How to Understand Depression

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By Jami Keller

Powerful and crucial conversations have recently been taking place on the tragedy of suicide. Although the topic is (by nature) depressing, I am grateful that it is welcomed to the table of hard topics. 

As with most hard things to understand, it requires much more education in our current culture. 

I took some pills when I was thirteen. It was the rest of the Bayer aspirin we had in the cupboard. There were about 13 pills left, which I don’t think is enough to do the job. My plan was to lay down on my bed and die. I decided that my best friend deserved a good-bye, so I called Tom and told him good-bye and I would not be going to school with him anymore. He asked what I had done, and when I said “I took some pills”. I heard a thud on the other end of the line and by the time I hung up he had run the block to my front door. 

Tom was angry and demanding “What are you doing?” as his parents were a minute or so behind him. Apparently he had yelled something to the effect that “Jami was dying,” as he ran past them.

Fast forward to the year after I got married. I felt terrible about myself and what was going on with me and I spent the next ten years excelling at everything I did: school, work, fatherhood, and being the picture of a good husband. I was all of these things while at the same time being passively suicidal.  

I was successful beyond my wildest dreams, and surpassed everyones expectations. But the money, public approval and the beautiful family that I had did not cover the pain and self doubt that lead to more and more destructive behavior.  It was like for every success I had to prove that I was not worth it by shaming myself. Risk taking behavior went from adrenaline sports and ended with what ought to have torn a family completely apart. I was too busy upping the ante to feel like a hypocrite. So I would hand out the family of the year award in our town and then go have an affair that next week. Sick and wrong. And with each cycle around the chaos addiction merry-go-round I would get closer to getting purposeful about dying. 

I was depressed and no one would have ever known. I did not know how to ask for help and the hypocrisy kept getting worse. I was screaming for help but only in my pillow. The pain of admitting that I was not perfect was killing me. I needed help and as ridiculous as it sounds I could not figure out how to do it healthfully.  

I went into two counselors offices, I took a diagnostic test that said my most likely diagnosis would be alcoholism, but I had not had a drink for two years and probably had a total of ten drinks in that decade, and the last time I started to ask for help and at the last second made it about some professional referrals that I could make. I remember the look in her eye, like she saw that there was more. 

By the time I finally got help, I had already caused much pain to myself, to my family, to my friends, and to the community I had built around me. 

How could anyone have understood my depression? How could anyone have helped me? How do you understand anyones ongoing illness? To do that, you first have to understand what depression is. 

Depression is anger turned inward. It is, of course, a serious problem and a medical consult is vital. Any prolonged sadness or lack of interest in the things that used to keep you occupied is a good cause for a deeper look, especially relationships, sex, and work. The causes vary and can and do reach back to habits formed from very early on, often times in early childhood development. 

What we have come to realize is that all of us build strategies to make ourselves ok. They are all customized, and often a pattern before we get to be two years old (yes this is shocking but is well documented, see Origins: The First Nine Months by Anna Paul Murphy). Mine was a common strategy. It was not to feel my own feelings and take care of everyone else’s. The other main strategy is to control and use anxiety and fear.

Taking care of everyone else works great until it doesn’t. We adopt strategies because they work. The problem is that these strategies are habits that become completely run by our subconscious process. This means that often we do these old strategies when they no longer are really working for us. Eventually, if left unchecked, they become destructive.

There are three keys to dismantling these old habits and bring them into the consciousness. These three ideas are for both those who are chronically depressed and for those who care about someone who is.

1) Humble your thought process. Sadness is not humility and humiliation is not humility. Do you think that you know it all, have forgiven everything in your life that there is to be forgiven, or that you don’t have any subconscious behaviors? Think again. Allowing yourself to slow down will allow you to see the “blind spots” that are potentially holding you back.

2) Be accountable. Finding someone that you trust to report your progress is crucial. The daily disciplines that are required to make such changes are not difficult, but are easy to allow to fall off your schedule as life gets busy. Having to tell that trusted person will help you keep the good habits, and slowly work away from the bad.

3) Be persistent. The first benefits of changing old habits are seen in as little as three weeks (twenty-one days makes a new habit). But the full benefit requires that you persist in not falling back into the old habit and this can take a year or more of vigilance.

To understand depression we must first educate ourselves on what that means. The clinical diagnosis has many symptoms listed that are contradictory. So, we understand depression by having compassion and patience for ourselves and our loved ones. We understand depression by listening to those non-verbal asks for help. If I would have been able to get the help I needed at an earlier age, I would have been able to prevent so much heartache. 

