I Have Depression
The phrase "I have depression" sounds simple enough. However,
it took me many years to be able to say it. First of all, I
didn't really know what it meant, and secondly, I was too proud to admit that
I had some kind of mental disorder. It made me think that if
anyone found out about it, they would lock me up in an
institution. After all, when I was growing up (in the 60s),
seeing a psychiatrist was a stigma that brought shame upon the patient
and his family. Well, fortunately, things are different now
days. We know more about depression, and society is more accepting of it.
I'm writing this article for two reasons. First, I hope that
its message reaches some of those people who are suffering from depression,
but who haven't sought treatment for it. I was there, and I
know how it feels. Hopefully, I can explain some of the things
about depression that will help some people to recognize it, and to know what actions to take.
The second reason for writing this article is for
self-release. I find it liberating to write about my experiences with
depression. I even think that writing about it helps to defeat it, much like
talking to a counselor.
I want to do anything I can to help anybody with depression, but I
don't really know how much help I can be. I'm a patient, not
a professional counselor or doctor, and I don't even have the gift of
counseling. However, I'm available for anyone who might want
to discuss things via my e-mail address on the home page of this website.
I'm not qualified to officially diagnose depression, and it's difficult
to tell how much of someone's situation has to do with possible
depression, and how our loved ones might be reading into the
situation. It seems that work issues are often a cause of
depression. Work issues just seem to add more stress factors
to our lives. I believe that the best therapy for this is to
find a challenging and rewarding job, but I also know that this is not easy,
especially with unemployment now over 10%. (And, in today's
job market, a source of depression is often the loss of a job.)
It does seem to help to be in a work routine because this adds the
structure and accountability that someone who is suffering from depression is often lacking.
Since I'm not a professional counselor, I think that I should just
share some honest feelings about my experience with depression.
If nothing else, perhaps this will help someone to determine whether or
not depression is an issue for him--now, or at any time in the
future--by seeing if any of my symptoms sound familiar in his own
life. Also, as I mentioned, this will probably be therapeutic
Depression is a Disease
First of all, depression is a disease, and like any disease, it needs
treatment. One of my doctors explained it best by telling me
that depression is a physical (chemical) problem in the brain that needs to
be fixed, just like a heart attack is a physical problem with the heart
that needs to be fixed. My synapses just don't fire like they
should. This made sense because I had even lost most of my
ability to read and retain information.
I think that depression is like alcoholism, in that most of us never
really get cured of it. Many people with depression often get
better, only to have a relapse. Instead of being cured, we
just do the best we can in coping with it, and trying to arrange our lives
in a way to minimize our stress factors and the effects of
depression. Although I'm mostly cured (like the guy in "The
Princess Bride" was only "mostly" dead), I still struggle with it,
sometimes only occasionally, but sometimes every day. I also
think that it might be hereditary. I saw it in my parents,
and maybe even in my grandparents.
It could be that the primary symptom of my depression is an
overwhelming sense of failure. This may be a false and
deceptive feeling, because other people don't believe that I'm a failure, but
it's difficult to see this from inside my skin. If I'm right,
then I've come to realize that all I can do is to proceed from wherever
I'm at right now, and try to salvage as much out of the rest of my life
that I can. If I'm wrong, then maybe this can be a lesson to
someone about how depression can play with his mind.
Without a doubt, the biggest failure in my life was my failure to
retire from my company with 30 years of service and a full pension and
benefits. This was my goal for 25 years, but I didn't reach
it, and I'll never have another chance. For all of those years I
actually looked forward to the date of January 24th, 2007. It
always seemed so far away, because for most of those years this date
was in the next century. Still, that's often what kept me
going back to work the next day. I made plans about how I would
live out my (many) years of retirement. I dreamed about
that 30th anniversary, when I would get my gold watch and walk out the door,
knowing that I had financial security for the rest of my
life. I would be only 51 years old with full retirement--something that not
many people could say. I even had some private and silly
little things that I had planned to do on that day.
Well, as everyone now knows, I wasn't able to reach that
goal. It was destroyed by depression. January 24th, 2007 came and
went, with no fanfare, but with a lot of heartache--It was a difficult
day. Instead of a joyous occasion on that day, another day
became the focal point of my life, but on the other end of the
spectrum. July 17th, 2001 was the day that my manager told me that I was being
let go. I was in disbelief. That was the low point
of my depression. I had set my mind on a major career goal, I had
worked hard on it day after day, but I had failed to reach that
goal. Worse than letting myself down, I had let my wife
down. Now, instead of teaching at a Christian school as a
ministry, she would have to work there as a financial necessity--and
for many more years than we had planned. I had also let my
children down. I always thought that at this stage of my
life, I would be helping my kids financially on a regular basis. Just
think how great that would be if I could be more helpful with their expenses, etc.
