Šī ir mana raksta “Man ir depresija. Jau deviņus gadus” angliskā versija tiem, kuri pēc tās jautāja un tiem, kuriem latviešu valoda nav dzimtā, jo depresija jau nešķiro.
This is a copy of my article “I’ve been depressed. For nine years.” in English for those who asked for it and those whose native language is not their native tongue, because depression does not sort according to language preferences.
I’ve been depressed. For nine years. Medically speaking, I’ve been diagnosed with F 32.1.1. or a moderate depressive episode with a somatic syndrome. That’s what I’ve known for almost 3 years now. Before that though, for six whole years I lived with the thought that.. that was just the way I was, never liking anything, never taking an interest in anything and feeling that all of life is just meaningless and stupid, that that’s just my charachter – always ironic, sarcastic and pessimistically crude.. There are the positive people and then there are the negative people, so to say. I believed I was the latter kind and that this was how I was supposed to live for all of my life.
I don’t want to write on what depression is, what are the causes and what really goes on in the mind of a sufferer of depression. There is lots of information on that, here are some links for you to read through for a basic overview:
I want to write about what it is like to live with depression. In reality, I could almost end my article on this – it’s hard. Very hard, but not impossible.
There are different stereotypes in our society on what depression is and what causes it. One of the more popular stereotypes is that depression is caused by a heavy trauma, a loss or harsh experiences. Yes, that’s true, but that’s not all there is to the truth of depression.
I’m blessed with not having gone through huge life traumas, disasters or tragic losses. I’ve had an awesome childhood and I still have the most wonderful family in the world – loving parents and sister, the most loving grandparents and two dogs, which adds up to immeasurable love already. I’m not from a particularly poor family, but I’m also not a spoiled brat with wealthy parents. I could not say that I have been missing anything essential in my life. I might not have had the most expensive toys or the hippest bike, but I have never been in lack. That is to say, I have had a pretty normal life. I went to school, hung out with my friends and took up extracurricular activities. But I got depressed. How so? I’m not entirely sure myself; If I knew, I’d tell you.
Some doctors and scientists claim that depression can be genetically inherited; I’m not saying that this is my case, but, taking a look at my family tree, I can’t rule out this possibility entirely. Theoretically, my first signs of depression came about when I was in high school. The mood swings were conveniently written off as teenage whim and hormonal instability. Looking back on it now, putting the pieces together, I can admit – yes, it was the perfect soil for depression to develop. I had hurt my back really bad playing basketball, which at that point I had been playing for 10 years. My life revolved around basketball. The back trauma I got was the end of my basketball career. Was I upset? Yes, but I soon got over it, being the spiky teenager that I was, thinking that parties and friends are the best ways to spend my free time, much better than sweating in training all day. When this period was over, I started to grasp a certain huge emptiness in my everyday life that I had no idea how to fill and what to do with it even. During that time I started to go to high school in the city, a countryside girl starting 10th grade in Riga, the capital of my country. Suddenly I was in an environment where nobody knew who I was, nobody cared about me and my math teacher was one who told my parents that kids from the countryside can’t handle the gymnasium standards. Beforehand, I had gone to my town’s local school, my average mark was 8, I took an active part both in the student’s council at my school, as well as the local resident’s council, I was even the school president. I was organizing events, being a busy bee, and all anybody ever said was that I was headed for a bright future. There were always the heartaches, on which I can look now to see that it was a toxic co-existance for four years. Otherwise though – a normal life. And then it began.
I’ve always related depression to a snowball, starting to roll down from the hilltop, growing bigger and bigger until turing into an unstoppable ravine that takes with it anything and everything it encounters. At the beginning, I believed that I was just in a bad mood. Bad mood the first day, bad mood the following day. Then a week. Then, somehow, for a couple of weeks everything seemed so good that I forgot that I’d ever felt bad. Then it got worse again. This was how a vicious cycle of several years was born – yes, I was trying to think positively, because, firstly, that’s what everybody around me was telling me to do, secondly, I was wishing to be thinking positively myself. After a positive thinking diet came a huge binge consuming of negativism. I was trying to change my lifestyle, which eventually lead to not being able to get out of bed for days, not wanting to see my friends, and the thought of going to an event caused me headache. Even then, I did pull myself together and thought positively, and went places. Smiled, laughed, had fun all the while hosting a toxic thought party in my head. Also, trying to tell myself not to think about this didn’t help. Everybody has tried to tell themselves at some point in their life – don’t think about it, just don’t think. What does this lead to? More thinking of it.
