For over 14 months now I've been suffering from severe reactive depression. There I've said it. Out loud, so to speak.
I've written about so much here but I've never written about my depression. I still find it very difficult to talk about. Not because I'm embarrassed about it. Well, at least not any more.
It's just I haven't been able to find the words to write about it. If you have ever suffered from depression you will know exactly what I am talking about. If you haven't suffered from depression and you know me, then you can only imagine the depth of the illness for it to have the power to take away my words.
It hasn't just removed my words from my head. It has removed my memory, my concentration, my sense of adventure, and my fearlessness. It has replaced it with anxiety and paralyzing fear. I find myself cowering in corners, shaking, with my heart racing, unable to breath or move. Every now and then, I, or someone I love, will see a glimmer of my former self and hope erupts. But just a quickly as it emerged, it disappears. The worse times were when I couldn't find myself at all. Time disappeared. I couldn't get out of bed. I would sit for hours unable to speak just staring at the air. I didn't shower for days, weeks. It was just too painful to be a part of life. Several times I wanted to die.
One of the most devastating symptoms of my illness has been the inability to read. I mean I can still read but not like I used to. I could devour 5-6 books a month. And that was a slow month. I was a machine. I didn't sleep more than 4-5 hours/night. Once I took 12 books on a 2week camping holiday. I had to resort to the raiding the campground's library at the end of the second week. I got my first taste of Mills & Boon from that naughty little library.
In the fog of depression, it takes me ages to read but mostly it takes me ages to understand and make sense of anything I read. So it seems a bit odd of me to be recommending a list of books for people suffering with depression but I know that despite the time it took me to read them, I found comfort, understanding, empathy and hope in them when I could not find it anywhere else.
1. Depressive Illness: The Curse of the Strong by Dr Tim Cantopher
This book is the first book I read. It was recommended to me by my GP. It is like Depression 101 for beginners. The tears poured down my face as I tried to read this book. Firstly, because reading had become so damn difficult and before trying to read this I hadn't understood that this difficulty was a symptom of the illness. And secondly, I hadn't even realised that depression was an illness, not an imaginary, just snap out of it, kinda blue day. I had thought I was weak and feeble. I thought I was to blame. Reading this book helped me to understand I had an illness. A very real illness. Reading this book saved my life.
Also, this book talks about taking antidepressants and recognising that you wouldn't advise a diabetic not to take insulin and therefore you should decide not to take antidepressants.
Every health professional recommended this book when I first saw them. Even the depressives I've met in and out of psychiatric clinics recommend this book as the first port of call. Most of us can recite large portions of it from memory.
2. Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn
This isn't really a book about depression. This is a book to read whilst you are depressed and coming to terms with your illness. It is a book about being and how to just be. It is a book to quiet and still your mind and body which in the early days of depression is really all you need to do.
The book is broken down into small chapters with an exercise in each chapter making it easy to read for those with short attention spans. I felt woefully silly during some of the exercises but some of the others stilled and soothed my racing mind and heart. In the early days of depression who can hope for more than this.
3. The Happiness Trap by Russ Harris
When your medication has stabilised and you feel that you can function on some human level, this is the book to pick up to start some of the work to turn around the negative thoughts that have so altered your brain chemicals. The exercises based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which is a lot like Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).
I liked this book because if focused on an individual's struggles for a perfect life and encouraged mindfulness, a contentment with who we are, where we are, and what we are and have. This book made me feel like I was doing SOMETHING, ANYTHING to combat my daily funk. It is very action oriented although the action tends to be cerebral. The important point for me was that I didn't feel like I was sitting around talking to people and listening to them talk. I felt like I was making a vital contribution to my recovery.
4. Shoot the Damn Dog by Sally Brampton
There are times when people ask about my depression. I have no words. Or perhaps I have words but they don't make any sense and even come close to conveying the sheer sense of despair I felt when I was at my worst. There are plenty of words in this book which convey the depth of the darkness. Also, I remember getting so frustrated with the questions surrounding my recovery. Would I ever get better? Everyone was very convinced that I would but I never felt that. Some days, I still don't. The doctors would assure me that recovery takes a long time. For a children 1 day is an eternity. For me, being depressed for 6 months felt like an eternity. The truth is, no one really knows how long it takes a person to recover from depression. Reading this book made that very clear to me. Sally Brampton, a journalist in the UK suffers from treatment resistant severe depression. The book chronicles her 3 year struggle just to get back to a place where she could function.
There are some parts of the book which were irrelevant to my situation. I don't have the drama of an unreliable partner or failed marriages. In fact, one of the things that has helped me tremendously is the stalwart support of an amazing husband and children who have learnt about the illness along with me. I also don't struggle with the alcohol addiction (not any other substance addiction) that Sally does although many depressives do. Substance addiction is common as the substance provides a refuge from the pain of depression.
These have been the most helpful books to me. There are many more. I've started others and set them aside as they just didn't speak to me at that point in my recovery. I keep them. I might pick them up later. They might help you.
If you are struggling with a depressive illness, I hope this helps. The important thing to remember is this is not your fault. Tomorrow is a new day. Every day is a new day which offers us the opportunity to have a better day. Take your medication as prescribed, even if you don't want to or think you might be better. Don't make any changes to your medication without the support of a psychiatrist. You are a unique individual. There is no one else in the whole wide world like you. What works for some, doesn't work for others. Speak to your psychologist. For hours and hours and hours. That is what they are there for.