Time to talk...
I hope you're all doing well and that you are all set for the Winter holidays and the cold season which will bring about some truly fantastic weather for photography.
To cut to the chase, I want to talk about a subject that is still fairly tough for me to talk about, because it's something that still affects me today and at the start, like most people I didn't truly understand it. Depression.
Now, at no point do I want this to become my sob story, I want no pity from anyone.
The reason I'm bringing this up is because it's something that in my day job I am finding more and more prolific, especially in young people, and I hope that by reading this it will dis-spell some of the myths around depression and hopefully if anyone reading this is in a similar situation they will have the confidence to talk to someone about how they are feeling.
At the start of the year I was officially diagnosed with depression, however it had been going on for a lot longer than that. My moods had gradually been slipping for over a year before that. I can only attribute the main trigger for my depression was when I was out of work for a period of time after leaving the Army. To go from a job that held the most pride that I had had at the time, to going to not having a job and feeling quite useless took a big hit on my confidence and ultimately my well-being. Once I was employed again, I thought that things would get better, but they didn't and I started to get mood swings where one minute I would be on top of the world and the next at an all-time low. This took its toll on things at home and was putting a great deal of strain on my relationship with my wife Amy.
So why did I wait so long to seek help? I guess there were a number of reasons, I'm stubborn, I thought it would get better but mostly I was afraid of being labelled as being someone with depression. The short years that I had spent in the Army had instilled a 'Keep your chin up and carry on' attitude and I saw depression as a weakness. Something that should not be revealed and something that could be ignored.
I was of course wrong. Depression is not a weakness, it is an illness and one that can destroy the lives of those who have it, and the loved ones around them. Thankfully, I have a truly amazing wife who has stuck by my through this. She has been incredibly understanding and patient with me through this whole process, and without her, I don't think I'd be writing this today, and that is something I will be eternally grateful for.
So, let’s go through some of the myths surrounding depression.
The following is taken from a blog on The Huffington Post by Alena Hall.
Depression and sadness are the same. While an overwhelming sense of sadness is often a symptom of depression, it is not synonymous with it. Sadness is fleeting and temporary. Sadness is catalysed by upsetting life experiences and powerful memories, but it comes and goes -- it is not constant. Depression, on the other hand, is a chronic condition. The deep sadness depressed people feel doesn't fade on its own, and sadness is far from the only negative emotion they experience. People with depression can feel empty, apathetic, anxious and tense in ways that make going about their daily lives incredibly arduous and painful.
It's a sign of mental weakness. This stigma is one of the main reasons why so many people elect to suffer in silence rather than seek the help they need. However, no one chooses to develop depression. It is a complex mental disorder that affects a person biologically, psychologically and socially, and does not discriminate. If anything, there is great resilience in the person that feels truly debilitated by this condition but makes an effort to work through it on a daily basis.
It's always brought on by traumatic life events. While certain circumstances can (and often do) trigger depressive episodes, the events themselves cannot take all responsibility for a person's depression. Loss of a loved one, divorce and other upsetting life experiences will leave any emotionally sensitive person feeling sad, remorseful, lonely and empty, possibly for a prolonged period of time. However, those who are truly depressed find their symptoms lasting longer than two weeks and reoccurring frequently -- one of the key symptoms a doctor looks for in a depression diagnosis.
It isn't a real illness. While its symptoms may be difficult to recognize and it doesn't boast a "one size fits all" treatment, depression is a serious medical condition. According to the Mayo Clinic, people with depression actually have physical differences in their brain, and neurotransmitter and hormone imbalances that determine their condition, not to mention its severity. Depression, like many illnesses, affects a person on every level, from their moods to their thoughts to their physical existence. Categorizing this condition as a matter of character only belittles how people with depression feel and deters them from seeking treatment.
It's all in your head. Emotional symptoms are often thought of as the main characteristics associated with depression, but it doesn't stop there. Many people with depression find themselves coping with ailments all over their bodies. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, depression can manifest as fatigue, insomnia, unusual changes in appetite, chronic muscle aches and chest pains. By promoting the idea that depression is only mental, we overlook these physical signs of the more serious issue at hand.
