Ever wonder what it feels like to live with depression? We asked Joshua, age 25, to give us his firsthand experience. Here’s what he said:
Depression is a clinical term. Reducing a state of chronic despair, emptiness, and lack of will to live to low levels of serotonin seems unfair. In the book-The Movie Goer, by Percy Walker, the protagonist does not say, "I was depressed," he says, "a malaise settled upon the horizon." It is as if the whole world has been infected with an illness, and there is no life in it anymore. But is it part of my identity? I'd say it is more a place in which I have spent a large period of my life.
When were you diagnosed? What was that like?
I was diagnosed when I was 16. I was probably depressed for about a year before I was diagnosed. My mother could see it and kept telling me that I should see someone, but I denied it. I don't think I wanted someone to invalidate my worldview by ascribing it to a mental disorder. I felt that my pessimism was simply the most accurate world model. I was relieved though when I finally accepted it because then I could begin to work at solving a problem rather than merely enduring what I thought was an inescapable reality.
What it is like to live with depression day to day?
Living with depression is very different day to day depending on whether I’m winning or losing the “battle”. When I’m winning it is like the sun coming out after a long rain, but when I’m losing it is like the sun had never existed in the first place-and the memory of it was just a sad delusion. What does that mean, though, practically? Depression means what actually happened during the day only partially dictates whether it’s a good day and a bad day. Most of the deciding factor is my perceived experience of the day.
What was your relationship to medication? Then and now?
The first time I was prescribed medication was Ritalin when I was ten for my ADD. So when they gave me medicine to help me feel better, it wasn’t strange to me to use medication to change my mental state. There was, of course, a fear that the real me was being altered and I would lose myself. This fear became realized when I began to have difficulty feeling grief.
They first put me on Remeron which didn't help with the depression but did cause me to have strange dreams where I was really hungry. Then they put me on Zoloft which I remained on for maybe three years. At first it seemed to help, though there is no way of knowing if the medication had anything to do with the relief. Then a friend of mine committed suicide and I felt very disconnected from the whole thing. The shock went on longer than it should and I just really felt that my sadness was inaccessible. But I also felt delusional. Even while on the Zoloft my depression got the best of me and ruined a very serious relationship. I was completely blindsided by the breakup. After the depression got a foothold I wound up dropping out of college because I was too depressed to turn in any of my school work.
What are the symptoms of your depression?
The major symptoms of depression that I notice are the disinterest in everything-including the things you normally love, a reluctance to fulfill any basic obligations, and (as it gets worse)- the building anxiety that simply cannot handle my conscious existence much longer.
What treatments work for you?
The treatment that works the best for me isn't really what you'd call a treatment so much as a solid strategy for living. I try to exercise frequently to keep my energy levels high, I am careful to get enough sleep (but not too much), I meditate every single day and get sunlight or use a light box, and I make myself socialize with the people that I know are good for me while having no guilt about cutting out the toxic relationships. Even though I don’t think medication was right for me, I also know a lot of people who it worked very well for. It really depends on who you are.
How has depression changed you?
Depression has changed me drastically. I once thought that the key to happiness was arranging the external world to my own satisfaction- I now see that it is about managing my own happiness regardless of the state of the world.
What advice would you give to people who are depressed and don’t know what to do?
To the people who are depressed and don't know what to do about it: First, you must accept your depression. What I mean by this is that you need to accept that you need help to live a happier life. Allow yourself to experience the sadness it and see if you can be okay with it. If you can be okay with it then it has less power over you. Then you can begin to strategize. What's the next step? How do you live today? Your life may become entirely about managing your state for a while, but that's ok. You will get better at it. If you can just get out of bed and get the coffee machine turned on. If you can just call your friend. But then maybe you get your friend to make you go to the gym. Then you start to develop momentum. It's the inertia you have to get over. If you can keep the momentum going you will find you do not have to live in the depression. Keep finding things that connect you to your life purpose. Anticipate the battles you will face and prepare for them. When your thinking becomes cyclical, negative, and spirals, then stop thinking entirely. Just pause. Don't feed it.
*During this time, it is very important to talk with a trained clinician if this moves from passing moods to lasting more than a few weeks. Check out our resources at Ifiknew.org- http://www.ifiknew.org/get-help-2/