As I'm currently "cured" I don't often sit and dwell on my previous bouts of depression but I was recently taken quite poorly with a long-lasting Labyrinthitis virus and once again I was feeling ill, tired all the time, isolated, tearful and that generally life was a bit rubbish. These were all reminders of the dark days that are thankfully behind me at the moment.
I was first diagnosed in 2003 after a set of circumstances that left me miserable and exhausted yet unable to ask for help. It was almost permanently bursting into tears at work that finally drove me to visit a doctor.
He gently asked what was going on in my life. I explained that nothing bad was happening to me but that my Mum had had what we thought was a mini stroke, my Dad was undergoing major heart surgery (which was not only extremely concerning but doubled my work load) and my boyfriend had been shipped off to Iraq (Gulf War 2 was about to break out). He asked me which of these things was my fault. Strange question I thought but just said none of them of course. To which he asked me why I was letting everything get on top of me without asking for help. I replied that I always found girls (or boys) that run to the doctor every 5 minutes because they feel down or stressed pathetic! Sorry but I did!
I guess that's a gene I inherited from my Dad. He's very much of the "if you can't see it there's nothing wrong, pull yourself together" brigade. I love him to bits but as far as my illness (comes and) goes, very unsympathetic and quite unsupportive. I had an ex-friend built in the same way and she had a good way of making me feel guilty for being down when there's so many people that are far worse off. I was definitely supposed to just pull my socks up and paint on a happy face with her around!
Anyway, after a lengthy consultation, I accepted the lowest dose of anti-depressants available and vowed to stop taking them as soon as everything was as it should be again.
My Mum stayed well for a good while, my Dad made an excellent recovery from his quadruple bypass op and the man came home early from duty. I made my doctors appointment and told him that everything was ok now and I was stopping the pill-popping. Of course like a good GP he advised cutting down dosage first and like the stubborn fathers' daughter I am I refused, using the reasoning that I'd only been taking them a few months so wouldn't suffer withdrawal symptons.
Within a week my dog died suddenly and I've never felt grief like it. I went to pieces.
I must emphasise too that I've never felt suicidal. I often didn't mind if I lived or died. I often thought that no-one else would mind if I lived or died. But, I never, thank God, got the urge to take things into my own hands.
In the end life went on. Mum had a couple of what we still thought were TIAs (recently re-diagnosed as Transient Global Anemia), Dad has remained fit and well, the man disappeared, & a new dog (black lab Stella) in my life is my most faithful friend and almost constant companion.
Then in 2009, my other black dog returned (I often joke that I have 2 black dogs, one real and one not).
I thought I was doing ok. Living an independent life in my own home with Stella. Friends came and went more often than I felt was "normal" but I've always been happy in my own company so it didn't bother me excessively. There'd been a couple of short-term gentleman friends but no-one to build a new life with. Again, I didn't feel devastated by that. Disappointed, sad sometimes, occasionally lonely but not devastated.
I'd decided to move. It took a while to find the right place. The new home I first set my heart on got taken off the market but meanwhile a previously way out of budget property had a substantial price drop. I'd sold my place subject to contract and had my offer accepted.
Then came delay after delay, problem after problem and it became clear to not lose my buyer I was going to need to move back to my parents for a couple of months. No big problem though, Stella and I wouldn't be homeless, just inconvenienced for a little while.
But, the random bursting into tears and constant tiredness had returned. The not wanting to go out and only leaving the house for work & dog walking had started again. I was being more short-tempered than normal. But, did I ask for help. No.
I'd joined Twitter and was using that as a platform to vent my anger, sadness and frustration at all the little things going wrong and eventually someone suggested I see my doctor as they had a feeling I was depressed. It took a while but I eventually took the advice and made an appointment.
I was reluctantly given a prescription (because as I told the doctor, everything would be ok again soon!), told the waiting list for counselling was 9 months and advised not to drive and take some time off work.
The next day I crashed my car driving to work.
Lesson learned. Doctors give advice for a reason!
Things did straighten out again but this time I cut down dosage and took 18 months in total to stop taking any medication.
I've realised that sometime in the future I will probably be diagnosed with depression again. But I also realise it will go away again. I now refer to it as the black dog visiting as soon enough I know he (I don't know why it's a he it just is) will go back home.
I still have occasional anxious or dark moments. The sleep distortion has left me with some memory-loss. But, I'm rarely at my lowest for more than a couple of days at a time now.
Please don't be afraid to talk about this subject. as an invisible illness, depression needs all the helpful publicity it can get!