However, God had different plans, and I'm still trying to figure out
what they are. Perhaps it was a lesson for me to stop taking
my wife for granted. Instead of being the independent
breadwinner of the family, maybe I needed to realize my dependence upon her--not only
as a helpmate, but as joint financial provider of the family.
I wasn't giving due credit to her skills in the marketplace. I
also wasn't giving my kids credit for being able to take care of
themselves. Perhaps above all, I just wasn't as strong and as important as I thought I was.
Speaking of financial failures, I also failed to adequately save for
retirement, and I'm not the savvy investor that I would like to think
that I am (another failure). After all of the hours I've
spent on stock market research over the years, I've probably lost more in the
market than I've gained. I had set a financial goal for my
retirement account by the age of 59, but I'll be lucky to have half of
that. As a result of this (and my retirement failure), now
I'll probably have to work until I'm 65 or 70 years old.
God has really humbled me about this. Just a few years ago,
my financial future was so promising, and I was on top of the world, far
ahead of most everyone else. I even thought that I had the
gift of giving, and that God was entrusting me with large sums of money to
give. I was prideful, and God had to show me this
I'm just another Joe, working until I die, and not really enjoying life
very much. On top of that, all of a sudden I look around me
and I see a lot of people who have done so much better than me
financially. I probably don't even know that many people, but
I was supposed to far surpass them all. When that sense of
failure sets in, I even seem to look for more examples of my
failures. I even start comparing myself to people that I don't even know.
What about Bill Gates, who gives away more money and helps more people
every single day than I will in a lifetime? What about Warren
Buffet, who has announced that he will leave his $30B to charity when
he dies? For all I know, those guys aren't even
believers. And to think that I thought I had the gift of giving.
However, looking back, I probably always placed too much importance on
finances. It's strange how financial pressures come from
every direction, regardless of the current status of one's income and savings.
My dad always talked about all the regrets that he had, and now I have
the same feelings. Why couldn't I have stuck it out just five
more years at my company? Why did God let me get 80% of the
way to that goal and then take it all away? Why didn't I invest
more wisely? Why didn't I buy more company stock instead of
speculating all of that money on stock options throughout the
years? Why did I waste money on personal ventures that were
probably just an ego trip for me instead of a contribution to the
Kingdom of God? Why am I not now in a position to start my
grandchildren out with a generous savings account like I always said I
would do? Why didn't I have the strength to recognize and
conquer the symptoms of depression? Well, looking back, maybe I have
some answers for that last one.
A Woman's Disease
I had never even considered that I might have depression until the day
that my family doctor diagnosed me with severe depression, as did
psychologists and psychiatrists in coming days. I was not
familiar with depression, so I never would have recognized its
symptoms. Even then, as I tried to learn more about
depression, it seemed to be a problem that I shouldn't have. For one
thing, far more women have it than men. At least that's what I
thought. However, the truth is that women just report it more
and seek treatment more often than men, because men are too proud and
stubborn to admit that anything is wrong with them and to seek
treatment. It made me feel like I was weak, to have a woman's disease.
After finally admitting that I had depression, it became quite easy for
me to see that I had been suffering from it for quite some time.
In particular, I worried about everything, and I think that the worries
became so great that they finally took over my brain. When I
thought about the future, there was absolutely no (pleasant) scenario
that I could play in my mind that I couldn't counter with a disastrous
possibility. If I lost my job, how would I pay for my kids'
education, weddings, help with grandchildren, etc.? If I got
rich, what if somebody sued me and I lost it all? etc., etc.
I know that my perfectionism has had some very ominous results in my
life. When you're a perfectionist, nothing you do is ever
good enough. If we want children but have an infertility problem,
then we worry that life won't be perfect because we don't have children of
our own. If we do have children, then we worry that life
won't be perfect if we can't provide adequately for them. Why are
babies so expensive? What if I lose my job, and I have a blemish on
my perfect career? (Well, I did, and I do.) What if my
wife has to step in as the breadwinner while I'm looking for another
job? What if I stand up in front of a group to speak and
nothing comes out? What if people (especially my family members) find
out that I'm not perfect? You get the idea.
My wife is very supportive concerning my depression, but she wouldn't
have been if I hadn't sought professional help. Since most men
don't seek help for depression, they often just live in despair, lose
their marriage and family, and / or die young. God blessed me
with a wife who helped me to see that I needed help. This meant
admitting that I wasn't able to do and fix everything myself.
Although this hurt badly, I did go to the doctor, and to
counseling. After thinking about it, this made more sense to
me, because, I had sought counseling at several different times throughout
my adult life. Sometimes this was with a family member, and
sometimes just by myself. I finally realized that the common
thread in all of this was that I was always the one (or among the
group) that was going to counseling. Maybe the problem wasn't
with others, as I suspected, but maybe it was with me all along.