There were the good times when things went well – friends, parties, achievements in schools and in private life, in some hobbies. This could go on for months, without notice that it could get worse again. And it always did. Crazier and crazier each time. No, I was not cramped up in a corner cutting my vains. I simply hardened up, started ignoring emotions – I was never angry, didn’t cry, never showed my weakness or pain, as well as my joy or contentment (other times it went the other way around – I was bragging about how good I was feeling). I started to become and emotionless person. All emotion reduced to a single attitude – because it was not even an emotion – “what’s the use?” I used to wonder about the meaning of life for hours, talking to girlfriends about why things were happening in the exact way they were happening in my life. There were moments where I considered the possibility that I might be needing professional help with all of this, but even if somebody assured me that I could use a visit to the psychologist’s office, I just thought – come on, I’m not a psycho exactly, it will surely go away, it’s just this thing where I feel bad for a while. I was ashamed, I felt uncomfortable and, most importantly, I simply DID NOT UNDERSTAND what was happening to me. How could it be that my peers were going on dates, kissing, developing relationships, traveling, going to concerts, studying happily, going for picnics, while for me these things seemed like torture; it took twice as much energy to even pull myself together in order to start doing something, and the energy started to wane as time went on. Depression takes a huge amount of energy, even for the most usual everyday things and activities. Because everything seems so meaningless. To start doing something, first you have to win a tough battle in your head convincing yourself that it is not in fact meaningless to do a thing/activity and that it must be committed to. This battle takes so much energy from you that sometimes there is no energy left to really physically do the thing you were trying to commit to do. For example, doing the dishes.
Thoughts and feelings of not understanding what was happening to me, why I am different and unlike everybody else, eat away at my brain and my mind. One day, I wanted to be in the center of attention being loved by everybody and hearing people call my name – here goes that cool Alice girl. The next day, what I wanted the most was to be forgotten and to just left be. Depression means it’s gray, so utterly do-not-even-care gray until it rapidly turns to black, deep dark black, or the other extreme – a rapid turn to feeling good, feeling the best actually.
And alcohol. Depression’s BFF. There were periods where I was using alcohol unforgivably and unacceptably heavy. How did I justify this? Easy enough – that was the fastest way to feel good. And the worst. I never experienced a hangover because I simply always maintained a level of alcohol in me. Like an alcoholic. Luckily, this was when I was a student, when drinking and partying went on constantly, and not everybody noticed I was constantly drunk. Drinking also didn’t make anything better at all – like in a song I remember – “don’t look for happiness in a bottle, the bottle does not contain it”. Bullshit, I called; back then I was convinced that there was no happiness anywhere at all.
Well, only if I drop dead. Yes, depression involves suicidal thoughts. At first they’re like “nobody loves me; I wonder what would they say if I died suddenly”, but during the lowest point of my depression (even after turning to professional help) I started being afraid of myself. I understood that there may come a moment when I open up the window nice and wide and just jump out of it. And never understand the whole of it. That was the level of bad I was feeling, so shitty and apathetic that I was scared that I would not be able to control myself. During those times, I did not care that there were people who considered suicide a sign of weakness and that it did not actually solve anything. Nope, in my head it was the opposite – suicide seemed like the bravest thing that I could have done to solve all of my problems, including the biggest problem of them all – life. Not feeling like a coward, no thoughts on what others would have to go through to live after an event like that. They would surely find a way. Cry it out and move on. I, on the other hand, would not have to go through this torture any more, trying everything out – moving house, meeting new friends, replacing old friends, taking up new hobbies, doing sports, setting up a resolution to not drink a single drop of alcohol anymore, moving house again – to another country, another city. BUT NOTHING HELPED! These things help up until there’s another acute attack of feeling like shit. After that, it does not matter if you have made your lifelong dream come true, if you’re living in your dream country and city, have the most wonderful friends in the world or an awesome job. The worst part is, all along the way other people suffered – suffered from my hasty and light-headed decisions, made in an upsurge of either bad or good emotion. One day things were good and sunny, the next three days I wanted not to have to talk to anybody at all. Maybe, depression can be described as follows – it is not like the flu or pneumonia – you go through the illness, and that’s the end of that story. Depression is more like asthma or epilepsy – you can be living normally for months and then suddenly be hit by an attack of depression.
