Depression: My own story

Depression is everywhere lately; from Facebook to the nightly news, its hard to look at anything without some mention of it popping up. The recent, and truly tragic loss of Robin Williams to suicide has put depression in the spotlight as the latest must discuss topic. Depression should be a huge topic, since it affects pretty much everyone at some point in their life.

Like most things, depression varies a bit from person to person; some people only experience it once, while others live with it on a daily basis.
Chronic illnesses often go hand in hand with chronic depression. I’m not going to go into all of the clinical/scientific information on depression, but if you would like more info, here’s a good place to start: http://m.helpguide.org/articles/depression/depression-symptoms-and-warning-signs.
Instead, I’d like to focus on how depression affects me, and how I’m learning to cope with it.

For me, depression has two parts: “the drain” and “the whisperer”. (I realize that to some, this may sound somewhat insane, but I’m doing the best I can to describe the inside of my own head, so bear with me.)

Not so long ago, these two parts of depression were constantly swirling around in my head, simultaneously. I lived my life in a fog and mistakenly assumed that this was just how my life would be. Thankfully, I was able to break that cycle. I still have bouts of depression, but they are usually brief and I know that eventually the sun will break through the clouds. It was only recently during one of my “cloudy” days that I was able to put what I was feeling into words; that is what I am trying to share with you now.

It usually starts with the drain. It feels as though there is a hole in my chest; a cavity that is slowly pulling all of the goodness and color out of my life. Think of trying to fill a bucket with a hole in the bottom of it; you can keep putting water in it, but it will never stay full because it’s draining just as fast as you fill it. That’s what “the drain” feels like. The good things in life create a plug that blocks the drain, but even when it’s not sucking the energy out of my life, I can feel it sitting there, right in the middle of my soul.

When the drain has taken all it can, that’s when the whisperer shows up. It’s almost like all of the happiness and energy that gets pulled into the drain gets twisted around and warped into something dark. Out of that darkness comes the whisperer. She sits there inside my head constantly whispering to me about all of the negative things that have happened in my life.

“You’re not good enough, you’ll never be good enough”

“This is all your fault”

“Why fight it? You’re never going to win”

Over and over she whispers these things, (and worse), in my head, no matter what I do, I can’t block her out. You may be wondering why I don’t just think of something else or simply stop thinking about it… It’s not that simple; I’m not actively thinking these thoughts. It’s like having the radio on in another room, (except this room is locked and you can’t get in to turn it off), you may not be actively listening to it, but you can hear it.

I think the worst part is that when I start feeling this way, it affects the people around me. I get grouchy and I withdraw. I don’t like to talk about it; I don’t think I’ve ever actually said “hey honey, I’m feeling depressed today”. I know that I should, but the words just stick in my throat, so I say nothing. Writing the words here is a start.

I used to believe there was nothing I could do about these episodes; that all I could do was wait for the whisperer to go back to sleep and the drain to get clogged again. I know now that I *can* fight it. It’s not easy, but at least I know that I can break the cycle by getting active, specifically, a good long walk or jog. (Exercise is what helps me, I’m not recommending a cure all for everyone!) Finding the energy to fight is probably the hardest part, between the drain and the whisperer, it often feels like I have nothing left to give. I would be lying if I said that I get up and fight every single time. Even now, there are days where all I can do is hang on until the clouds go away on their own.

Once I get myself moving, I have to figure out how hard to fight. Do I walk/jog until I can’t take another step or do I need to pace myself? Sometimes, just the feeling of my feet hitting the asphalt is enough to lift my spirits; other times, it takes a full throttle, pavement punishing run to clear my head. It’s hard to tell what will make me feel better, and since my depressive swings can last for days, I have to decide how much is enough. If I fight too hard at the start, I won’t have the energy to keep fighting later and then things just feel so much worse. It’s a challenge, but one that is definitely worth facing.

When all else fails, I just remember the Little Engine that Could: “I think I can- I think I can- I think I can…”

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The (Lion) King & I

“Looks like the winds are changing.”

“Ahh.. Change is good.”

“Yeah, but it isn’t easy. I know what I have to do, but…”
— The Lion King

Once upon a time, if I wasn’t feeling well, I curled up on the couch and watched The Lion King. That was it. I didn’t cook, I didn’t tidy up around the house; to be honest, I barely moved from my spot, unless I had to. While The Lion King is still my favorite comfort movie, the winds have changed, and so have my rituals.

Recently, I was discussing fitness and overall health with an old friend of mine; we were busy talking about what keeps us motivated to stay active, and I couldn’t stop myself from absolutely gushing about my Fitbit. It was during that conversation that I realized just how much this tiny little device has influenced my everyday life. For the last year or so, I have worn it every single day. From the moment I get out of bed in the morning, until the moment I lay down at night, my Fitbit is, (literally), attached to my hip.

Some of you may be wondering at this point, what I’m even talking about, so before I go any further, let me explain what a Fitbit is. Basically, it’s a fancy pedometer: it counts my steps. Yes, you can go to the store and buy a basic pedometer for about $10. I tried that myself, but I wasn’t impressed; the cheaper devices are not very accurate and don’t provide enough information. What is it that makes the Fitbit so amazing? For starters, it syncs to my phone and puts all of the data it collects into an easy to read chart. At a glance, I can see precisely how active I’ve been. That little bit of information has changed my life.

Health experts recommend that adults get in 8,000 to 10,000 steps per day. When I first started using the Fitbit, I could easily go an entire day without reaching 1000 steps.

Before the Fitbit, I knew I wasn’t as active as I needed to be. I knew I was lazy and that the only way to describe my lifestyle was “sedentary”. The Fitbit took that information and gave me hard, visual evidence. What I saw shocked me. Like I said, I knew I was lazy, what I didn’t know was just how lazy I had become.

Adding the Fitbit to my routine was simple, all I had to do was wear it. It counts my steps, including flights of stairs and translates that into miles and calories burned. Once you sync the device to the website or your phone, it puts all of that info into a lovely little chart that shows you everything you need to know. It will also sync up with other apps, such as My Fitness Pal, so you can see your calorie intake and burn all on one page.

There is one other feature that I find particularly effective, even though I am slightly embarrassed to admit it: green smilies. When you hit your goals for the day, you get little green smiley faces next to the ones you reached. It’s a lot like getting that gold star at the end of the school day, and I often find myself doing laps around the house or even the grocery store just to make sure I get my smiley for the day.

I realize that this post probably sounds an awful lot like a product plug, but it’s not. This post is about change and just one of the ways I motivate myself to keep pushing. Change isn’t easy, (especially when you feel like the whole world is against you), but it can be done and now, I’ve got proof! I can’t say that I’ve spent the last right years fighting; in truth, the majority of my fight has only been in the last year and a half, but I wanted to show you where I started.

This was me in 2006.

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Here I am in 2011.

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And finally, this is me now.

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Keep fighting!

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