Real men don't get depressed. Just because women are twice as likely to develop depression doesn't mean men should suffer in silence. In fact, middle-aged white men have experienced the greatest increase in number of suicides committed each year, and the majority of them can be linked back to depression. Men often express depression differently than women, which makes depression among men easier for society to overlook. Afraid of appearing less masculine, strong and stable, men often feel less able to speak up and receive the help they need. This makes depression even more dangerous for men, because they avoid treatment, tend to complicate their condition with substance abuse and are far more successful in suicide attempts, should their condition worsen to that level. If your parents have it, you will, too. While a genetic predisposition to depression can increase a person's likelihood of developing the condition themselves, that risk is relatively small -- only 10 to 15 percent. Older research suggested that depression was far more hereditary, but newer studies have questioned that claim. People with a family history of depression may be more aware of certain symptoms, but anyone exhibiting signs of depression should express concerns to a medical professional.
An antidepressant is all you need to feel better. Because depression manifests differently in each person, it is not the kind of illness that allows a person to simply pop a pill and feel better tomorrow. Antidepressants are a common treatment prescribed by doctors as they see fit, but they aren't the only option: Many people suffering from depression opt for psychotherapy or a combination of methods to address their symptoms. In fact, many doctors consider using both medication and therapy to be the most effective way to help someone suffering from depression. Those who do opt for medication usually will not experience its benefits for at least six weeks as the body acclimates. Many people also have to try a number of different methods before finding one that suits them best.
You'll need medication for the rest of your life. Depression treatment is entirely customized to the person exhibiting symptoms: Some people use medication for short-term assistance, some stick to a consistent regimen over the course of their lives and some opt for no medication at all. Several forms of psychotherapy can offer effective treatment; for an estimated 40 percent of people dealing with depression, it works even better than medication. Experienced doctors run through all of the treatment options with their patients to ensure that they are getting the care that they need and feel comfortable with the route ultimately taken.
Talking about it only makes it worse. Because we have treated the issue of depression with kid gloves for so long, it instinctually feels uncomfortable to talk about it at first. But we can't will it away or expect it to heal on its own. By abandoning the stigma associated with the disorder and being receptive to those who are concerned for their well-being or that of a loved one, we are able to initiate the conversation in a proactive, helpful way rather than reinforce destructive, negative feelings. More people will express how they feel before those feelings become more severe -- or even fatal -- and begin seeking the support they truly need.
Some of these myths I believed, like I said I thought it was a weakness, real men don't get depressed they just pick themselves up and carry on etc. etc. I couldn't be more wrong.
I think it takes an incredible amount of strength for somebody to try to carry on through their daily routine and try to act normal while this inner turmoil is ongoing, and it is that struggle that can tragically overwhelm someone.
When I finally opened up to my wife and finally admitted to myself what was wrong, I felt like a weight had been lifted off my chest and actually had a great sense of relief from doing so. I then made an appointment with my GP who put me on medication which helped a little more.
Now I'm not saying that it's been all rainbows and sunshine from then on, there have been days where I physically struggle to get my head off the pillow in the morning, but it has been a little easier each day.
So at the risk of sounding like I'm preaching, if like me you find yourself feeling like this I have a few things that have helped me. I am not saying that they will work for you, everyone is different, but they helped me a great deal.
1: Speak to someone about the way you are feeling. Please talk to someone, be it a friend, a family member, a helpline or your GP to help you get on the first step to the road to recovery.
2: Exercise. Be it a 30 minute walk, or an hour in the gym. Exercise can give you the feeling of being in control of your body and can often be the first step to feeling in control of other things. And while exercising, your body will release natural endorphins to help give you a much needed feel good boost.
3: Eat healthy. There is no magic diet that fixes depression. It's a good idea to watch what you eat, though. If depression tends to make you overeat, getting in control of your eating will help you feel better.
4: Get enough sleep. Depression can make it hard to get enough shut-eye, and too little sleep can make depression worse.
5: Find a hobby. Photography is a natural therapy for me. Being outdoors where I can shut out the daily stresses and just concentrate on enjoying myself and creating does absolute wonders for me.
6: Meditation. At the risk of sounding all new age and hippyish, I found meditation to be an incredible tool. If I felt a bad mood swing coming on, I will try to do 10 minutes of meditation by using an app called Headspace. It really helps me calm down and centre myself, and I highly recommend it.
Guys, I can't say enough how much talking about my illness to someone helped me at the beginning, and yes even by talking about it through this medium is incredibly cathartic for me even now. If you feel like you may have depression, talk to someone about it and don't suffer in silence,.
It takes a vast amount of strength to admit what you are going through but please seek help. Here are some links to information, advice and some helplines if you would rather speak to someone confidentially.
If you have any stories about your own experiences with depression, or advice you would like to share, please feel free to leave them in the comments section below. Thanks for sticking with me through this fairly lengthy blog guys, and as always thanks for reading. Andy.