My story could go on and on like this. It has been nine years after all. Yet I did not even mention the disaster that depression causes for your sleep, the sleepless nights that it brings; I did not mention how lazy depression makes you get – greasy hair, dirty clothing, everything is just all the same. No wonder depression is sometimes called a lazy person’s illness. However, depression is not caused by laziness. The laziness is a side effect of being depressed. I have spent hours upon hours in bed staring at the ceiling and screaming silently, cursing at the situation – why me, why do I have to suffer from something like this? Why?! It seems that you can’t help yourself in any way and nobody takes depression seriously, all that “just focus positively, it will all go away” stuff, but nobody understands that you just can’t be trying to think positively all of the time anymore. It just doesn’t work. I used to say that I would rather spend 5 years limping around with a broken leg than suffer from depression. I was ready to do anything to break free from the depression. I was not ready, however, for the most important step – acknowledging that things really were the way they were and that I was in need of professional assistance.
I think that three years ago I was at my lowest and toughest point in my depression. I had made so many wrong decisions in my life that I could not handle it physically anymore – I had a high body temperature on the regular, and it came on as fast as it disappeared. In the end, the temperature came about due to the smallest stressful situation. I was feeling unwell physically – I was feeling dizzy, nauseated, I could not eat and I was sweating heavily. The moment I relaxed (with a glass of wine, perhaps), the physical symptoms went away like magic. These effects were joined by weird spots on my arms that itched like hell and I woke up each morning with bloody skin on my arms even though I knew I was not supposed to scratch myself. The spots appeared and disappeared as instantly as the temparature changes. The more stress, the more unhappy I felt, the bigger and itchier were the spots. In fact, I had started to ignore these two bodily signals a year and a half ago. After this, I came to a realization – I can’t make it out of this nightmare alone, I need some help. After an incredibly hard night of crying like never before in my life and having my friend sit by my side, listening to me explaining that nobody can understand what it’s like, living each day with the thought of wishing to be dead, waking up and feeling like you want to kill yourself, going to work and thinking about quitting the game of life. I rested against the wall, tears like waterfall streaming down my face and just repeating that this is so horrible that I just want to die all the time. The following morning I found the phone number for the local psychiatric clinic and called in to arrange a consultation. I chose the exact facility because consultations there are free of charge (in some cases you have to pay around 3 EUR, but I know I never did, and I’m not sure which are the cases when you do have to pay), I was scared and didn’t tell anybody, but I was exhausted to the point I didn’t even care, this was the last straw.
I went to the consultation, and it was the happiest day of my life. The best decision I have ever made. I was diagnosed. They prescribed medications and suggested a therapist. For the first time it sunk in – depression is something real, a complex of negative thoughts and incomplete functioning of neurotransmitters and neurons, a loop that feeds itself. And that I was at the stage where I needed chemical intervention to get me back on the line enough to see a therapist and work through the emotional side of all of this. At that moment I lost all prejudice on antidepressants being bad or useless for you, I was ready to try anything and everything to just feel better and to get help. I still maintain that, if the antidepressants do in fact help me, I don’t mind taking them till the end of my life. I’m hoping that there comes a day when I can leave the medicine behind me.
I started taking the medicine and I got better. Slowly, so slowly. But I did. I could get out of bed in the morning and I wanted to survive each day. Now, that was a lot for me. That was the most important, basic thing. I got better, started to grasp myself, my values and needs, goals and the course of my life. Slowly I survived the first year, starting to feel that it’s OK if you feel bad and it’s OK if you feel good, and it’s awesome if you can go out, meet friends, go to a theatre, a movie, an exhibition. Slowly my interest towards things came back – I returned to reading books, I took an interest in yoga, I was riding a bike and a longboard, things started to make sense again.
