Do something about it

Depression doesn’t advertise itself like measles or flu, so it’s hard for most of us to know when we got it or why it started.

My own depression journey began 10 years ago with extreme grief over the death of a loved one. I don’t know when grief became depression and my counsellor says that my childhood probably had something to do with it. We probably have some of that in common as things that happened in childhood apparently have a lot to do with the kind of people we turn into as adults. Where we all come together though, is that we have an obligation to do something about it.

A friend and colleague, who is a psychotherapist in Auckland, describes depression as a form of intense sadness which affects our whole self — our brain and body, our cognition, behaviour, immune and nervous systems.

It differs from typical mourning because in ordinary sadness, the mourner sees the world as empty and defective. However, in depression the person pinpoints their sense of emptiness and inadequacy in themselves and typically experiences feelings of hopelessness, self-hatred, despair and an inability to enjoy daily life. Depression can be a single episode or recurrent. It isolates a person from their family and the community, enclosing them in an existence in which they have no interest or pleasure in doing things they used to enjoy.

First thing — you must get on some meds. You don’t have to commit to therapy or answer difficult questions, just go to any medical centre and tell the GP (general practitioner) you think you have depression. Straight away the doctor will write you a prescription for anti-depressants because that’s the first step in pulling you back from the edge of the cliff.

There are various anti-depressants suited to individual needs. Don’t be scared of them; used correctly they are not habit-forming and they are a much better option than where you are at right now.

The GP could ask a few basic questions to get an idea of how desperate your situation is. If the GP acts very concerned about you, please listen as you might be a lot closer to the edge than you know.

? List people you don’t want to hurt

The next important step if you are really serious about getting this thing sorted and your life back is to make a list of the people who are going to be badly hurt if you suicide. Thinking about the people who will be left behind makes you realise that your depression is not yours alone. It includes and affects all your people.

So, where does that leave you? You are deep in a black hole and what you thought was a way out just became a big “No! No!” Think of it like this — you don’t want your family to remember you this way: “Yes we really feel bad now that we know how you were suffering, but you are an inconsiderate s**t for doing this to us.”

It’s reality check time. If you are an out-of-control depressive heading for a train crash, then you need to get your train into a siding while you stocktake your life. If the train won’t stop spend more time with your list of people, who will be devastated if you suicide, and get back to your GP to see if the meds are strong enough.

? Start talking about it

OK. If you are still with me we must have stopped the train and we have some time to make a plan. The big, new saying about depression is: Don’t keep it a secret — talk to people about it. Yeah right! It’s easy to say but where do you start?

Small steps. Chances are there are one or two people around you who have some idea of what’s going on and might have mentioned names or places about where to go for help. Think about that and if you can, go to the contact you are most comfortable with. I was fortunate enough to find someone who is both a friend and a therapist who got me through it.

There are a range of qualified people out there starting at a user-friendly level where you can get a gentle introduction to what depression is and what you can do about it, then working up to experienced professionals who will help you get sorted.

Don’t be put off if you don’t have a therapist. You’ve already done the first step. You’ve stopped the runaway train; you’re on the meds and you’ve made your list of people who will be badly hurt if you suicide.

If you haven’t found a therapist go back to the GP who got you the meds and ask for a referral to a therapist or go to one of the helplines available.

The main thing is to keep the momentum going. Step one was the hardest and you did it. Keep going one step at a time my friend, and you will get progressively better as you start seeing the brighter side of life and you’ll get satisfaction from knowing that you did it!

? Housecleaning

Your life has a lot of stuff in it. You are busy just living which makes it hard for a person living with depression to find time for the recovery stuff.

Make a list of all the stuff in your life. Then make another list of all the stuff you can definitely do without. And put on this list the stuff that you might be able to do without. Now what is left is the stuff that you are going to carry on with, starting tomorrow. And it’s OK for stuff to come back on to the “necessary” list. You be the judge.

You should now have space in your life for the recovery stuff.

? Life-structure principles

If you’ve been conscientious, you may have come this far in three months; if it takes longer, that’s OK. It’s your journey and the main thing is to keep moving forward. It took me 10 years, you may do it better than I did. But do it please!

There are lots of good self-help books. Find one that works for you and make it your bible. Mine is Your Sacred Self by Wayne W Dyer, which has given me life-structure principles to work with. A lot of the best books have been written by people who have been where we are with depression.

Life-structure principles are another set of tools to go with your meds, your list of people (you can’t hurt) and your therapist.

Depression is a sickness that requires more than meds and vitamins to cure. It needs your whole mind and body to work together in a healthy life structure. I now live by the life structure called SEEDS: S for social, E for exercise, E for education, D for diet, S for sleep (paraphrased from John Arden’s lecture at AUT Auckland).

And belief in God? How big a role God plays in your life is up to you.

I add a big A for alcohol. You don’t have to get drunk every day for alcohol to be playing a significant role in your mental health. Doctors say alcohol is a depressant not a stimulant. I went cold turkey from seven stubbies a day to zero at age 72 (after 50 years of social drinking). My mind started feeling better after day 30. My recovery had more to do with quitting alcohol than my meds.

? The future

What of the future? It’s hard to describe but you will know it when you feel it — and it feels good.

Coming out of depression is one thing, staying out is another. Sometimes I can begin to feel not so good and in need of solitude and even extra sleep. Right now I feel I need something to tip me back into “IFG” mode. This writing is a feel-good for me, but I need more.

I was just getting my head around what to do when Bingo! the email came in from Tui Motu saying they want to publish my story and there I was with a huge lift and a fresh new job to do.

? This article also appeared in Tui Motu Magazine Issue 216 last month. The writer, Rob Pitts, was born in England, schooled in Australia and has lived in Fiji for more than 50 years. He and his family live on Nananu-i-Ra Island where they run Bethams Beach Cottages.


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