A few years ago my mom passed away suddenly from a stroke. It was really devastating for me. I was living in a new place, far away from my family of origin, and didn’t have many friends. To make matters worse, it was right before Christmas when it happened. If you have ever spent any time in the Pacific Northwest in December, you understand grey. Grey was not just the color of the sky, it was the color of my emotional state. Eventually, spring came, the days got longer and flowers began to bloom. The pain and darkness in my heart, slowly and gradually gave way to the light of day.
Unfortunately, darkness is not a season for many, but a way of life. So how do you know if your sadness is transient or you have something more serious, like depression? This is a question I often hear from my patients. I wish I had a great answer, but like many things about my job, depression is not always black and white. So perhaps as much for myself as anyone else, I would like to express my thoughts on the subject.
Sadness is a normal emotion. Without the lows, we would not experience the highs. We all have break ups, lost opportunities and family members who die. We all have things in our life that didn’t turn out the way we thought. At times, we all feel that perhaps there should be more to life. But with sadness, time is the great healer. Circumstances change and life is no longer shades of grey, but fuschia and lavender and emerald green and burnt orange.
Depression, on the other hand, effects the way we think. It filters the way we see everything and the glass is always half empty. Depression exists despite our circumstances, not because of them. In depressed people there is no hope that things will change for the better. It effects our relationships, our jobs, and our day-to-day interactions with people we meet at the grocery store or on the freeway. There is a word that I learned in a psychology class that really embodies what it means to be depressed. The word is anhedonia. It means there is simply no joy in life…even when you ride a rollercoaster or sit on the beach or watch the sunset with your honey. If this sounds familiar, my friend, you might be suffering from depression.
The good news (and this is the part I hope you hear) is that there are some really great treatment options for depression. Whether you go with a prescription anti-depressant, psychotherapy, or even some combination of the two, depends on many factors and requires a long conversation between you and your mental health provider. You might even be referred to a pyschiatrist for more complicated issues. Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs, are the most common class of medications used to treat depression. These drugs increase serotonin levels in the brain which helps improve our moods. Like all medications, these medications can have side effects; and a very small subset of people actually get worse, so it is very important you are closely monitored by your medical provider.
If you think you might be depressed, know that you are not alone. Understand that as dark as things are right now, it will not always be that way. Most importantly, if you are having thoughts that you don’t want to live anymore; that you just want to go to sleep and never wake up; that everything is just more than you can bear, please hear what i have to say….You, my friend, are depressed. You have an illness. There is a good treatment for your illness and you don’t have to feel this way.
Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 800-273-8255.
Go to any emergency room and tell the nurse who checks you in that you are having thoughts of hurting yourself.
Tell your medical provider or behavioral health counselor.
Whoever you are, you matter and the world is a better place because you are in it.
Have you suffered from depression? Did you find a path through the darkness? Tell us your story. Maybe there is someone just like you who will read it and find hope.