The Lighter Side of Depression
Depressed? Even your darkest days have a bright side
Posted February 23, 2010
Ten years ago (almost to the day), I hit the lowest point of my life. I was in my Emergency Medicine residency. The days felt so black, and the future felt so empty, that I couldn't see any point to continuing. I was sure that there was something biologically wrong with me. After all, depression was genetic, right? Even worse, I was still miserable even though I was taking antidepressants.
Back then, it was still pretty unusual to be on antidepressants, and no one was talking about depression. Today, antidepressants are the number one drug class prescribed in America.
Is everyone really this depressed, or have we somehow started calling normal life experiences "depression"? Is there something about Western life that sets us up for disappointment and depression? I think so.
Research tells us that we've got the whole money/happiness thing wrong. People chase after money for a lifetime, putting it ahead of everything else, and then feel like they've been cheated when they sit in their huge house in front of their stadium-sized plasma TV and feel the same, or worse, than they did when they were penniless and struggling. Studies show that lottery winners aren't any happier, or end up less happy, than when they were comparatively "poor". I believe so strongly that the misguided pursuit of money and stuff, while neglecting what really counts, contributes strongly to our culture's epidemic of depression.
So what really counts? Your family, your friends, contributing to the lives of others, living according to values and ethics. If you're feeling depressed, does that mean that you've got your priorities all wrong? Perhaps. Try spending more time with loved ones, and helping other people, as these actions have been shown to significantly improve symptoms of depression.
Take time to get enough rest, eat well throughout the day (healthy foods, not junk), and drag yourself off the couch to take a walk around the block. Since depression kills your motivation and ability to derive pleasure from everyday activities, this won't necessarily be easy - but it can help pull you out of the dark hole you've found yourself in.
If you're really stuck, and just can't pull yourself out of the rut, particularly if you're having thoughts of suicide (as I did), you may need anti-depressant medications to help you turn things around. Ideally, though, they're not something to rely on for the rest of your life. Cognitive behavioral therapy (in which you change habitual thoughts, perspectives and behaviors) has been shown to prevent remission in many cases. In my experience, you can learn to rely on God and the good life and health practices that will help you from sliding back down again.
Depression turned out to be one of the biggest gifts that life ever gave me. If I hadn't gotten so depressed, I'd probably still be half-heartedly slaving away in Emergency Medicine (a profession that I'm not even remotely suited to), instead of doing the wonderful things like writing, teaching and coaching that make my life today so rich. I turned to these other options out of desperation, because my depression was so bad that I just couldn't continue my Emergency Medicine training, no matter how hard I tried. Thank goodness!
Our bodies signal us through pain. If you've got an infection in your body that needs to be treated, your body signals you with pain, so that you get yourself to a doctor. If you've injured your back, your body tells you through pain and spasm that you've got to take it easy and rest your injured muscles.
When your life is full of emotional pain, that's also a symptom that's telling you something.
What are your moods telling you? Your emotions are very real, and so important. I used to be a total drag. My friends would call, and I would spend half the time crying to them. It wasn't just a matter of adopting a positive attitude, or cheering up, or taking a pill. The only way I found peace of mind, and stopped crying, was to understand that I needed to change, and I also needed to change my life. That's my story. Your story, of course, may be totally different.
If you're feeling depressed lately, give yourself permission to reflect: what element of your life might be at the root of it? Have you noticed that some people make you feel better, and some make you feel worse? When do you feel worst? When do you feel best? Have you felt like this at another time in your life? What was going on?
Depression isn't a death sentence. For me, it forced me out, out into a new life. It also gave me fresh compassion and understanding for others, particularly the depressed patients I see in my part-time practice as a GP. I will forever speak gratefully of the impact of depression on my life. (This is my experience, thankfully; I don't mean to minimize the suffering of those who suffer from chronic severe depression, that doesn't respond to these types of interventions)
It's hard to believe in or see that gift when you're in the midst of it - I remember what it was like. I had no one around me to tell me otherwise, though. I'm telling you, you will appreciate it and perhaps even celebrate the experience, one day!
Note: if you're experiencing symptoms of depression in any form, you must see a professional immediately for help. The contents of this article are not meant to be medical advice.
Dr. Susan Biali, M.D. is a wellness expert, life and health coach, professional speaker, and flamenco dancer. She has been featured as an expert on the Today Show and other media outlets, and is available for keynote presentations, workshops, and private coaching. Visit susanbiali.com to receive a complimentary eBook, Ten Essential Easy Changes—Boost Mood, Increase Energy & Reduce Stress by Tomorrow.