I have depression. Long-lasting, sometimes intense, and pervasive depression. I go through long periods of being happy with just the faintest underlying depression, and I go through periods of subtle despair. Occasionally, I have stints of out-and-out misery. It’s a battle. I never quite know if I’m winning, but I make it through the day (or sometimes the minute) to face the next, so I don’t think I’m losing. It’s always there, like that annoying house guest that you don’t know how to get rid of.
It started, I’m sure, with my stroke in 1992 (but it might have been my diabetes diagnosis six months earlier. Or possibly a combination of the two). I did therapy while I was recovering from the stroke, plus a brief stint in high school, but I largely ignored it for the next 12 years. In 2004, I finally realized that I had a problem and needed help. I got in touch with a psychotherapist and have been seeing her ever since (that’s going on 6 years, in case you’re counting). 4 years ago, she convinced me to try anti-depressants. I had been resistant to the idea because I felt like it would be one more thing to have to deal with, but at the time I was fighting so hard that I was willing to give it a try. I went to a psychiatrist for the prescription, and have not regretted it. The medicine has made a huge difference. It makes my depression manageable. It never goes away entirely, and I still have bad periods, but they’re livable now. We’ve had to increase my dose a couple of times in the 4 years I’ve been taking it, but it’s worth feeling better. If I had to make the decision again, I would definitely opt to use meds again. I will, I suspect, be on anti-depressants for the rest of my life, and I’m completely okay with that.
Talk therapy and medication make it much better, but they don’t cure it. So how do I manage when I go through rough patches, like now? Well, basically I just keep putting one foot in front of the other. I know that I will come out of it eventually, and life will look brighter. I just survive, and at some point I can get back to thriving. The effects of my depression seem cyclical; I’ll be great for a while, then life will be unhappy for a while. Knowing that a period of great is around the bend helps me get through when I feel awful. On the other hand, even when I feel wonderful, there’s a piece of me that knows that the cycle will take me back to unhappy sometime soon. I try to simply acknowledge it and keep going. I can enjoy the good times even when I know that less-good times are around the corner, because I know that they will give me hope when I get there. And hope is what makes life worth living.