Wednesday, 30 July 2014

My Battle With Depression

Yesterday I wrote about facing depression and I thought that would be it but some people have been in contact with me to ask more questions. I answered as best as I could and then decided to sum up some more of my views in another blog post. I'm beginning to feel a bit preachy at this stage but bear with me for one more rant. Although, the positive feedback I'm receiving is truly overwhelming and great to see. It means that people who may be scared to confide in their friends and family can witness the kind of support that will also be available to them if they need it. Nobody is alone unless they choose to be.

Unfortunately I know some people do choose to be alone but hopefully everybody's continued positivity can help change that in the near future. Depression is a very realistic condition that won't just go away. It's frightening, it's dangerous and it's affecting a ridiculously large amount of people (10% of the Irish population for starters).

It's hard to see who is suffering from it. I know that I always had a smile on my face when I met different people on the streets but inside I was feeling like shit. You can't ever really tell so it's best to just be nice to everyone. You never know what anybody else is going through, even the biggest dickhead you know, so isn't it just common courtesy to treat everybody with respect?

Equally, it's hard to really diagnose yourself with depression either. There's no magical stick you can urinate on and find out. You know you're feeling down but how can you prove that it's not just a passing thing? My advice is to assume that you are depressed and try to get it treated. Worst case scenario is you're wrong and have nothing to worry about. It may sound like an overreaction but why take chances with your mental health?

There are a lot of horrible things going on in the world today besides depression. Bullying, racism, sexism. It's hard to indefinitely put a stop to a lot of these things. Unfortunately there will always be a few bad eggs. The difference with depression though is that you can deal with it. You can put a stop to it. It takes a lot to make the decision to get started but hopefully you believe me when I tell you that starting is the hardest part. I can't guarantee that I will be able to help you get going but if you give me a few minutes then maybe we could both be surprised.

As I said in my other post, my encounter with depression is probably completely different to a lot of peoples but as requested by some of you, I will go more into detail with how I was feeling, what measures I took to combat it, what I learned along the way and the simple things I've changed in my life that have helped me feel better. Not everybody is going to benefit from this but hopefully it will help you in some small way and you can set about on the journey to your own recovery.

Six months ago, like many times in my past, I lacked motivation, I had no interest in anything, I was content with sitting in my room or on the couch all day. The only times I left the house were to get my dole, to do the shopping or to go drinking. The only people I met socially were the people in the pub. I wouldn't say I was suicidal but I certainly didn't care if I lived or died. I wouldn't be the one to do it but if it happened, it wouldn't have been a big deal to me.

It's very hard to snap out of that way of thinking, it's been the hardest thing of all if I'm being honest. Some of my good friends noticed it in me and tried to give me advice, which I pretended to heed but really I had no intention of doing so. I was somehow content in my misery.

Maybe I'm just lucky, maybe all the advice registered subconsciously or maybe I had a rare good day and just decided to capitalise on it but I decided that I was going to go to the doctor. I knew that I had to go when the motivation was still there. If I had left it a few days then maybe I'd still be stuck in a rut. So I went to the doctor and told her I thought I was depressed.

The brief moment between telling her and her replying was probably the last time I felt proper anxiety, fear or embarrassment. She instantly made me feel calm by relaying how depression is common, it's manageable and it's a real issue that every doctor in the world understands to be just as important as treating somebody for the flu, measles, arthritis or whatever. It's a real thing. It wasn't just in my head.

She prescribed me Lexapro to eventually combat it and warned me that I might feel bad in the first two weeks but it would kick in then. In truth, I never felt that downfall that was expected and I believe it's because a weight had been lifted from my mind. I was finally doing something that would help me treat all those years of misery I had suffered through. This was the start of something good.

As I began to feel more at ease I told some of my close friends about going to the doctor. Unsurprisingly, they were all very supportive of me. Surprisingly, some of them had faced or were currently facing similar battles themselves. It really hit home the fact that you can never really know who is truly happy and who isn't. It was encouraging to hear the different stories of success, fight and determination. It made a huge difference to my own battle. I wasn't in it alone. None of us are.

I was finally comfortable with telling my parents and as I mentioned in my last post, they directed me in the way of the Bio Balance Centre. There I met with another doctor who, again, made me feel very calm. He chatted to me about things and understood what I was saying. He took blood from me and I provided him with a urine sample, then I shook his hand and left. (Don't worry, I washed my hands after using the toilet.)

