Thursday, 21 August 2008

The Blues

Depression didn't run in our family. It was something that happened to other, less reliable people. It was for cooks and dailies to 'have nerves', not us. If someone felt a bit down it wasn't done to show it.

So when our daughter got it - or rather when we recently realised that this was what she had, and not 'hormones' or adolescent angst or 'going through a phase' or sheer bloody-mindedness - it was a steep learning curve. One we're still coping with.

I think...I hope...that we're doing all right. We somehow avoided, by luck or instinct, coming out with the usual knee-jerk stuff; "Pull yourself together, get a grip, we all go through it, think how lucky you are". When harshly treated we've bitten back the waspish rejoinders that reflect our own inadequacies. We've enlisted the help of a private counsellor/psychotherapist (there is at least a six month waiting list for help on the NHS, even though the potential severity of outcome for depression makes knee and hip surgery seem as crucial as hopscotch). We've seen off the jejune, chauvinistic half-wit who was her employer, and we've tried to provide a lazy, stress-free summer at home, with chocolate and entertainment and riding and laughter and no need for deadlines or decisions.

The thing about depression is that it is not a matter of personal choice; it is almost beyond an individual's control. It is an internal battle of self against self. A Sisyphean struggle, where luck and life erode progress like tide on a sandcastle. Where events and people conspire to undermine. Which no one who has not experienced it can fully understand.

Depression is probably not the result of a chemical imbalance, as is often suggested, but its characteristic cycle of emotional arousal and disappointment wreaks real clinical and hormonal changes which cannot be shrugged off. Cortisol and noradrenaline levels increase; seratonin levels fall; there is a debilitating imbalance between REM and deep sleep. All the manuals warn that the worst outcome is suicide.

K tried to go it alone, with the help of meditation and yoga and shedloads of resolve. For a long time she never even told us, as she cried in her room. She was determined to avoid taking any drugs, but although the therapy helped it wasn't enough on its own, and she eventually changed her mind. The notes for the drug she has now been prescribed include a long list of potential side effects. Chillingly heading the 'likely' side effects is 'suicide'. (This is a likely side effect?)

The treatment package seems to be working. There are still bad days, but these are fewer and less extreme, and the daughter we missed is on her way back to herself and us.

In the last fifty years depression has become ten times more common. Nobody knows why, but this is too large and too fast an increase to be genetic, so it must be related to changes in society and lifestyle. (Me, I'd put the UK's intensive exam regime in general, and AS levels in particular, high on the list of suspects.) Since this has happened to us - and it doesn't just happen to the sufferers, but to their families as well - it seems almost every family we meet has some experience of depression. They've just kept quiet about it.

Whatever, if you do come across someone suffering with depression, whether friend, colleague, employer or employee, unlike them you have a choice; your response can be part of the problem or part of the solution.


  1. God, you're so right! If everyone who thinks it's anything other than the chronically debilitating illness that it is could have it for a day, just one day, there'd be a lot less need for counselling and medication, surgery and any other form of therapy.

  2. Dotterel - Absolutely. It must be a very lonely place to be. Thanks for flying in. And good for you for jumping ship...I've never regretted it!

  3. I'm a big fan of 'displacement therapy' when it comes to the blues - the more you throw yourself into something else, be it charity work or an all-consuming hobby/activity, the less time you have to brood on yourself.

    And if hormone imbalance, thyroid imbalance, diabetes etc have all been ruled out as clinical causes of your daughter's illness, it is always worth trying St Johns Wort or Ginko Bilbao - even diet/exercise/sunlight therapies as a first resort as prescribed anti-depressants can have awful side-effects, including would you believe it, DEPRESSION and hair loss (which wouldn't exactly do wonders for your daughter's state). In fact if she is taking prescribed anti-depressants you need to watch her like a hawk for at least six weeks as that's how long it takes to have any positive effect and meanwhile they can actually make things a lot worse. In addition she may have to try more than one to find the 'right' one for her which is another nightmare.

    Although not severely depressed myself, I have been through all this with an ex of mine (happily now stabilised, but he had to go to hell and back to get this far!)

  4. PS: Best of luck - hopefully not all cases will be as severe as my ex's, so I didn't wish to end on a downbeat note there!

  5. BT - Well written, and best of luck; Thinking of your family and sending "good" thoughts from En Zed.

  6. Had a 6 month bout in my twenties. Horrible. The worst thing was trying to do things which used to make me feel happy or gave me enjoyment only to find they no longer touched me in the same way; fearing that this was how it was going to be forever. The despair is terrible. Since then I have learnt one consolation which I hope will strengthen me should I ever find myself in that place again... no matter how long it takes, it always passes eventually. Good luck to your daughter. She's lucky to have you.

  7. Laura, Sagittarian - thank you so much for your advice and support. I wasn't trying to garner sympathy - sometimes one uses a blog like the valve on a pressure cooker, without expectation, so your comments are all the more welcome.

    Steve - That's a valuable insight and a most positive message; thank you. I sense some sufferers emerge at the other end with a renewed appreciation of things.

  8. K's lucky to have the support you guys give her. Your post was really moving.

  9. Foofy's blogMonday, August 25, 2008

    Brother T, I'm adding more G&T to my Evening prescription tonight...

    Did I ever mention the Polish doctor in Harvey street giving me a Valium tablet before I hit the streets? Ohhhh!!!!! Quickly high as a kite and wiv the fairies. Ended in a cafe eating superb Chocolate Sunday - although I can't recall ever having a liking in in that stuff (choc sunday)...

  10. Meant to add to my earlier comments that sometimes just removing as many additives/e's as possible from someone's diet can have a dramatic effect on their mood - for the better. Also ruling out the possibility of a severe allergy, though that is likely to have come to light by now if she is a young woman.