My Struggle with Depression
I published the following on February 1, 1999 on a feminist web site I used to run. I reproduce it here, even though many of the sites I originally linked to are no longer available. Rather than replace them, I’ll just leave you with the sites that still exist.
I remained in treatment as described below until about mid-2000, at which time I was weaned off medication and continued with a therapist as needed. My depressive symptoms recurred and worsened over several months last year, so I’m back on medication (Lexapro 20mg) and in bi-weekly therapy. I feel better and am coming to terms with the probability that this will be a lifetime condition in need of ongoing treatment, akin to high cholesterol or diabetes.
This is my "coming out," of sorts. For the past 14 months, I have been in treatment for depression. Not only am I coming to terms with my own depressive condition, but I am also coming to realize that as a woman I was and am more susceptible to this form of mental illness.
I know this is an unusually long page. I have tried to include useful information. If you think you may be depressed, please hang in and read to the end!
I won’t go into the gory details of my particular symptoms or the various depressive episodes I had. Everyone’s experience with this illness is different and I don’t want to appear to be making a statement about "what depression is." Let it suffice to say that it came on, and indeed worsened, so gradually that by the time it became a crisis I was too far gone to recognize it for what it was. I felt that the bad feelings would pass if only I could get more organized, if only I wasn’t so lazy, if only I could make more money, if only, if only, if only…
In retrospect, the depression had been going on for years. In fact, hindsight being 20/20, I can fairly well identify the experience that started it: a bad job experience that lasted 3 years, stressed me out, and zapped my self-esteem. I will never know for certain whether that experience triggered my depression or whether depression hindered my ability to deal with the situation in a positive, healthy way. I do know that my reaction was not "normal" in a mental health sense.
The next 4 years had their ups and downs, with each depressive episode being followed by a "good" period. But as time went on, the depressive episodes lasted longer and the good times in between were shorter. The highs weren’t as high and the lows got lower each time. My untreated illness was getting worse, as many illnesses will do in the absense of treatment.
Something told me that I needed to get help for what was, in my mind, stress management. But I had no health insurance and was barely making ends meet. More than once, usually late at night and overcome with desparation, I came close to calling the local crisis hotline. One night I almost called a nearby religious community with a 24-hour prayer line, feeling that only God could help me. I also considered setting up an appointment for counselling at a town social services agency that charges a sliding scale fee. Yet each time the worst would pass and I would convince myself that I would indeed snap out of it by myself.
Then I had an episode that brought home the severity of my situation. I was trying to do some household chores, and suddenly felt very overwhelmed by the tasks before me. Feeling I could no longer take it (whatever "it" was) I collapsed to the floor, curled up in a fetal position, and sobbed.
A short time later, after I had regained some composure, I called that social service agency and made an appointment. I didn’t realize how that call would change my life. Again, I won’t dwell too much on the particulars of my treatment, but it involved regular sessions with a therapist, an evaluation by a medical doctor, and a prescription for anti-depression medication. My treatment began 14 months ago, and I can tell you that it has been the most satisfying 14 months of my life because I am dealing with my depression.
Are You Depressed?
If any aspect of my story hits home with you, you may have depression. There are many reasons for and causes of depression. It is perfectly normal for someone to feel depressed over something like a death in the family or other difficulties of life, but unusually severe or lengthy periods of depression, or depression as a disproportionate response, is not normal. Whether depression is situational or clinical, counselling can help you identify the cause and begin finding a solution.
You can take the first step in identifying whether you may be depressed by taking a simple on-line quiz. The one that convinced me that I really was depressed is the Online Depression Screening Test from NYU Department of Psychiatry. It’s simple, quick, and gives a good indication of your possible level of depression.
Another test, which gets to the "feelings" of depression quite well is the Depression Questionaire [page no longer available] from Mental Health Net.
Other Online Resources
The internet has a plethora of sites concerning depression. All the sites listed below are written by or for women. Some are very technical and scholarly, others are much more "user-friendly." Some of the best from an informational standpoint are presented by mental health organizations:
- Women and Depression [page no longer available], from the National Institutes of Health, is somewhat dry but has a good list of symptoms for both depression and mania. It points out that women are twice as likely as men to suffer from dysthymia (long-term low-level depression) and major (clinical) depression.
- Health Net’s Depression in Women [page no longer available] is less dry and clinical. This site points out that the depression "gender gap" is greatest between ages 18-44, and over 65. Another interesting fact: an estimated 2% to 25% of women will suffer clinical depression at some time in their lives.
- The American Psychological Association site about Women and Depression [page no longer available] is a readable question-and-answer format with lots of information, including the disturbing fact that only one-fifth of women with depression get treatment.
- And for the more scholarly among you, Ellen Leibenluft, M.D. takes a more clinical look at the topic in a Scientific American article, "Why Are So Many Women Depressed?" [page no longer available]
Of course, what you may need more than information is the voice of experience. For this I recommend two excellent personal web sites by people who have battled depression:
- Deborah Deren’s Wing of Madness, full of great information and personal experiences. This is the site that really empowered me to take control of my treatment.
- And for those who need more of an on-line friend, try Kerrie-Anne’s depression page, a more personal page truly from the heart.
A few more quick notes about my experience. I didn’t tell my family about my depression until I was several weeks into therapy and had begun medication. My son’s typical adolescent response was, "Well, Mom, I knew you were a mental case." Ha! My brother and sister-in-law seemed not at all surprised and glad that I was getting treatment. My mother asked what I was depressed "about," taking some time to grasp that this was a clinical condition. My father expressed concern that I was getting proper medication. Indeed, family responses can vary widely. Ultimately, I have had tremendous support and it has helped.
I began medication with 10 mg Paxil, a specific type of depression/anxiety drug similar to Prozac. After the first week, I went up to 20 mg and have maintained that dose. I had some negative side effects for about 3 months, all of which were closely monitored by a medical doctor until they subsided. The only question mark at this point is how much longer I’ll stay on the meds. We’re playing that one by ear.
My therapy continues also. I learned that meds work best in conjunction with counselling, and I will maintain a relationship with my therapist until after I have been successfully weaned off the meds and feel comfortable that I’m back on track.
Wish me luck, as I wish luck to you.