Since I didn't know anything about depression when I was diagnosed in
the year 2000, I also didn't know anything about the medications used
to treat various aspects of it. The doctors tried several
antidepressants for me, and this took several months to see if they
would work. Finally I happened to mention to my psychiatrist
that I couldn't sleep, and that's when I first tried sleep medication.
That was the first time that I actually felt better. I hadn't
realized that I had been suffering from sleep deprivation, and how bad
this was making me feel. I don't know whether or not I'll
ever be able to sleep OK without medication, but I've come to accept the fact
that if this is the case, then "it is what it is." I also
still take anxiety medication on an as-needed basis, and this has been a life
saver, because I still regularly hit those "as-needed" situations.
Speaking of life saving, I had thoughts of suicide, especially at my
low point. I don't think there's any advantage to going into
much detail here, other than to say that I believe that my situation had
become quite serious. Judging by the questions that the
doctors would ask (although I didn't always answer them completely honestly), I
was treading on dangerous ground. I would now say that two
things kept me on the right track. First, my faith told me that
suicide was wrong; and, second, I wanted to be there for my family, even though
I didn't feel like I was much help to them anymore.
Could There Be a Cure?
What is the cure for depression? I don't know. I
stand by what I said that there really is no cure. We just have to
deal with it, and watch out for it for the rest of our lives. In
my experience, I had to get rid of a lot of the stress factors that were
making it flare up. My family members were a great help in
this by often shouldering a load themselves that would otherwise have been
dumped on me, and I'm indebted to them for that. Also, I
accepted my job change and my greatly reduced salary. I used my
severance pay to pay off some debts. I still stand amazed at how God
enabled us to make those financial adjustments.
I have a theory about what's required to overcome depression.
I think it involves several things. The primary thing is to
pick myself up by my bootstraps and carry on. I believe that I'm
the only one who can decide to overcome my depression, but it's not
easy. I have to stop feeling sorry for myself (a hard pill to
swallow), and just do the best I can. When I lost my job, I
just pounded the pavement until I found a job--not an ideal one, but a
paycheck, and it eventually evolved into a good job. In fact,
this did wonders for my confidence--having to start from scratch and make a go of it.
However, I've also come to realize that there's more to it than that;
i.e., more to it than myself. I have to have the support of
family and friends. Without that, I don't believe that I'm
strong enough to do it myself. Also, this all has to be combined
with professional help and medication. This is one of the biggest
challenges because it seems like finding the right medications took forever.
Although my kids have told me that I'm now the same Dad that they used
to know before depression hit me. However, deep inside I know
better. I think that I'm about 75% cured, but I've peaked out
at a lower (non-perfect) level. And that's OK.
What about you?
If you have a problem with depression, what can you do about
it? I don't know, but here are some things to think about: If
you're suffering from sleep deprivation, see a doctor and get some
medication. It could be that dealing with the sleep
deprivation is all that you need to conquer depression. You might not
have to take it forever. Once your sleep patterns are back to normal,
your doctor might be able to wean you off of it eventually.
Also, although I don't always practice what I preach, I'm convinced that
additional (strenuous) physical activity also helps me to sleep
better. And, caffeine can be an enemy of sleep, especially after dinner.
Especially for men, our jobs are so important to us that they often
even give us our identity. They shouldn't be this important
(since we have the freedom to change jobs), but they often are,
especially when the financial burdens pile up. If you don't
have the right job, you should get a different one. If you're
going down the wrong career path, you should change careers. I've
read that young men now days will have between four and seven careers in a
lifetime. Unfortunately, you do always have to keep the
health insurance issue in the back of your mind.
Since money is often the ultimate stress factor, you may want to make a
conscious effort to control your spending. If you cannot make
yourself actually go on a budget, at least keep track of your
expenditures so that you will understand where your money is
going. Also, if you have family members (maybe parents) that
might be able to help, don't be afraid to ask. Some people
have a large amount of discretionary income every month. If they
need to shift some of it your way, it may not be a big deal. What if
you were never able to meet expenses, and family members always had to help
you out a little. So what? If necessary, swallow
your pride. 2 Corinthians 12:14 says, "Children should not have to
save up for their parents, but parents for their children."
Arguably, this could be used to support the idea of leaving a fat
inheritance upon one's death, but I think it's a better argument for
helping one's children when they need it the most, and, inevitably
helping them more in their later years as well. On the other
hand, if the shoe is on the other foot, children should also be quick
to help out their parents. Depending upon God's plans, this
can sometimes be the case as well.
We should all be thankful to God, even for the little things.
If God has blessed you with a wife and children, be thankful for
them. If He has blessed you with a job, be thankful for
it. You might be surprised how therapeutic it can be to simply give
Owen Weber 2009