My hope is provide a prevention to heartache, but to also assist those who feel like they have already created it. Allow for things to move slowly at first, and know that new habits are rarely formed perfectly. Celebrate the progress and keep moving, life is a long journey. 


How to Understand Suicide 

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By Ariel Minter

I’m still rattled by the tragic news of Robin Williams death. 

Like most 90’s kids, I grew up to Aladdin, Hook, Fern Gully, and (of course), my number one favorite….Mrs. Doubtfire. The list of his talent goes well beyond film, as he was known as a huge donor to many charities, and truly loved by all.  

I have often heard people say “Suicide is the most selfish thing anyone can do.” In fact, I have said that. 

Depression, on this scale, first felt real when I was 14 years old, and I was a new student in a large high school. A lovely young man named Logan was one of the first to speak to me in my Health class. He was nice, blushed easily, and like most Freshman in High School, he tried really hard to seem like he wasn’t trying very hard to fit in. About 5 months later, he took his own life. 

Most of the student body attended his memorial. There were probably 2,000 people in a large auditorium, and every single person that spoke of Logan shared similar stories to mine: He was thoughtful, he was sincere, he was one of the first to speak to those who seemed uncomfortable. 

Depression manifesting into suicide has not stopped. But what has passed is my thinking that “Suicide is the most selfish thing anyone can do.” I truly feel shame and sadness for, at some point in my life, speaking those words and believing them to be true. 

Not long ago, someone I knew took their own life. I was confused, I was sad, I was angry, and I was deeply hurt. I didn’t understand. I shared these feelings with my mom. She went on to explain a bit:


“Ariel, I don’t understand either. But when I was just a little older than you, one of our dearest friends lost his battle with depression. Your father and I attended his service, and I will never forget what the minister said. He said that there are absolutely no differences between his death and someone who had died by being attacked in an alleyway.”

How could this be? How could you compare the two? 

“No one knows what Vince was battling or going through. No one. His depression was like a gang of bad people attacking him: Attacking him every. single. day. They put him down. They took his joy. They crushed his spirit. And he couldn’t keep fighting them any longer. No one could survive that torment, and so there was unmeasurable peace in making it stop.”

Finally I had some clarity. It made sense. It didn’t make my heart hurt any less, and it didn’t take away from the enormous loss all of his loved ones were feeling. But, I was finally able to have true compassion. 

Depression is an ugly disease. It takes your joy; it crushes your spirit. And how do you battle something that doesn’t have a shape or a face? How can you overcome something that is always with you, and ignorantly understood by the masses? 

Many people don’t treat depression as a disease. I have heard (too many times) people say “Just get over it,” or “Why can’t you just stop?”. And I think….would you say that to someone who was terminally ill? Would you have the nerve to think that about someone who had Lupus? 

This is a very real ailment and a very real epidemic. 

According to WHO, the World Health Organization, approximately one million people commit suicide each year worldwide. That is about one death every 40 seconds, or 3,000 per day. For each individual who takes their life, there are at least 20 attempts to do so. Suicide has a global mortality rate of 16 per 100,000 people. 

When I first read the data on the numbers, I couldn’t help but re-read where it says that for every one person who takes their life, there are 20 attempts to do so. Twenty. 

I have been thinking about my own mortality lately. I never used to think about it. But now, when my husband and I are thinking about family planning and potentially bringing another human into this world in a few years, I have a hard time not thinking about it. 

The gift of life is powerful. And death is equally as powerful. Of course, everyday we all risk the potential end of life. However, most of us aren’t tempted, because of an unseen battle, to do so. 

I continually think about the power of kindness. One smile to a stranger, one small gesture of connection in this human experience, can literally save a life. Understanding and supporting those you love who have expressed some level of depression, can save a life. 

I think that a lot of people who are undertaking this challenging battle don’t necessarily come out and tell you. It’s usually in very small ways. So, my request to you is to take some time everyday and really listen: Put your phone down, stop waiting for your turn to talk, and listen. Listen to the non-verbal. Genuinely ask about someone’s day. We are all so busy and so distracted and have all the excuses in the book to keep our heads down and be self-serving. But please, don’t do that all the time. 

One of the reasons Passion Provokers started was to help people. We have an amazingly talented therapist, Mindy Baze, who specializes in EMDR Therapy. If you or someone you know needs assistance, please contact us. You are not alone.