When I told people I was going to go around the country and talk to dozens of people about their depression, the common response was "Oh, that sounds really depressing." But it was actually the opposite. The remarkable courage and creativity that people - dealing with depression and striving to get better - demonstrated, showed me the human spirit at its best. The people I talked to welcomed me into their homes and told me their stories of their road to hell and back.
Let me tell you now, negative attitudes to depression - or any mental health problem for that matter - make no sense to me. One in four of us will experience a mental health problem in any given year. Gone are the days of hopelessness, although you may well feel hopeless in the depths of your depression. Depression tends to lift in time, and people find ways to get better. Your recovery is about trying to build a meaningful life, as you see it, regardless of enduring difficulties you may face. No one else walks in your shoes. So ultimately, no one knows what is best for you. Whatever we as professionals say, the stories you tell about yourself and your depression will create or cut off possibilities.
Depression is supremely isolating and frequently terrifying. One mother said of her depression, "I couldn't feel anything [for my family]... It was like being inside a very, very thick balloon, and no matter how hard I pushed out, [the balloon] would just push me back in." Not to mention the negative thoughts, and the irritability that comes with it. Racing minds, "zooming into miserable places." For some, depression led to a kind of suicide logic, as if a kind of spell over-took them. You felt at times that there was "no point wading through this s***', and the 'world would be a better place' without you. But fortunately, you hung on. Something happened to break that spell and when you felt better, you realised that your depression was lying to you.
With experience, many people found a way of relating to depression differently. You are not your depression. Some finally got angry with it, and treated depression like an intruder. Some saw depression as a visitor with an important message you had been ignoring. Regardless, you stopped equating depression with yourself.
You talked about the tools of the trade. Despite all the myths in the media, many (but not all) said that antidepressants worked. Some of you felt even more authentic on medication. One woman told me it was "exactly seven weeks to the day that I took... the first tablet. I woke up that morning and I just knew that inside myself that I felt different... I began to laugh out loud again and, and that it was from inside, it wasn't just a sort of superficial laugh, it was a sort of deep inside laughing." You also said other approaches worked too (e.g. exercise), but its horses for courses (see Blue Pages for details).
An awful lot of you said that talking about depression - with counsellors, others suffering the same issues, or curious friends who really listened without offering solutions - is crucial for gaining support and awareness. As one person said: "It was a big relief to have someone who I could tell anything I wanted." Some people needed to process childhood pains "that hadn't been processed properly". Some came to realise they had learnt to be actors in their own lives: "I could wake up and feel s***, I could drag myself through the day feeling s***... [But] I could get out there and sparkle!"
Talking about it, you discovered you were not the failure you thought you were. You challenged your distorted thinking, grieved for your losses, befriended the real you, and many times felt better for it. While you feared that depression might happen again, you realised it could be better managed. One lovely man in his 70s said to me he felt 'joyful' at rock bottom, because he knew things could only get better.
You rewrote your own story in various ways, so rather than being the enemy, perhaps depression was the wake-up call you needed (e.g. for over-work, always putting yourself last, needing to live more authentically). Or was it all part of your spiritual journey? Or could it be that you have positive qualities that are not yet recognised because of your narrow view of yourself?
I understand, it is frightening to move past depression "...to actually take life as it is... dust myself off... it's scary" and finding better ways to deal with depression 'takes discovery and it takes courage and it takes persistence and energy,' as one woman told me. So, while getting better is sometimes spontaneous, it can take work in the long run.
But there is so much help available now. Don't forget that your GP is often a first port of call, and can help with medication as well as finding therapy and support groups. There are organisations like the Samaritans and Depression Alliance ready to help you too. Above all else, there is hope.