A note from Melissa: My good friend Fran, who has been a caregiver and a care recipient, is one of the most independent and self-aware women I know. She is decisive, bold, and has a no-nonsense personality that also manages to be warm. Last year, a hip injury caused her to lose some of that independence. I asked her to write about it, and she asked if she could share some of her experience with depression instead. Since this is an issue that affects caregivers as well as those they support, I encouraged her to do so.
Have you ever had black days? Days when you wanted to see nobody and do nothing, even the things you like best? If this happens once in a while, you could call it sadness. But if it lasts for more than three or four days it is known as depression.
Depression is not a weakness, but a medical malfunction that takes away your control, and there are two major types. One is triggered by specific events like a death in the family, loss of a job, an injury that affects your ability to function as you typically would.
The other type of depression is organic, and often more difficult to identify and understand. This kind of depression seems to come out of nowhere, with no identifiable reason. It’s connected to a hormone called serotonin which controls our moods (among other things), and unlike triggered depression, it’s treatable with medication.
It seems simple on the surface: either your depression has a trigger, or it’s a chemical reaction inside your brain. But when you are in that black hole, wanting to crawl into the closet and hide from the world, like I did, it’s difficult to stop and analyze your situation. I’ve been in that situation many times, and what I did was talk to my family.
One of the hardest parts of having a mental health issue or an emotional difficulty is knowing when, or to whom, to reach out. In my case it was my family, but not everyone has relatives who are close by, or equipped to help. Fortunately, crisis centers are available in most communities in the United States. Unlike what we see in fiction, the people who pick up the phone are not going to bundle you off to a hospital. Instead, they will talk to you, assess your situation, and find the solution that best helps you. Often, this will be therapy and medication, but sometimes hospitalization may be recommended.
Forget all the cheesy movies you’ve seen: The hospital is not a scary place, and it is not a prison. It is a clean, welcoming facility with one-on-one counseling and group therapy. If you are taking medication, it will be controlled so that you have the correct therapeutic dose without being able to take too much. Most importantly, no one will force you to be admitted for in-patient care, unless you are a danger to yourself or others.
I want to pause here and talk about suicide, because untreated depression can lead to suicidal behavior. To be honest, I am a five-time survivor of suicide attempts, and I am glad that I failed. So, why did I – why does anyone – consider such a drastic act?
The best way I can describe it is to remind you that depression is sort of like your brain lying to you. When you feel stuck at the bottom of a well, depression will tell you that the only escape comes in the shape of a gun, a rope, a hand-full of pills, or an open window. Do. Not. Believe. This. Lie. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
And that’s what it comes down to. Depression is temporary, and there are countless options to help you through it.
The hardest part is reaching out, so it’s important to remember asking for help is not weakness, but wisdom. It may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done, but it is also the bravest.
You don’t have to sit in the dark. The light switch is just inches away.