Looking good? But are you feeling great?

by Lorraine

What is depression and how to cope with it

Today I present to you a guest article by 40+Style reader Lorraine on an important topic that can very much influence the way we look and feel: depression. Lorraine recounts her personal experience.

We subscribe to 40+ Style because we all want to look our best, but what if we don’t feel great?

Everybody has the odd day when they feel low or down for some reason – a bad dream, a sharp word, dull weather, work or financial problems – but we usually manage to shake it off or ‘snap out of it’.

Signs of depression

But if feelings of anxiety, helplessness or sadness linger for days or even months, they could be a sign of something else – clinical depression.

Depression is a real illness, with real symptoms, and is treatable, yet many people feel ashamed or embarrassed to talk about it and delay acting. It affects many men and women during their lifetime; for women it can be when they are going through changes or loss like the menopause, retirement, death of a parent, marriage breakdown or children leaving home.

There are even specific forms of depression – they include Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) , postnatal depression and manic depression (bi-polar disorder).

A personal experience

I feel strongly that your mental health is as important, if not more important, than your physical health, and that we should be able to talk about it, which is why I am prepared to share what I went through.

I was diagnosed with depression on my 32nd birthday. At the time I was functioning – barely –but was rigid with anxiety, cried a lot, couldn’t sleep or eat and generally felt hopeless. I was spiralling downwards. Just having a name for those feelings was a huge relief. My mother, on the other hand, was mortified when she heard.

Once I had something to cling to I was able to start on the road to recovery. Although I wasn’t sure I wanted to take drugs, I had to continue to work and pay a mortgage. I was prescribed Prozac, fairly new at the time and probably the best known anti-depressant, thanks to negative media coverage. All I can say is that it worked for me. I liken it to a rope ladder being thrown to someone at the bottom of a well. Six months later I was referred to a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist who saw me on condition I came off the drugs.

My depression was the result of the end of a relationship coinciding with the start of a new job. I was vulnerable and ended up being bullied at work, which destroyed my confidence and made me even more anxious. For some people, a predisposition to depression can run in their family or it can be a side effect of medication you are taking, or of an illness.

What to do if you notice signs of depression?

If you think you might be depressed there is a lot of information available on the internet, including checklists of possible symptoms. It’s important that you see your doctor as soon as possible as they can explore the severity of your symptoms, help explore possible causes and look at treatment options. Drugs are not necessarily the answer but they are nothing to be afraid of either.

Research into anti-depressants has seen the introduction of different drugs that act in different ways. They are powerful, though, and should be treated with respect. Other treatments include counselling, light therapy, exercise or even HRT, if the menopause is at the root of the problem.

Recovery

Since suffering from depression I have experienced losses, difficult and stressful situations, failed IVF and the menopause. I also changed jobs and worked my way to board level of the company, appeared on TV and started my own business.

I consider myself lucky. For years I kept a packet of Prozac in the drawer as a reminder of those dark days but I never felt so bad that I needed to take them. Knowing the symptoms meant I could manage them through banishing negative thoughts, keeping busy, seeing friends and exercising. My confidence came back (and more) and I became stronger and more able to cope with life’s challenges. I finally realised I was getting better when I was able to laugh again.

Everybody experiences different symptoms of differing severity, but if you are not enjoying life, ask yourself why and if you need help, get it. You can’t tackle it alone.

Have you ever experienced depression? What would be your best advice for those struggling with it right now?

Lorraine is 54 and lives with her husband in a rural village in England.  A former director of a public relations agency, where she managed the corporate communications division, Lorraine is now on her second career as a garden designer. She also grows and sells plants.  Lorraine enjoys the theatre, reading, crafts and travelling – particularly to South East Asia – and clothes.

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{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Ofelia

I have a family member that is manic-depressive and also has bipolar tendencies but since he makes everyone believe that he is just a big machista and that he just have ups and downs or a bad temper he has never seek proper help and has never accepted his metal health problems. This has caused a lot of suffering for those around him.
I command you for this honest post.

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Lorraine

Hi Ofelia. Thanks for your comment.
You have raised a very important point here. Men suffer from depression too and it is often made worse by their refusal to discuss or acknowledge it.

