Are you feeling confused and overwhelmed and not sure what to do about it? It’s a scary feeling, one you have never experienced before.
Let me help you. I have struggled with depression for most of my life and there are some things that are essential to know if you are feeling depressed for the first time.
1. What kind of depression is it?
In my experience, there are two basic kinds of depression: situational depression and chemical depression.
Situational depression is caused by something that happens in your life. When something big happens that makes you sad, like the death of a parent or a divorce or the loss of a job, you can become situationally depressed. This kind of depression usually has a beginning, caused by a specific event, and an end, and is often treated differently from chemical depression.
Chemical depression is the result your brain chemistry being off in such a way that leads to depression. You are most often born with chemical depression but it can also by caused by a traumatic life event.
Chemical depression can happen to you even if your life is going great.
Chemical depression can be treated but it might be treated differently from situational depression.
I have suffered from chemical depression my whole life and experienced situational depression while I cared for my mother as she was dying of pancreatic cancer. Both kinds of depression were tough to deal with but I figured out how.
2. There are different types of treatment for different kinds of depression.
For situational depression, depression that usually has a beginning and an end, the most effective treatment I found was talk therapy and the use of an antidepressant.
Talk therapy is very effective for situational depression because there is usually something specific that needs to be processed. For me, I had to process the effects of being the caregiver of a dying parent and then how to cope when she died.
Medication was very effective for me as well. I described my anti-depressant as something that ‘raised the bottom of the pool for me to keep me from drowning.’
The talk therapy was important for me but it wasn’t enough. The anti-depressant enabled me to get to the therapy, engage with the therapist and move on. Some time after the death of my mother I was able to stop the anti-depressant medication, although I did continue the therapy for a while.
With chemical depression talk therapy can also be quite effective but medication is often an essential part of treatment.
I have suffered from depression my whole life; the result, I believe, of genetics – both my grandfather and my great grandfather were severely depressive. The fact that my brain chemistry is off is an inherited trait, much like the thyroid cancer my grandmother passed down to me.
For me, the most effective way to manage my brain chemistry is with medication. I have been on a mood stabilizer for 10 years now and it has balanced out my brain chemistry to the point where the depression no longer controls my life.
Because chemical depression often doesn’t have an “end,” other types of treatment can be very effective. I have found that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy worked quite well for me. CBT teaches you how to talk back to your brain when it tries to bring you down. It teaches you how to identify thought patterns that don’t serve you which can help you manage your depression.
There are many other types of therapy and learned coping skills that work with chemical depression as well. Talk to you therapist about what might work best for you.
3. Depression is nothing to be embarrassed about.
In the United States mental illness is the #1 most discriminated against state of being, over race and sexual orientation. Many people believe that depression is something that can be avoided and if you are ‘strong enough’ you can power through it.
Many people also believe that taking medication is a mark of weakness. People don’t question my taking medication for a thyroid disorder but I get questioned every day about why I take psychotropic meds.
All that being said, virtually everyone in the US is touched in some way by depression. They might struggle with it or perhaps a parent or a child does. Whatever the case, there are many, many people out there living with mental illness and hiding yours won’t serve you.
In fact, one of the best ways that I manage my depression is by talking about it, with my family and friends, but also with other people who are struggling like me.
4. Your depression will get worse without treatment.
Both types of depression, both situational and chemical, will get worse without treatment.
I wasn’t diagnosed with depression until I was 42 years old when it got so bad that I had a breakdown. Earlier treatment might have prevented me from getting to that place.
It is essential that if you are struggling with depression that you reach out to your primary care provider right away. You can discuss with them the causes and symptoms of your depression and make a plan on how to move forward with treatment.
5. Take care of yourself.
If you are depressed for the first time it is very important that you take care of yourself.
Many people who are depressed self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, food and sex, among other things. While these things will make you feel better in the short term, in the long run you will find that these things only make your depression worse.
So make sure you are doing things that are good for you. Exercise regularly, sleep well and eat foods that are healthy. Spend time with people who are good to you and do activities that make your heart sing.
While these things won’t cure your depression, they will make living with it way more tolerable and allow you to live a quality life.
If you are feeling depressed for the first time it is essential that you recognize your depression for what it is and reach out for help right away.
Depression is a scary thing and while it is tempting to ignore it in the hopes that it will go away, really it won’t. I tried to ignore mine and instead found myself one day in a closet, banging my head against the wall.
So reach out to your primary care giver today. Get your treatment started. And make sure that you take care of yourself along the way.
You will be glad you did! I was.