Life Journeys: Depression, recovery and acceptance
When living with depression, a road to recovery can feel hard to find. In the latest series of Life Journeys, Sonia Sanghvi tells SANE what it is like to juggle medications, relationships and looking after your physical health – all whilst trying to rebuild from mental illness.
I didn’t know the word depression when it first happened to me 25 years ago, I just knew I felt sad. I felt unable to enjoy anything, wanting to isolate myself from everyone and just hide: I wanted the world to stop. I was “lucky” in that it didn’t last as long as I now know that it can. But, I never imagined that it would come back again, and again, and again.
With depression came guilt, shame, fear, hopelessness and loneliness. I was in so much pain but nothing could take the pain away. Painkillers for emotional pain don’t exist. I tried medication after medication; antidepressants, mood stabilisers, antipsychotics, benzodiazepines, sleeping tablets, drugs to combat the side effects of the ones I was already one. Some made me more exhausted than I was, some caused awful insomnia. Others increased my appetite making me crave sugar to the point I wanted to eat it out of the bag; some reduced my appetite so I was barely eating. Some made me numb and took away my ability to cry. All caused side effects, some tolerable, some not. A lot did nothing at all.
I sat in appointment after appointment with psychiatrists agreeing to new medications and dosage adjustments praying for this to be the one thing that would work. I’d heard stories of others getting better with antidepressants and I was jealous, I was angry. Why couldn’t I have that? Was something wrong with me? Episodes of depression got so bad that I was hospitalised several times. I hurt so much at times that I felt like ending my life was the only answer and I have attempted suicide. It felt like my heart was breaking, that I was broken into a million tiny pieces and that I’d never be whole again. I would scream in pain and beg for the pain to stop. It felt worse than the worst physical pain I’d ever experienced.
Rebuilding after depression
Depression affects every area of my life. When I am unwell I cut myself off from friends and family. At my worst, I have to take extended periods off work. I become unable to look after myself – neglecting my home and myself. Even eating and drinking become problematic. Even if I’m able to leave the house, exercise is an impossibility.
Professionals tell you that you there are ways to help yourself – eat well, sleep enough but not too much, socialise, exercise. The list feels endless and when the only thing you can think about is surviving – minute by minute at times – these are unrealistic goals. But things don’t just get better as you slowly start to feel better. You have to spend time rebuilding relationships and some just disappear. It takes time for the people around you not to worry, not to panic if you don’t answer the phone. You go back to work but people don’t know how to talk to you, you have to prove yourself each time it happens and you lose out on development opportunities. I have lost several jobs to depression.
Acceptance and the future
Recovery is something I am not sure about and I don’t know if I will ever consider myself to be recovered. I have begrudgingly accepted that depression is a part of my life and that while I can do things to keep myself well, that I can in fact do everything right, I will continue to have times when it will happen again.
I am currently coming out of a period of depression that lasted nearly 2 years and we seem to have found a combination of medication that is working but I don’t take that for granted. Previous medications have worked and then stopped. I certainly envisage more medication changes in the future. Medication is not everything and I have to work hard to stay well while remaining vigilant and being on the look out for signs that I am becoming unwell again as well as not being hypervigilant.
Depression has devastated my life at times, it is all-encompassing. Many people think that depression is “feeling blue” or “sad” and yes, sadness is part of it but it is so much more than that.
Emotional support – SANE – If you are feeling the way Sonia describes, SANE are always here to offer emotional support.
Depression – NHS (www.nhs.uk) – Learn more about depression and different pathways to recovery.