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traceyliz65

My daughter just graduated from college with a degree in Psychology and plans to go on to a PHD… that is solely because of watching her bi-polar grandmother (my in-law) and even at five years old my astute child asked if she could be given a pill to help her be quiet. Thank goodness they live 12 hours away and she has only been an occassional part of our lives as she is also narcisstic and would never ask for help….

I suffered depression when my mother became ill and I closed a business I loved to care for her and watched her deteriorate and disappear from dementia before passing away. I sought counseling shortly after she passed. I turned to exercise, music and dance and refused to go back to bed and hide ever again… It was a terrible few years of suffering in which I gained 60lbs…

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Lorraine

Hi Tracey. Thanks for sharing your experience too. My parents died within two years of each other, both 64, after illnesses but I was able to stay strong because I of what I had already been through. Well done to you for working through it and for losing the weight.

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Rita A.

Thanks for sharing your experience, Lorraine. It’s wonderful that you were able to identify something was wrong and seek help! You are a great example of how depression can be overcome and that it’s so worth making the attempt.

I, too, have a relative (older) that struggles with anxiety and depression, but dismisses seeking help, saying you can’t change circumstances, and (my interpretation) it’s just easier to go with being miserable than doing the work to get well. I wonder if this attitude is indeed part of the illness. Also, because the illness has taken over, the person simply cannot see that not only does their illness affect them, but everyone around them.

You’ve demonstrated that though one goes through various trials in life, a person may not be able to change what is/has happened, but through recognizing there is a problem, seeking professional help, and following up with hard work, a person can change how their mind and body react.

Your comment that your mother was mortified by your diagnosis also struck me. I wonder if it is, in part, a generational thing not wanting to recognize depression as a real illness. Testimonies like yours will help to get the word out that it’s OK to talk about such things and seek treatment!

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Lorraine

Thanks Rita. A friend suggested I might be depressed and that I go to the doctor. At the time I thought I was losing the plot! Once I had a name for it I was able to move forward.
I absolutely think your relative’s attitude IS part of the illness. There is a helplessness and hopelessness about depression that prevents you from helping yourself. Also, you have a sort of tunnel vision where you are introspective and ‘selfish’ and have no awareness of what it is doing to others. In turn they too feel helpless. None of this behaviour is deliberate and you can’t ‘pull yourself together’ or ‘snap out of it’ without outside professional help.
My mother’s attitude was part generational, partly her personality and partly because, at the time, she was working as a medical receptionist in a deprived area of the country. She saw some very sad specimens with depression and also people claiming depression to avoid work. For her the answer was to march into the place I worked (even though she was 300 miles away) and have it out with the ‘bully’ – but I was 32 and it was rather more complex!
I am happy to say that you can get through it even though it doesn’t seem so at the time.

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Greetje

Hi Lorraine, I was typing my comment but was distracted 3 times. After I finally submitted the comment, I read the comments again. Now I have a question: is there a difference between a depression and what we in Holland call a burn-out?
And I am not talking about manic depression or a mental illness. I am talking about the variant that can happen to everybody who is exposed to too much stress for too long a time.

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Lorraine

Hi Greetje. I don’t think I am really qualified to answer this one but anxiety played a huge part in my experience and I would think that prolonged exposure to stress could well result in depression unless it the person found a way to manage it.

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Rita A.

I like the image of your mother going all “Dirty Harry” on the bully. 🙂 Sounds llike a strong woman.

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Lorraine

She was but, like me, her weapon of choice was laughter!

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aileen

What a wonderful subject to tackle, Lorraine, and I commend you for your frank honesty in how you overcame depression. When I had my son I suffered anxiety and depressing and have occasionally had relapses due to bullying at work, or losing close family.
I was also married to someone who was bio polar and his episodes became so violent it ended the relationship.
As you know, it is still a difficult illness to admit to because of the negative perception around it. Once you admit your suffering from depression you can see some of your friend disappear overnight. But not all. Your real friends will be supportive and admire your bravery in admitting how you feel.
Thanks Lorraine, for sharing this, you are a very courageous lady.

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Lorraine

Aileen – I just want to remove the stigma from this topic, as it seems to me that it is still there, so many years after my own experience. I also hate it when people say they are ‘depressed’ when they are actually just fed up!
Thanks for sharing your own experiences – I think you are the courageous one.

