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Interview with a depressive

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month. Although I don’t need a special month to talk about my struggles with depression and anxiety, I’d be remiss if I let it go by without doing something. Since it’s easiest for me to explain things in a Q&A format (see my whole interview with a bookworm series), I decided to once again interview myself.

InterviewwithaDepressive

Hi, Jana! Thanks for being here and agreeing to do this! 

Not a problem. Happy to be here. 

Let’s kick this off with a simple question. What’s depression? 

Not exactly a simple question but okay. Clinically, and I’m paraphrasing because I am NOT a doctor, depression is defined as chemical deficiency in the brain, primarily of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, that leads to chronic sadness and loss of interest. In layterms, depression is a lying asshole that makes you give zero fucks about anything and everything. And you give zero fucks not in a good way. It makes you just not care about a damn thing. 

That sounds terrible. 

It really is. 

When did you first realize you had depression?

If I’m being honest, it’s probably something I’ve battled long before I had an official diagnosis. But the first time I sought medical help and got a diagnosis was in 2004. I had just turned 27 and my husband and I were in NYC for my birthday. We went to see Moving Out on Broadway and were having dinner at a restaurant I can’t remember and while I should have been ecstatic, I just didn’t care about any of it. My affect was completely flat. My husband wanted to know what was wrong and I had no answer. I just knew I was sad and had no motivation to care about being sad or anything else. 

I battled that on and off for about 10 years. Then, in 2012, after a series of events and a panic attack at work, I once again got help and a diagnosis that made more sense than the one in 2004. That’s what I’ve been living with since.  

But couldn’t you just say that maybe you were in a rut? 

Maybe. But a rut is short term and it’s usually attributed to feeling stuck or that your life is repetitive and those circumstances bring you down. And you feel like you can do something about it. With depression, it’s chronic and long term and it’s not so much a matter of feeling stuck. It’s a matter of feeling sad or for a lot of us, just not giving a damn. With depression, there’s also the feeling that nothing will ever improve, you deserve all the shit you’re being dealt, you’re an imposter, you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop (to use a cliche). With a rut, you can look at your situation more objectively and make changes. With depression, you’re flooded with all kinds of false beliefs that, while false, feel completely true and trying to make changes is futile.

The worst part of depression is wanting to feel better and not being able to. When you’re in a rut, it’s easy to do something to feel better. With depression, it feels impossible. 

Can’t you just choose to be happy?

NO. And all that pop psychology stuff that tells you you can cure your depression but just making one small change to your thinking or having a positive thought or that if you’re not choosing to be happy then your depression or sadness or whatever is your fault does more damage to a depressive than anything else. You would never tell someone with a medical illness they can’t cure to just choose to feel better. So why would you do it to someone with a mental illness? To be honest, it’s kind of a dick thing to do, telling someone with an illness they can’t control that it’s their fault. 

No one with depression chooses it. Why would we choose something that makes us feel the way depression does? 

So if you can’t fix it by choosing to be happy, how do you manage your depression? 

First, if you need medication to help manage it, then take medication. There’s no shame in it and again, you’d never tell someone with a medical illness not to take the meds they need. Depression is an illness. Take the meds. I did. For quite a while. Same with therapy. If you need to go, then go. I did. I hated my therapist so I didn’t find that it did much for me but don’t let that sway you. There are plenty of qualified, good, helpful therapists around. 

For me, now that I don’t go to therapy or take meds, I manage it the best I can with exercise and knowing my triggers. I also take Vitamin D, which apparently has a direct link to depression. I found out last year I have a severe Vitamin D deficiency and even if it doesn’t help the depression, it helps other things. Which is nice. 

Do you still have episodes?

You bet your ass I do. I still have down cycles where I can barely bring myself to get dressed or take a shower and it takes all the strength I have to get out of bed in the morning. During those times it’s hard to focus on work or writing or even caring about anything I usually enjoy. And forget taking care of my house. I mean, we never get to the point of living in a garbage pit but it definitely doesn’t look like it should. My self-esteem, which is already pretty low, takes an even bigger hit, and that makes it even more difficult to accomplish anything. Which leads to me thinking I’ll never be successful at anything and then the depression gets worse and it’s a terrible, never ending cycle. 

But I know when I’m spiraling down and while I can’t necessarily stop it from happening, I can tell the people who need to know that it’s coming on and we figure out how to manage it. It’s how I can appear as a “high functioning” depressive. 