3 weeks later he emailed me the results that stated that I was low in iron and vitamin B12 and that I had a serotonin deficiency. He rang me straight away to explain what his treatment would be, which he had also emailed me. He told me to get several different natural vitamins that would help build up the serotonin in my body - vitamin C, calcium/magnesium, zinc, methionine, vitamin E and vitamin B6. He gave me a website ( to browse so I could learn more about all these natural supplements.

Additionally, I was to get a vitamin B12 injection every 3 months from my local doctor. I got the first one a few weeks back and it was the least pain I ever received from getting an injection, which was a pleasant surprise. He also told me that it may take a while for them to fully kick in, anywhere from 2 to 6 months. The good news is that I have been feeling reasonably good already so I'm confident that over the next few months I will continue to reap the benefits. For €400, it was the best money I'd ever spent.

Here are some other things that I have learned along the way through googling and researching. Some of these things probably fit under the bracket of common knowledge but since I wasn't fully aware of the effects it would have on my body and my mind, maybe there are some other people out there who are also unaware.

1. Get as much sunlight and fresh air as you can. The sun is a natural source of vitamin D and your whole body is refreshed when you are outside, which makes you feel a lot better in your own skin.

2. Get plenty of sleep and get up early. For some people it might be hard to do both but a good nights sleep ensures that you are more active the next day, both physically and mentally. As stupid as it may sound, years of getting up early for school and work means our minds are programmed to accept that the day starts at 7/8/9 o'clock and lingering in bed any longer will feed you with the message that you are wasting your day. I used to laze around in my bed until well into the afternoon after going to sleep at all hours of the night. I was still getting a good bit of sleep but when I woke up, I had no drive or ambition to do anything because it was 'so late'.

3. Get regular exercise. I'm dreadfully unscientific but I'll try to explain this as best as I can. The feeling you get after you finish exercising is of relief that you're finished and also accomplishment that you've achieved something. This feel good factor releases pheromones in your body, which is directly responsible for triggering a social response in you, meaning you are going to automatically feel better.

4. Watch what you eat. I don't mean that you should give up chocolate, this doesn't have to be a diet. (Anyways, chocolate is good for putting you in a good mood.) What I'm referring to is making sure you eat foods with healthy doses of vitamin C, vitamin E, tryptophan and beta-carotene. This does mean fruit and vegetables, seeds and nuts and all the rest of the usual stuff but pigging out occasionally isn't going to destroy all your progress. Just be smart about it and spread the good and the bad food out between each other. But obviously, have a heavier load of the good food compared to the bad.

5. Do something that makes you happy. For me, writing has helped me connect better with myself and have something to look forward to when I have a tough day. It doesn't have to take over your life, it can be just a hobby, but doing something you truly enjoy is a good way to help to make you feel good.

These 5 things aren't exactly ground breaking techniques that I have just discovered but they are all things that I associated with physical health rather than mental health. I've started to engage in all 5 of these things more often and I can't stress how much of a help it is. Any progress at all is registered in your subconscious and automatically is going to make you feel better.

I underestimated how powerful the mind actually is, and I know it does sound stupid, but these things genuinely can change your mood for the better. If you are still unsure about seeking medical help or talking to somebody, then give these natural remedies a try safe in the knowledge that nobody needs to know why you're really doing it. You can easily lie and say you're training for the Olympics.

I am starting to feel a bit preachy now and I have to reiterate that I am not a doctor so all of this is stuff that I have either experienced or learned about in the last 6 months. It has helped me so very, very much and I am sharing it in the hopes that it can benefit others as well.
I'd recommend watching some talks on Youtube on the subject, particularly this one.

Another comforting help to me in my lowest times is knowing that other people are in the same boat. I know that sounds ridiculous and a bit sadistic, 'Oh good, other people are suffering too', but when you are feeling alone it helps to know that other people feel alone too. Even if you never talk to these people you can connect with their circumstances and in doing so you can be alone together, which is technically a complete contradiction, but it was a comfort to me and hopefully it can be one for you as well.

I'm not naive, I know that I'm not entirely out of the woods in my battle with depression but at least with all the knowledge I've accumulated in the last 6 months it's a fair fight and a fight that I finally feel confident that I stand a chance of winning. After years of letting it get the better of me, I finally retaliated. I stood up and decided to fight back. I was the only one who could make that decision. There's only so much that a helping hand and good advice can get you. The final decision has to be made by you and you alone. I'm hoping that you join me in making that decision and start your own fight back because once you do, I know we won't be beaten.
And here's a big, juicy, cringey, cliché photo to finish on.
Fight back.