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Greetje

Hah… been there, done that.
Around me, so many friends have had burn-outs, depressions .. the works. It has become a lot more “normal” now to talk about this subject. At work my colleagues “fall” like flies. So many people have to take on too much. The Netherlands has the highest productivity per person of the world. But at high human cost.
I have had a very short burn-out (6 weeks) when I was around 41, but 4 of the 5 things that caused it were resolved within a month. That helped a lot. My method to overcome my crisis at the time was: “buy everything in sight”. So it was a blessing that I recovered in such a short period haha. I still have the watch which I bought in that period. After buying that “the sun started shining a little again”.
A couple of years later I felt that I was heading towards it again and have been able to prevent it by talking to a psychologist for at least 20 sessions. It still helps me to stop myself when I am being too much of a perfectionist. And sometimes I stop myself a little too late. But I am in the lucky circumstances that I have a choice. If you have to stay in your job to earn money for your family and you are being bullied by colleagues or the boss, it is far more difficult.

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Lorraine

Greetje – Thanks for your comments. What you describe sounds like a combination of exhaustion and stress. If not managed I think they could lead to depression so well done for taking action to prevent it. This shows an awareness of what is happening and knowledge of yourself. At the time I didn’t have either, I feel. I know that when I was depressed I would not have been able to shop – your enthusiasm for life (and shopping and laughing) just goes.

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Greetje

I had seen so many examples in my close circle that I was alert. Friends who were crying and not able to do anything for more than a year.
When I actually truly answered a friend at a reception how I felt, I saw all the people he was with before, flee. Like grease in a bowl when you put detergent in it.
At receptions you are supposed to say: “fine”. Nobody wants to know how you really feel.
I recognized my behaviour and condition at an early stage.

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Sylvia

Thank you for sharing your story with us Lorraine. And thanks to all the other ladies who shared their experience in the comments. It’s good to know that depression happens more than we may think but that there are real solutions to conquer it.

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Carla

I also have had issues with depression, but not until i started to be bullied. You don’t really understand what a person goes through when they are being bullied until you go through it. It devastates everything about you. You begin to believe that you are to blame and even you start to pick on your self. There really is no where to turn for help no one really understands or has the ability to stop the harassment. I was on efexor it does help but it does NOT solve the problem.

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Lorraine

Hi Carla. Thanks for sharing your experience. I initially thought the bullying was a woman – woman thing but then I discovered that my boss had done the same thing to my predecessor (a man) and he had had a nervous breakdown. Of course I wasn’t told this in the interview as she was on the panel! The company was aware of what was going on and even gave me time off to look for another job but they wouldn’t get rid of her. She was a couple of years off retirement and it would have been too expensive for them. In the end I had to leave.

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Carla

I’m still trying to stick my job out as I really love being able to to help people. I have lived here in this small town my whole live. I know most of the people here, when they are sick or injured the stress of that should be the hard part of my job. I am coming to the conclusion that for my own sanity I may have to leave this job. Thanks so much for your response there should be some support for people who are bullied at work. It is so hard to explain how it feels because there is no one big thing, its an accumulation of endless daily little things. I wish you all the best Lorraine. And to EVERYONE else hang in there and get help THAT’S OK, Don’t let it injure you more than it has. Your health is for a life time.

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sandi

Hi Lorraine
Like you I am not happy to take tablets, I have a CBT session booked for this week, although I am highly sceptical! Did you find it useful and was your anxiety at the time extreme (mine is!!!)
I just feel as though I do not want to face another day of anxiety panic attacks etc
I have no energy or drive to do anything!

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Lorraine

Hi Sandi – I’m sorry to hear that you are suffering from anxiety – it’s debilitating and you really need to remove the cause, if you know what it is and if you are able to.
By the time I had CBT I had left the job (with nothing to go to) so the bullying anxiety was replaced by anxiety about how I was going to manage financially. The CB therapist would not see me unless I came off the antidepressants so that was quite scary as they were helping me. It’s difficult to say if CBT worked or not but I think you should be open minded about it and try to work with the therapist, even if they are asking what seems like the impossible (like finding positive things to say about yourself). All I can say is that I did get better, even if it was in barely perceptible steps. Don’t expect a sudden ‘cure’. Be kind to yourself, exercise (this could just be going for a walk), get out in the fresh air and sunshine, set small goals – I wish you the very best of luck.

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Anne Marie

Lorraine thank you for sharing your story on depression – You are a brave example that there is a way out of depression !

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