The Black Dog So Dark
No One Dare Speak Its Name…
It is the darkness that can take everything – your very existence – away from you. To those who have never experienced the overwhelming, debilitating and suffocating condition, it may seem that you are just “being rather miserable”, and may tell you to “get over yourself”. All of us who have experienced it will know very well not only are you not going to just bounce out of it, you’re going to need more than some words of “bucking up” to ever feel somewhat normal again.
Everyone should be aware that there is a big difference between the feeling of someone who feels simply “blue” and the feeling of being clinically depressed. Being truly Depressed is to be confined to an emotional and psychological Hell, where everything is so hopeless, despairing, frightening, confusing, and utterly debilitating. At its worse it can render you near-catatonic, traumatised, overwhelmingly miserable, and completely bewildered as to how you even got there. Your life is so dark, there is no light or hope. You are trapped inside, and there seems to be no way out.
Depression is generally a condition that is a response to a situation. It comes to the fore because something extremely stressful, upsetting, unmanageable, distressing (etc) has come into your life and you have no way of emotionally dealing with it. The extreme nature of the situation(s) triggers something within, and with that comes that awful feeling of utter dread, fear, misery, and despair you feel when it starts to take over your life.
It can happen to anyone. Everyone. All of us. Unimaginably stressful things can happen to anyone at any time. Sometimes it can be the little stressful things that build up until you can’t cope anymore. Sometimes it’s a horrific trauma. Whatever the cause stressful things can overwhelm us, and we can then fall victim to Depression when it all becomes too much to handle. Somehow it unbalances the chemicals in our brains so much, it causes this condition in us. It is not in our imagination. It is not something you can “snap out of”. It does not make you weak, stupid, pathetic or less of a person. It’s a physical and psychological condition, and one that needs to be dealt with… because this is a condition can be a killer.
Too many people become so completely overwhelmed with Depression and its terrible symptoms they do not know what to do with it. Too many people self-harm or commit suicide because they do not feel they can cope. The problem with Depression is that you not only have to deal with whatever situation(s) triggered the condition, but also all the awful symptoms the condition forces upon you. Everyone who has ever suffered with it will quite probably admit it is too much to cope with. And like with any other medical condition, you need to not only seek and receive appropriate diagnosis and treatment, but also to address anything that exacerbates the condition…
Just like if you were suddenly Type 1 diabetic, you would receive proper medical treatment, avoid eating sugar, take insulin, and monitor your blood sugar several times a day, every day.
Not many people are going to take a condition like that lightly, without due care and concern, because it can kill them if not felt with properly every day.
Dealing with Depression is similar – you need to seek appropriate treatment, avoid things that exacerbates the situation, take your prescribed treatment (whether meds, some form of therapy, mediation, exercise, etc, you need to take it as seriously as if it were insulin to the diabetic), and monitor your condition several times a day, every day. The most important thing for any sufferer to remember is that – like any other condition – Depression can be either overcome or (at least) well-managed. It takes time, faith in yourself, hope, and support, but it can be done. When the appropriate action is taken, and when the condition has been stabilised, any sufferer can start working on getting better… Although that doesn’t always mean to be cured. But it does mean that you can live without that terribly overwhelming and suffocating feeling of utter despair and misery, or numbed catatonic hopelessness.
To some – like me – getting better means that monitoring the condition ensures that you don’t do things that “flare up” your symptoms, or learn better coping techniques for things – usually through CBT – that need to be done but are stressful. Like someone with diabetes, you may need to monitor your condition for a lifetime – but because of that self-care, that lifetime is going to be much longer due to the fact you took the time and effort you desesrve to care of yourself and your health properly.
Only by managing the situation(s) that have triggered the condition, and whatever else that are stressors or triggers, can you really manage the condition long-term, or be cured of it. Talking therapies can help deal with past trauma or present stresses, and CBT helps move forward and deal with your condition, helping you learn new methods of dealing with your triggers and stressors. Some people manage to whether the storm and recover completely. Others manage their condition on a long-term basis so that they never – or rarely – become “symptomatic”, but even if they do they know how to manage it properly.
There are many places to receive support for Depression. It requires courage to reach out, but it is vital to do so. Family and friends are the obvious place to start. Your GP is also another vital place to go. It’s rather like AA – the first step is to always admit that you have a problem. Hopefully they will all be empathetic, encouraging, supportive, and helpful. If for any reason you have nobody close to talk to, always reach out elsewhere. If not your GP, then to charities, support groups, helplines, online communities… There is always someone to be found who will listen – and with our always-online age, you will be able to find someone. Never give up hope or believe that voice in your head that tells you everything is too hopeless for anything to be OK again.
Ideally, you will be offered talking therapy from your GP, and possibly the option to try medication, if it is suitable. Many people find medication helpful, or even vital. To others, it will not be helpful at all. There is no One-Size-Fits-All treatment. You may have to spend time finding what works for you. The important thing is that you keep going, keep trying and find out what works for you. It will – and in some instances quite literally – save your life. Always remind yourself there is always hope… It’s always darkest before dawn might sound trite, but it will be worth waiting for that light to return; you will feel stronger for weathering what felt like the impossible storm.
If you can also possibly manage to keep up a hobby and a little exercise, then it’s very important to do so. Keeping up one interest or hobby, a short walk a day, making an easy routine out of them to make it easier to deal with. At one point I (accidentally) acquired a rescued dog, and since then I have been forced to walk every day with him – I stuff headphones in my ears, turn the music or audiobook I want to listen to up loud, and go out with him and ignore everyone else. Everyone will work out their own way of doing things… The important part is that it’s something that works for them.
The final word is that Depression is an illness. Like all illnesses, it takes time to be diagnosed and treated. It takes time for the treatment to be successful – whether a cure or ongoing stabilisation of it. With Depression it could be either, but when the treatment works, it means you can keep the symptoms at bay and you can get on with whatever you want your life to be.
Be kind to yourself. Be compassionate to yourself. Be patient with yourself.
Nothing happens overnight. Everyone with a treatable or controllable condition will get to the point where they can properly manage it, or have it cured.
Signs and symptoms of Depression
- Tiredness and loss of energy
- Sadness that doesn’t go away
- Loss of self-confidence and self-esteem
- Difficulty concentrating
- Not being able to enjoy things that are usually pleasurable or interesting
- Feeling anxious all the time
- Avoiding other people, sometimes even your close friends
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness
- Sleeping problems – difficulties in getting off to sleep or waking up much earlier than usual
- Very strong feelings of guilt or worthlessness
- Finding it hard to function at work/college/school
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of sex drive and/or sexual problems
- Physical aches and pains
- Thinking about suicide and death
If you experience four or more of these symptoms for most of the day – every day – for more than two weeks, you should seek help from your GP