How can someone without depression support someone who has it? 

First and foremost, take some time to learn about the disease, both from a medical standpoint and from the depressive’s standpoint. Depression doesn’t look the same for everyone (despite what those medication commercials have you believe. We don’t all sit on the couch for hours on end, looking completely unkempt in oversized clothes, crying uncontrollably or staring into space) and trying to understand what it looks like on the person you care about makes you better able to know when it’s happening. 

Second, don’t get angry at the person. We know this a frustrating disease, in part because we can’t always explain what’s wrong (sometimes it’s not even anything. It’s just unexplained sadness) and in part because we don’t know how to ask or tell you to help us. We wish we could. 

And third, don’t dismiss it. If someone you love thinks they’re depressed, encourage them to get help. Take it seriously. Don’t tell them things like “oh, it’ll pass. You’re just in a bad mood” or something similar. Instead, tell them that you’re there for them when they need you and that you love them and offer to do things like drive them to an appointment.

You can also visit this list for more ideas for helping someone with depression: http://psychcentral.com/lib/10-ways-to-help-someone-whos-depressed/

One last question. Why is important to talk about mental illness like depression?

Well, for me, it’s important to talk about it for a few reasons. One, to let those who are suffering know they’re not alone. No one needs to deal with this in isolation and sometimes just hearing or reading about someone else going through it is enough to keep you going another day. Two, to break the stigma. Mental illness is completely misunderstood and stigmatized. I want people to know that having depression isn’t something to be ashamed of. It’s part of who you are; it’s not the entirety of who you are. And three, to disseminate information. By talking about it, I’m educating those who don’t understand it. Fostering an understanding through information is essential in destigmatizing the disease. 

Which is why I don’t mind when celebrities talk about their battles. While it might not look like what I go through, when they share their experiences, they do what I’m trying to do but on a much bigger platform.

Thanks so much for joining me today!

You’re welcome! And if you want more information on Mental Health Awareness Month or some resources, visit their website: https://www.nami.org/mentalhealthmonth

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19 Comments

  1. SMD @ Life According to Steph

    I know this will help someone today, even if they don’t speak up about it helping them. Good on you.
    SMD @ Life According to Steph recently posted…Thursday Thoughts – Duran DuranMy Profile

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  2. Lauren

    Go Jana Go. I love the way you shared so openly and honestly. I feel like I get the “flat” feeling more often than the average person, and I was told I had a Vitamin D deficiency (which I ignored) but thanks for the info that perhaps I should listen…
    Lauren recently posted…what to read, what not to readMy Profile

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  3. Lindsay @ The Notorious D.E.B.T.

    Thank you for posting this! I’ve been talking to my therapist about this for a couple months now – I’ve been having a bit of a rough go at things for the past couple years. This interview is fantastic and it’s great to hear I’m not alone. 🙂

    Reply
  4. Linda sheridan

    Invaluable info for those who have depression and for those trying to understand depression. You are doing a superb job managing your depression! Continued Goddess Speed.
    Love. Steph’s. Momma.

    Reply
  5. Rebecca Jo

    Preach it my friend.
    I love your definition of Depression. Spot on.
    EVERYONE always talks about how happy I am – & when I tell them I was diagnosed with depression years ago – had to take medicine for it – & still struggle with it – they are shocked. I think people think depression has a certain look to go with it. It needs to be talked about more. Because it sucks to live with.
    Rebecca Jo recently posted…A Chiseled Knitter, Steel Magnolias reference & a real voice …. {Thankful Thursday #71}My Profile

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  6. Ashley @ The Wandering Weekenders

    Thanks so much for sharing! I’ve never had to deal with depression in my life, and I hope that I never have to. It’s a disease that a lot of people just don’t understand, and like you said the more people know about it, the more they’ll be able to help people they know that are struggling with the disease.
    Ashley @ The Wandering Weekenders recently posted…10 Best Destinations For A Girls TripMy Profile

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  7. Mackenzie

    Thank you so much Jana for sharing your story and writing this post. Depression sucks and you and I along with so many others, fight the good fight every day. Solidarity, my friend. XO
    Mackenzie recently posted…As The Page Turns: April EditionMy Profile

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  8. Heather @ I do what I want.

