Depression from a patient’s perspective
I have asked some of my patients whether they are willing to share their personal experience of mental illness. Reason being that so many people are ignorant as far as mental illness is concerned. Unfortunately, ignorance is the breeding ground for judgement. My hope is that the sharing of these personal experiences will help to inform people of the emotional suffering that accompanies mental illness, creating more empathy and understanding for the sufferers. Another reason for sharing these stories is to bring the message home to sufferers that the feelings they are experiencing are “normal” within the context of their particular illness, so that they do not feel so alien and isolated. And most importantly ….. that there is always hope. Arnold de Beer, a depression sufferer, shares his story:
Dear Dr Lize
After many years in therapy with you – I now think it’s time. Time to “come out of the closet” – so to speak – about my depressive illness. Time to debunk the silence and social taboo surrounding this malaise.
I had an interesting discussion with a friend once. She is one of those fortunate inherently happy people who seems to be unaffected by depression. She wanted to know what depression feels like. This is how I explained it to her:
First of all there is the sadness. Imagine someone close to you has just passed. You are really sad. Your heart feels as if it has been ripped from your chest. The type of sadness that causes you to feel numb. Numbness from within as well as numbness of the physical outer being.
Secondly let us add fear. As if one were about to write a final math exam the following day… or even worse – the type of fear felt in a war zone where one can literally hear the enemy proceeding down the street where you live … But that’s not all…
Imagine constantly feeling tired and fatigued to the point where lifting one’s arms becomes exhausting…
And then there is the dread. That’s the only way to describe it. Severe loss of hope combined with sadness and fear. So much so that life does not make sense at all. On any level. From brushing one’s teeth to deciding who to marry. When life does not make sense – any of it – one finds oneself in a painful existential crisis constantly grappling with the question : “What is the meaning of life?”. There is no yin and yang. No balance, no purpose, no soul …
There are also those who describe depression as a void, an emptiness, a feeling of constant disconnect – as if living in a dream state, but chokingly empty. Devoid of any pleasure, connection or meaning. As if continuously drowning in a very deep pit. Personally I would wake up in the morning feeling as though a block of concrete were pressing down on my chest. Choking me to death.
Depression for me signifies emotional pain. Overwhelming, cellular level deep, all-encompassing emotional pain. Such an extreme position of being off-balance, that it is almost indescribable. Should this description sound dramatic and over the top, consider how the depressed brain operates.
The depressed brain is a sick organ. Where a healthy brain can assess a threat objectively, the depressed brain’s signals become stuck in overdrive. It fears continuously. It’s sad and without hope all the time. It is in a continuous negative overdrive cycle. Everything works in the negative. A healthy person may listen to a bird’s song and find it beautiful, whilst the sound may irritate the depressed brain. If someone had to mention that it was a nice sunny day – the thought of sunburn and skin cancer would automatically pop up for me during a depressive episode.
How to stop these negative thought cycles and feelings? One way is to get help. From a professional. And follow the treatment. Whether it’s medication or therapy or both. The good news is that the sick brain can heal. The mind can also heal. Depression need not be a death sentence.
Arnold de Beer