"Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul" - John Keats
I am not talking about the Monday morning blues or feeling down for a short period of time which, quite rightly, can be referred to as feeling depressed but the word in this context is really a verb. I am referring to the event that is called depression in the noun sense.
About two years after the train crash I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which, because it had gone so long untreated, I now have chronically which in turn means I will never get rid of it altogether.
One of the many symptoms of PTSD is clinical depression. Deep depression. This type of depression I can only describe as being at the bottom of deep, dark, damp well. High above you can see the sunshine and even hear people cheerfully talking which represents the normal world you've suddenly dropped away from. The walls of the well are too steep to climb up nor do you have energy to attempt the effort. It is truly isolating and I find I can neither talk, move or eat anything and episodes can stretch into weeks. These days it does not happen often to me but when it does it is soul destroying and I used to get annoyed that I could not snap myself out of it.
That was until I met and was treated by Dr Tim Cantopher, one of our most renowned consultant psychiatrist's. It was through his ministrations that I came to realise that, though labelled a mental illness, depression is in reality a physical illness. And here is the science he explained;
When a part of our brain called the limbic system malfunctions it manifests as depression. Our limbic system is a complex system of nerve fibres configured like a computers circuit board controlling numerous systems around our body including our moods. It copes with our everyday life stresses very well but it does have a limit. When pushed beyond breaking point (usually, but not exclusively, by a traumatic event) it will effectively blow a fuse. This 'fuse' is our transmitter chemicals, seratonin and noradrenaline, and their levels drop rapidly when the circuit blows. Without the correct levels of these two chemicals the electrical impulses that our brains nerve fibres need also drop which in turn causes our 'circuit board' to abruptly stop working ie. depression.
Perhaps surprisingly to some Dr Cantopher also attests that depression is 'The Curse of the Strong'. As he puts it "what happens if you put a whole lot of stresses on to someone who is weak, cynical or lazy? The answer is that they will immediately give up, so they will never get stressed enough to become ill. The strong person on the other hand reacts to stress by redoubling their efforts, pushing themselves way beyond the limits for which their body is designed. When they start getting the symptoms of depression they still keep going, with the inevitable result that eventually their limbic system gives way. If you put 18 amps through a 13 amp fuse there is only one possible result."
The problem is that us 'strong' people have always overcome obstacles or hurdles in life by tackling them head on and putting every ounce of energy we have in getting past them. The very idea of giving in to our depression goes completely against the grain and we are not very good at taking the rest the condition demands. However, once you realise that it is a physical illness, no different to a bad case of flu, chicken pox or pneumonia, it is easier to allow yourself the rest needed and stop fighting it.
For more information and insight into clinical depression I strongly recommend Dr Cantophers book : Depressive Illness - The Curse of the Strong.
Depression is such a complicated condition that I will be exploring other facets of it in future articles. I am hopeful that by discussing and sharing my experiences of this illness it may give other sufferers heart that it needn't be the grim life sentence it might at first appear.
Pam's book 'From Behind the Mask' tells the inspiring true story of Pam's experience before, during and since the Paddington train crash. Get your author signed hardback copy or download the eBook now from Pam's website: www.pamwarren.co.uk.