Some people have asked me how I came out from under the weight of clinical depression. It’s a good question; but I don’t feel like I’ve always been able to answer it with sufficient depth. I have suffered from lifelong minor depression, with major episodes taking up much of the last decade. It’s been huge. I once spent a year in bed. I worked at an escort agency one night a week, which was enough to pay rent, bills and basic food costs. I piled up my cats food and water bowls, and opened the windows for them to wonder in and out at their will, and they could get into bed with me for cuddles when they wanted. I was too exhausted to stand up for longer than a few minutes, and my vision was so badly affected by the depression, I couldn’t even read very much. It was a truly awful time, this was before I was diagnosed and on meds. Things got better after I was on Zoloft, but I spent the last couple of years on the maximum recommended dose, and while I was stable, I was a long way from well. I’ve been off meds entirely since December 2005 and hope I’ll never need them again.
The break up was a bit of a crisis point for me last year, things had got so terrible, I had to ask myself how I had got myself into a position where I was in love with someone who could treat me without respect. It was a big question that took months to really answer. I was also remembering the other really devastating break up I’d been through, when I was about 21, I spent a year breaking up with a partner of four years. From that point my major depression emerged. My last psychiatrist in Adelaide had mentioned that it’s possible to actually die from very severe depression. Aside from obvious suicide risks, when your serotonin is so depleted (serotonin is a neurotransmitter [responsible for passing messages between different parts of the brain] however it also regulates the gastro intestinal tract and other organs with within the body) your organs can simply shut down and you can die. So I was stuck in a new town without many friends, a relationship breaking up, I had to move, and I really needed to continue to work hard as Sydney is so fucking expensive. I was terrified, but I also had to fight for my own life.
We were continuing to cohabit for a miserable month after breaking up. Hideous politeness with moments of pure cruelty as the dam would burst. I was trying to keep it together as much as possible as I still hoped we could be friends at some point, so I didn’t want to break down entirely. I started obsessively doing housework (something I’ve never been good at) as a way of keeping moving and minimising interacting time. Something shifted. Exercise is a key self-help strategy and keeping in constant motion by washing, ironing, etc started to make me feel more in control. She went back to Adelaide for a family event for a weekend, which gave me some respite, and my brain started working again. I was walking home from the brothel I was working at about 6am. I started to feel like I knew how to emerge from this. I consulted some of my depression self help books and started to work out an action plan. It finally clicked into place that many symptoms of depression also prolong the illness.
Depression often means that you have no motivation to leave your house, engaging with the outside world, or interacting with people in a social context. Social contact and feeling a part of a community is a huge part of mental health. Depression tends to slow your whole body down, and motivation around moving at all just isn’t there. Exercise is hugely beneficial around depression – using your body makes a massive difference to your sense of well being and being capable. Statistically these two things make the most difference in terms of wellness and recovery, so these were the major focuses of my action plan. I regularly invited everyone I knew to coffee, dinner, movies. Anyone I met that seemed lovely, I exchanged contact details with, and actually contacted them and continued to build a network. I walked my arse off – sometimes 5 hours, sometimes 7, sometimes 10 hours. Constant walking. After such a convoluted explanation, it’s actually simple. Focus on the symptoms. The fact that it took me about a decade is indicative of what an analytical sausage I am - always trying to dig up the roots of the issue - wanting to lie about on couches and explore family history and dysfunction. Damn it - walking and going out more seemed too simple. Shift the symptoms and you shift the depression. And do all of this as if your life depended on it… because with chronic depression it does.