company to being well… unemployed. I was fearful this might trigger some downward spiral of not knowing who I was or what to do with myself. (It didn’t by the way.)
Unfortunately the counselor that was selected was not a good fit for me. He had me take all of these assessments and then came in and slapped all the labels on me that I didn’t identify with at all and when I tried to ask for reasoning behind these labels he’d look at me and say, “Well, I’ve got the test results right here.” To which I would reply, “Great, can you explain to me what exactly in those tests is leading your to make this diagnosis?” To which he had no response and around and round in circles we’d go.
Well, I’ve got the test results right here.
We sort of did a mutual break-up thing with both of us admitting this wasn’t going anywhere and I dove into researching.
If that wasn’t enough, in our second session he tried me to open up about my past sexual trauma which I had indicated experiencing on one of his precious sheets and I was nowhere near ready to trust him or talk to him at session two about something so vulnerable and possibly re-triggering. This was my first lesson in understanding that just like any other relationship, your relationship with your therapist or counselor has to be a good fit for you and you should absolutely feel safe in their presence.
We sort of did a mutual break-up thing with both of us admitting this wasn’t going anywhere and I dove into researching. I wanted to find someone who was close to wear a live, who had stellar reviews (not from paid advertising, either) and who truly understood who I am as a person and the type of care and professional help I needed.
Simultaneously, I decided to go to a medication management center at Metropolitan Behavioral Health. Once again I had to take a ton of assessments which I felt nervous about given my experience last time, but this time was literally life-changing for me. I spent probably two hours with a clinician who not only went over my results, but looked at me when she spoke to me, listened to me, asked me relevant and pertinent questions in addition to the initial assessments, took my physical health into consideration along with my mental health history and finally made a recommendation to try me on Lexapro and also helped me find a therapist who was specifically trained in PTSD and chronic depression.
I was super hesitant to try medication again because several years ago I got placed on Zoloft. My husband, who deals with anxiety and not depression, has been on Zoloft for years and he thrives on it. It balances his system perfectly. I did not have that response to it. I became a real-life zombie. It took my inability to care about anything during depressive episodes and magnified and prolonged it. I didn’t care about anything or anyone. Nothing seemed to matter. It was like someone pressed mute on my life and all the vibrancy had been sucked out. I was still actively acting at this point in my life and I couldn’t even cry on cue anymore because of Zoloft. I was just so numb. I always thought it would be nice to be numb, but it wasn’t, it was deadening. Not only are you numb to the darker feelings, you’re also numb to the glowing ones too. I got off of it and didn’t take anything for several years.
I was fully expecting to have to try a few meds before finding something that was right for me, but Lexapro came in a like the little miracle pill it is. I finally experienced what everyone was talking about when they said antidepressants made it feel like the clouds were clearing in their brain. It really did feel that way. Suddenly it felt like the balance had swapped – the bad, hurtful thoughts were suppressed and it was so much easier for me to bring good, healthful thoughts to the surface. I’d be driving and listening to the radio laughing and something in me would recognize it as an unfamiliar feeling and then I’d realize – this is happiness. This is what it feels like to experience random moments of joy. This is what it feels like when the chemicals in your brain function properly.
Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t still have low days. I do. But they are fewer and far between…
It was riveting! I wanted to write the creators of Lexapro a letter thanking them for changing my life. Them and the people who invited those little corkscrew ear plugs for air pressure on the planes. Seriously. Other than make some dosage adjustments and discovering that I felt better taking them before bed, there were no hiccups. Now I see a psychiatrist every 3 months to check in on my stability. I’ve had no adverse side effects other than vivid dreams which is common with Lexapro and I think kind of cool, quite honestly, but she did prescribe me a Trazadone to help me sleep. And it’s been blissful.
Now that doesn’t mean that I don’t still have low days. I do. But they are fewer and far between, more easily manageable and usually are impacted by my hormones more than anything else now. It is a tool that has helped me take back control of my life and provide stability.
I once read that people with depression have a more difficult time recalling positive memories because our brains are wired differently and it struck me how in tune I already am with body. You see, I always ask Pat to tell me a story or tell me a happy memory and I realized that was my way of trying to cope with the natural inability of my brain to do it for me. Now, for the first time in my life, I am remembering happiness and I am living in joy.
While I was extremely thankful for these progressions, something else significant came from this. My extreme tiredness and fatigue did not change as drastically as I thought. I had always assumed that it was directly associated as a symptom of my depression, but now that I was feeling great and happy, why was I still sleeping 10 hours a day? Why did I always feel like I needed to nap? Why would I get exhausted after working out or from having a day of human interactions? It didn’t make sense to me.
This became a whole other healthy journey that I will get into next time. Until then, I cannot stress enough how important it is to know and tune in to YOUR body. Keep a journal or regular notes about how you feel, what you eat and don’t ignore what your body is telling you.
Let’s recap some of the gold nuggets dug up on the depression journey.
It’s not weak to take action.
- Don’t let anyone tell you that going to therapy or taking a medication is a sign of weakness. Instead, this is you reclaiming your power. These are tools to help you safely and effectively become aware, manage and heal your body and mind.
- Don’t settle. Find one that’s a good fit for you and one you can trust and open up to.
- There are tons of resources like https://www.psychologytoday.com/us to help you research and find a therapist
- There is more than just talk therapy (which is super valuable) and depending on your history and needs you may need another type of therapy to assist you in your healing. If you haven’t already for depression specifically you can check out:
- Cognitive Therapy.
- Behavioral Therapy.
- Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy.
- Psychodynamic Therapy.
- Interpersonal Therapy.
- Any assessments you take can be transferrable to a new therapist so you don’t have to keep retaking them every time you switch.
- They are not right for everyone. For me, they saved my life.
- Depression is a chemical imbalance in my brain, I view taking an antidepressant the same as taking any other supplement or vitamin for a deficiency. It’s science.
- The first few weeks to a month are the hardest. A lot of times when you’re getting acclimated to an antidepressant you can feel pretty weird during the initial stages. I encourage you to stick it out unless the effects cause extreme harm. The weirdness is worth it in the long run and goes away.
P.S. Exercise and any kind of physical movement does help!
- You don’t have to go all out with an Orange Theory workout or anything. Just go for a walk or do some light stretches. The movement in your body helps releases good chemicals in your brain and gets your blood flowing!
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