Sunday, April 10, 2016

Depression Survival: It's All In Your Head

Depression Survival

Depression – It’s All In Your Head

I unfolded the thick stack of papers, poured a cup of coffee and began reading. As a retried physical therapist with extensive training and experience, I knew the most important section to read first was the precautions with all new medications.

“POSSIBLE SIDE EFFECTS: headache, trouble focusing, memory loss, change in thinking clearly and with logic, weakness, seizures, change in balance. Other effects may include bleeding, shortness of breath, chest pains, anxiety, weight loss, bad dreams, thoughts of killing yourself, dangerous impulses, violent behavior.”

That was the first of ten pages of precautions. The last one read, “New or worse depression.”

I shook my head and tossed the unopened bottle of pills into a bag I keep for expired medications. A couple times a year there are places in my community where the public can drop off old medicines and then be disposed of properly.

The event started earlier that day when I had my annual physical. I told my physician I had two fleeting moments in the past year of suicide ideations from my clinical depression. Such thoughts are not unusual for the nineteen million people who suffer from the disease. Should you ever experience this, I recommend you go immediately to an emergency room.

My physician meant well when he prescribed the medicine. But after reading the list of precautions, I knew for certain I was not about to take it. I would do what I have done for nearly six decades of coping with the disease. My preferred method of choice is self-treatment. Research has shown that depression can be effectively treated in 80% of the cases using medicine; talk therapy or a combination – along with years of self-improvement techniques.

Emotional symptoms of depression can include: Sad mood, loss of interest in life, loss of interest in once pleasurable activities, sense of worthlessness, lack of hope, thoughts of death or suicide, anxiety, and empty feeling. Some physical signs may include: fatigue, insomnia, chronic pain, significant weight loss or gain, restlessness, irritability and decreased energy.

Should you have a desire to kill yourself here are two valuable suicide hotline numbers to call immediately. Again, I stress the need to go directly to the E-R department at your nearest hospital. 1-800-784-2433 or 1-800-273-8255

Because of my training and regular reading of scientific articles about the disease, I am well aware of brain function and depression. Research has shown that there are centers deep inside the brain that show changes in depressed people. These areas are responsible for our moods, emotions such as anger, pleasure, sorrow and fear. They also control our perceptions of reality. Other reactions controlled include how we react to stress, appetite and ability to sleep.

Billions of messages are sent throughout the brain by neurotransmitters. These messages are passed along via chemical and electrical impulses and then back to chemical. Some of the more common chemicals required to transmit messages include serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine and norepinephrine. Research has proven there are significant changes in the production – or lack of production - of these neurotransmitters with depressed people. Parts of the brain shrink in some patients with depression and PET scans show impressive electrical changes during depression.

Despite the research, scientists still do not know if the brain changes cause the depression or if the depression causes the changes in neurotransmitters. Genetic researchers have discovered some links among family members having depression. The areas of how we react to stress, child abuse and mood change have all been linked to specific genes.

Depression is one puzzle piece with diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, circulatory problems, kidney dysfunction, heart disorders, immune diseases and high cholesterol. Medications to treat depression can be powerful tools. Most have significant side effects.

Talk therapy, exercise and decades of self-inspection have assisted me with my disease. There are other forms of treatment that have pros and cons. I haven’t tried any of these, but simply report them here for you. Some of these include: phototherapy (light therapy), nerve stimulation implants, electroconvulsive therapy and transcranial magnetic stimulation. There is no one magical cure for depression. Each person, working in conjunction with the physician has to find what works best.

It does no good to tell a person hit with a wave of depression to pull themselves out it, to forget about it, try to feel better and so on. I have no control when a wave of depression crashes over me. I don’t choose to live that way. I have no say in the matter. I realize I am about to run away emotionally and shut down. I refuse to share my feelings when I am in that state. I become less active and have no energy. I sleep deeper. I don’t shave or shower and I don’t care. I exist. I hold on for the ride knowing it will pass. Sometimes I get hit a couple times a year. Occasionally, I am hit many times in a year. My inner strength has allowed me to reach deep inside and still function as valuable member of society.

Depression has been reported in many high functioning people. Some of these have included: Mark Twain, Sir Winston Churchill, Princess Diana, Barbara Bush, Tipper Gore, President John Adams and even President Abraham Lincoln.  It’s sad, and yet understandable, to remember those who lost their battles. Robyn Williams, Heath Ledger and NFL athletes Andre Waters and Dave Duerson are some well-known people who committed suicide. Depression is a serious disease. If you are not seeking help, I encourage you to do so.

I have found hobbies to be a valuable tool. Hobbies build a sense of self-worth, take my mind away from negative thoughts and improve my ability to focus. Writing, drawing, fishing, creating stained glass artwork and even squawking away with my saxophone are some of my tools. I try to go to the gym three to four times a week, I meditate and I share my feelings.

Whatever method you choose I wish you well in your journey. Remember, you are not alone.

To learn more of my life story I refer you to my books at

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