    Thank you so much for sharing! It’s definitely an illness that I don’t know much about and is not openly discussed nearly enough
    Heather @ I do what I want. recently posted…Startup Awards and Prop 1My Profile

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  9. Tanya @ A Mindful Migration

    Thank you Jana for being so honest about depression. It is a liar and a jerk and it does make you feel unworthy and unable to ever become worthy. It is ugliness that isolates you because that is the nature of the disease, then the stigma around the disease makes you feel even more isolated and you suffer in silence, like I did for so long. We did nothing wrong, but the shame we feel makes us believe we did something to piss off the universe. I also know on those good, strong days that I am more wily, tougher and meaner than it is too.
    Tanya @ A Mindful Migration recently posted…April Bookshelf: The Lovely Okey-Dokey MonthMy Profile

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  10. Ali A

    this is really great and important stuff. like anything, it’s important that people are willing to share their stories, struggles, hardships (and yes, of course the good stuff too) so others know they’re not alone. also, anything that can erase a stigma is SO, SO crucial. love this post.

    Reply
  11. Nadine

    I think a lot of people suffer from depression, anxiety, and other super sucky things and they don’t even realize it. It is great to talk about it and put the feelings and information out there so people can recognize their own symptoms, not feel so alone, and let others who are clueless about the facts get clued in.
    Nadine recently posted…ConfessionsMy Profile

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  12. Amber

    I’m glad you’re so open about this. I think it’s really important.
    Amber recently posted…How To Not Be An Asshole While Staying In A HotelMy Profile

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  13. Erin

    The “choose happiness” question and answer. That one is something that I think people who lack knowledge about depression need to hear over and over again. If I could just “choose happiness” somedays, you bet your sweet ass I would. And, I don’t need anyone making me feel like a further failure in life because I haven’t just chosen happiness.

    Another layer for me…the pray the depression away crowd. Or let go, let God crowd. I appreciate the fact that one’s faith and beliefs can be helpful in the battles and fights. But, the same as a cancer patient is going to see an oncologist, take meds, have chemo, surgery, or radiation to help the cancer fight…a depressed person may need to do more than just pray.
    Erin recently posted…Letter to the editorMy Profile

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  14. Analisa

    Thanks for this! I have suffered from depression and anxiety my whole life and it has taken me 20 years to recognize when I am going to go into a depression and what it does to me mentally. It’s a rough road to be on most of the time.

    Reply
  15. Kristin

    Very well-written.
    I have ruts and sometimes it’s hard to tell if it’s something else, you know?

    I like the interview format.

    Reply
  16. Kristen

    A lot of this post reminds me of conversations I’ve had with the important people in my life. It’s much easier for me to open up about things like this online, though I’ve still struggled with finding a way to talk about my experiences on my blog in a way that can be both open/honest and comfortable for me. Some things are more difficult for me to talk about (even in a blog post) than others.

    In “real” life, though, I’ve had to force myself to be open about my issues with depression and anxiety (at least with the people closest to me). It’s definitely hardest on Eric because, quite honestly, he doesn’t get it. I love that he makes every effort to understand what I’m dealing with, but he’s never experienced it himself so it’s not like he can really “get” it.

    I’ve had some really great experiences with therapists and some really shitty ones. I hated medication with a passion. I think it can be so helpful for so many people, but I felt even worse when I was taking it than I did when I wasn’t. I tried a few different things, different doses, etc. and nothing really worked well for me. It’s interesting how those types of things can really differ from person to person, though.

    Thank you for sharing this.
    Kristen recently posted…April 2016 Goals and ResultsMy Profile

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  17. kristen

    thank you for sharing this post Jana! i am sure it will help someone one day or make others more aware, and that is so important.
    i love what you said about why would you choose that? why would anyone choose that? i have been in ruts and down on myself, and positive thinking eventually gets me out. that’s not depression, i know it isn’t. i hate when people try and belittle something and make it smaller than it is. depression is so much more than being in a rut or being sad. i wish more people wore more aware and knowledgeable instead of trying to ignore it.
    again, thanks for sharing.
    kristen recently posted…Stitch Fix #4My Profile

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  18. alyssa

    I don’t have a response that will really do justice to this post but as a former (are you ever a former?) depression sufferer I couldn’t let this one go by without letting you know I read it, and that you wrote it is hugely important. You put it into words so many people NEED to read, so thank you. Know my heart goes out to you during these down cycles and always.
    alyssa recently posted…Sunday Sweats 73My Profile

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