Monday, August 25, 2008

Beyond the blues: Depression

I recently joined a dear friend for long-overdue lunch at a charming outdoor terrace. As part of our catch-up, she said that, looking for a way to cope with a depression that reappeared last winter after a 10-year absence, she was taking medication, and that it provided significant and nearly immediate relief.

I'm grateful for this drug that lifts her so that she can see the sky, rather than the bottom of a trench. My sister could not overcome her depression, which began after the birth of her first child, at 23. After years of treatment, at 40, she took her life. This was before these drugs were available. I miss her to this day, thirty years later.

Anti-depressants have varying levels of efficacy and are not the sole answer. My friend is in therapy, takes care of her health, exercises and eats consciously. If you met her, a vital, beautiful woman, connected to her friends, family and community, you would not know of her struggle.

She's not my only friend affected. Ten to twenty-five per cent of women will experience at least one major depression in their lifetime.

And as we age, some of us who have rarely had even
a week-long case of the blues may encounter this formidable opponent. The World Health Organization predicts that depression will be the second most common cause of disability by 2010.

What can we do? I'm interested in absolutely everything that works. Early treatment can shorten the intensity and duration, according to The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAM-H), who offer an online tutorial.

The lifting of a depression may happen quite suddenly; for others, the shift is gradual.

Sometimes one event precipitates a turning point. A
teacher told me that she was in a depression that lasted several years. One day she walked in a park, desperate, wondering if she should live, when she heard faint voices from a distance. She wandered closer to the sound, and discovered a playground hidden by a hedge.

She skirted the hedge, sat on a bench, and became engrossed in watching children playing: their piping voices, their joy and vitality, t
heir beauty. She felt the depression lift as if a cape were removed from her shoulders.

Another woman called such moments "numinous experiences" and asserts that they were as healing as any pharmaceutical. In a deep depression after her husband's death, she chanted with monks, sang in a choir, volunteered in a day care, and taught sailing to teens.

Who knows what it takes? May the moments that heal find each of us as we need them.



6 comments:

La Belette Rouge said...

I am deeply sorry about the loss of your sister and so grateful that others have been helped in what ever way has worked for them.

There is a great book on depression that I really enjoyed called, "The Noonday Demon". It is a well written atlas of depression and I cannot recommend enough for those suffering from depression or for those who love someone who suffers.

Again, Duchessse, I am so very sorry about your sister and I admire your courage in posting about this important topic. I think anything we can do to remove the stigma from talking about depression is profoundly important.

materfamilias said...

I echo both LBR's sympathy for your loss and her admiration at this courageous and thoughtful post. Depression has challenged women in my family as well, and while talk therapy and other approaches can help some, for others medication seems to be the key. We all need to be better educated so that we may support each other and your post is an eloquent call for that education.

Anjela said...

When I dated a man who was a psychoanalyst he told me, a week into the relationship, after he had told me "we weren't soulmates" that I suffered from low-key depression.

I think I have always been 'low-key' depressed- Not sad depressed at all but deeply thinking, feeling.... maybe that is not exactly depressed but the gift is when I am in that place is when I am at my funniest. When I create and write and feel. When I am normal I fear the world is like sandpaper against my skin. I have tried antidepressants (not for me but for the Drs and mother who wanted to make me, be able to cope with grief) I tried them and they made me feel so strange, to not be able to think thoughts but, have them bounce off my mind as if one could not capture one's sadness and harness it into something wonderful. My therapist doesn't consider me depressed but eccentric- she says she envies my eccentricity and if I were a writer and lived in a beach cottage in Ireland, I would be normal, even to me.
I am so sorry about your sister. I can see how you have created another sisterhood with friendships and blogs. And we have all benefitted from your sharing. Being about you, makes one(though a stranger) feel a part of a sisterhood. You have that gift.
I am not sure there is any one answer. We come into the world a certain way or we become too sensitive and people want to fix it. Want to make us fit into their world.

Duchesse said...

I want to be careful with my response, as I am not (like a dear friend Michael) an expert on depression. I read anything that crosses my path (so Belette I'll order the book, thank you). Some women are likely misdiagnosed; I think the North American culture puts a premium on "perkiness". A Romanian friend of mine said women there would be termed depressed here but there, they are just realists. Melancholy is allowed, unhappiness is part of life.

And yes, Anjela- being different or eccentric, I'd never want to see a woman medicated into conformity. I think being very sensitive is different from being depressed.

One of my friends uses the metaphor of "a can of black paint" being dumped all over her world. I long for release from that for anyone suffering. In the grip of a profound depression, one is not fully alive.

Anjela said...

I do hope it is okay to post a couple of links here. One was on PBS aNd the other in the NY Times.




http://www.nytimes.com/2006/04/02/magazine/02depression.html?scp=2&sq=depression&st=cse


http://www.nytimes.com/2008/05/21/arts/television/21depr.html?scp=10&sq=depression&st=cse

Duchesse said...

Anjela: Absolutely! Thank you.