If you asked me now when my battle with depression began, hindsight would shape my answer. I would say that looking back at my younger self, there were signs.
I can see visions of the young me, crawled up in a ball on the floor for hours in his room, struggling to shake a mood swing that either came out nowhere, or was based on something small and blown out of proportion.
Although I haven’t been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, these types of severe and significant mood swings are something I continue to deal with to this day.
Of course, kids have mood swings and tantrums, so this anecdote and diagnosis for depression is anything but iron clad. In fact, looking back through my years as a child, and high school student, I can’t think of many other symptoms that might indicate a struggle with the stability of my mental health.
The first real period of concern that I can harken back to – again, in hindsight – is during my time as an undergraduate at Simon Fraser University.
Growing up, and growing sad
When I got to university, things were rosey. I was out on my own, living this exciting new life, in an adventurous place, around new people and new things. But as the few couple of years passed, my grades dropped and questions about specialization and career (to which I didn’t have the answer) began swirling.
What quickly followed was a period of time when I clearly was not myself.
Of course, everyone has bad days. Lots of people have bad weeks. But months? Years?
Something wasn’t right.
Looking back, some key signs and symptoms associated with depression were clear and present. I was angry and highly emotional, I was down and often in a haze, I treated other people poorly, I didn’t want to go to sleep, I didn’t want to wake up, and once I could, decisions were impossible to make. The whole lot.
That guy sounds like a pleasure to be around, doesn’t he?
He (I) wasn’t. And I knew it. I didn’t like myself and what I had become. What I thought then was it all happened just because of all the things I was dealing at the time. I mean, when life gets hard, often the people living that life change. And while I wasn’t happy with who or how I was, I thought it was normal given the circumstances.
What I know now is it wasn’t and isn’t not normal.
What caused my depression
While life situations can be triggers of depression and other mental illnesses, they are only triggers for the sickness. From my experience, they are not causes of the sickness.
You can change your situation but that doesn’t guarantee your symptoms go away and things will get better. They might though. But if they do, more often than not they – along with the underlying disease – are waiting for an opportunity to return.
In university, for me change meant dropping classes, changing concentrations, breaking up with my then girlfriend (who I am happy to report is my now wife), rebelling against parents, etc.
In the short term, it worked. The changes were quick fixes, almost injections of adrenaline and positivity to bring up my mood and make me happy.
In the moment, it was exactly what I needed. Others may resort to binge eating or drinking, doing drugs, spending money, or self-harming to either numb the pain or feeling something other than what they’re feeling.
They all work in the moment but just like triggers for symptoms of the disease, quick fixes are not the solution to mental illness.
So, how do you deal with depression?
More often than not, under different life circumstances that once again act as triggers, symptoms and ultimately disease return if not dealt with in a wholesome and continual manner.
But that’s easier said than done.
You might not see the signs when they first happen, and you might be questioning yourself and why you are the way you are. Know it’s not necessarily you. Take it as a sign there may be something more going on. And there is a lot you can do to help fight the feelings.
Changes in life situation can work, but they don’t always deal with the root cause of depression, which goes deeper and is often associated with brain chemistry.
Exercise, healthy editing, cognitive behavioural therapy, valuable human interaction, and hobbies can all help. So can medication if that’s the route you choose.
But sitting and waiting for change isn’t the best way for, at least in my experience. And neither is rash action.
Because something that makes you feel so low, deserves more than a quick fix. And so do you.
P.S. I for one know all this is easier said than done. There are many ways to attempt to deal with depression and while they may seem easy on paper, in practice that’s not always the case. But not many things worth the time of day are easy to do. It’s important to make the attempt otherwise you’ll never know what works for you and that could mean that cycle of ups-and-down, triggers and symptoms, might never go away. But they can and should go away, and there are ways to approach getting there.