Depression: My Path to Peace

As a psychologist, I have the privilege of walking alongside my clients on their paths to better mental health. Often the path to a sense of stability or recovery can appear insurmountable. Below is a client’s account of depression. It is real; sometimes awful, but also full of hope. I share with permission.  

I'm just like everyone else. I have a family, friends, job, hobbies and stressors. I've always been a quiet, caring person, a little more sensitive than most and a bit of a perfectionist. All I needed was a few significant life events to trigger an episode of Major Depressive Disorder.

 Depression robs you of hope. Hope for the future. And I don't just mean the fairytale of ‘finding someone’, having a family, job and a house. I mean that things will never change. That you will never get better. That you will always feel this bad. That no one can help you. That you can't help yourself. That you will never experience joy, happiness or peace ever again. After a while you begin to think that you deserve it all, even though you don't know why. And why bother trying to get better because you're not going to change anyway.

Waking up and getting out of bed is so difficult because the pressure of opening your bedroom door completely overwhelms you and triggers a panic attack. The pressure of your family looking at you and saying 'hi' is too much. Brushing your teeth, making a sandwich or seeing others being 'normal' tips you over the edge and all you want to do is to escape.

It’s not physical but emotional pain that manifests itself in physical and psychological symptoms. It's a cruel mix of panic attacks, insomnia, fatigue, body aches and dissociation which eventually turns your body numb. Then there are the unrelenting and brutal thoughts. “You're stupid.” “You're not going to change.” “You deserve to suffer.” “They'll be better off without you.” “Go and kill yourself.” “You deserve to die.” There is no escape from this constant barrage of insults. You may think these thoughts are completely irrational but depression takes away your ability to reason. Humans naturally seek understanding and reason, so unless you've had depression it's very difficult to empathise with irrational symptoms.

Many who suffer appear functional, go to work, socialise and ‘play the part’. We become very good actors who are mentally and physically drained. Time passes and you tread water like a robot with no feeling. Life is mechanical. You go to therapy even though you think it's not working. You take medication even though you've had numerous setbacks with it. You know happy things are happening but you're not able to experience them as you feel numb and hopeless. This is torture. Every day. The relentless thoughts keep playing.

In therapy you learn how to cope with the negative thoughts and distressing feelings. You learn to notice the good things in life. This takes time. All you can do is keep going and practise these skills. After a while the physical symptoms and the severity of the thoughts decrease. You do have good times and eventually you actually begin to experience these. Sometimes, even serenity and contentment. The difficult lesson of how to manage thoughts and feelings has allowed you to experience happiness, calm and peace, to truly feel and savour these moments.

It has taken me a couple of years to learn how to live. Looking back now I realise I've always had times where I've been depressed, even as a young child. I'm now in my thirties and have learnt that what I've had was treatable. Most importantly, I've realised life is actually enjoyable, rewarding and exciting. I still have some really bad days, but I also have good days. Unlike before, I can proudly say I am confident in my ability to handle the challenges and disappointments that are a normal part of life. But ultimately what I enjoy most now is being at peace. Without depression I would not be able to truly experience peace in everything I do.

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Tanya Russell

Tanya Russell is CatholicCare's Assistant Director and a registered psychologist.

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