And then I found myself in a psych ward. Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? In reality, it wasn’t as dramatic. My organism simply had not gotten accustomed to the medicine, and it had fallen back into its old tracks. Even at work, which I had finally started doing with the utmost pleasure, there emerged a pile of problems and obscurities. It all collapsed in a single point and I understood that things have gone really bad once again, but this time I was sure I didn’t want to go back to where I had been. I called a neurosis clinic and checked into their day hospital, because I could not afford a full treatment course. My medicine was adjusted, a day plan was set up – physiotherapy, art and music therapy, audiovisual therapy, psychological consultations, and in the afternoons I went to work. During mornings I was in therapy, in the afternoons at work. I did pay a whole lot of money for this, and at one point I joked that I might get depressed from the costs of treating my depression. The hospital opened my eyes in relation to mental illness even more. I went to therapy with people that made me think these two things – thank God I’m not doing as badly, and – I might just be doing as badly as they are. It was a huge discomfort, everybody knows that people with schizophrenia or mental disability exist in our society, but sitting in the same room and working in a therapy setting with them – it’s shocking, makes for a huge discomfort and pushes you out of your comfort zone. A LOT.
I made it to my baseline, almost a year has passed and my life has gone up and up since the clinic. I can’t put in words the feeling that I have not known for almost 10 years, the feeling that it’s SO beautiful to be alive and live. Even the worst of days. The feeling of having butterflies in your stomach. Because to live, to LIVE not only to survive and exist, is SO beautiful. The feeling of taking an interest in things once again, wanting to be at events, meet people. Having the energy to get up and go do things even if I fail at some of it. The feeling that convinces me that it’s worth it taking up a fight with this nine-headed dragon of a beast that depression is. It might be too soon to celebrate being depression-free, because deep inside I know that depression could be like alcoholism. But I do know that it’s treatable, it’s an illness that you can do something about, and we live in a time with plenty of opportunities to help yourself live a fulfilling life – medications, therapies, psychologist’s consultations or all of the above. Each can find his or her own way to treat depression – traditional medicine, alternative medicine, whatever works, but you must understand that this is serious business, and you must not feel ashamed. I understand now that the pills gave me a starting chance at battling depression, the “well, just pull yourself together already” thing for me. The medicine was me pulling myself together, all else is in my hands now – therapy, learning about emotions, getting out of my comfort zone, positive thinking and what not. What I wanted to say with all of this is that depression is a real illness, even though you can’t technically “see” it. I think that many people who know me could be surprised upon reading this article and finding out I have depression, because they have had no clue up until now. Since I started admitting that I have depression, I’ve heard the phrase “How so? You’re always smiling and happy… That can’t be true!” many times. I live a completely average, normal life; the fact that I had depression does not mean that I’m a textbook example of a psych ward patient with hallucinations and that I’m talking to myself all the time.
I was just a member of society – I ate, drank, worked, had fun. Only a couple of people know how deeply, deeply hard all of these simple things were for me. Two, if not three times as hard.
I’ve been wanting to write this article for a while now, some five months, but I kept on postponing it, being afraid, because it feels like acknowledging that you have depression when you live in the small society of Latvia is like.. coming out of the closet. Now I’ve come to the moment when I don’t care if a handful of people call me disabled from now on, because I will be so, so, so very happy if only a single person reads this article and gets the feeling that he or she is not alone in the world, there are people that feel the same way, and that there is help available and there is no shame in asking for that help or receiving it.
I have to express my gratitude to my friend, who basically kept me alive all these years, waiting out patiently by my side through the bouts of depression and steering my thoughts back relentlessly towards the fact that I was in need for help. Also, my family, because no matter how hard it has been, the love from my family and my friend are largely the only reasons for me still being here and writing these lines. The only reasons I did not choose to end my life like one of the best comics in the world, Robin Williams, or the Germanwings pilot and the plane’s passengers, as the chef of one of the most prestigious restaurants in the world, as many many famous sportists, musicians and actors, as well as many thousands of common people who could not find a way out of depression other than taking their own lives.
Thank you, I love your very, very much, and I appreciate you.