Depression – a common problem with a unique resolution

This month’s theme on DPSN is ‘uniqueness and commonality’.  We’ve given our bloggers free reign to reflect on the things that they think make themselves (or others) unique or common.  This might include personal factors such as disability, mental health, gender or sexuality…or more global issues like policy and politics, social movements, creative projects and human endeavor.  As always, we’re keen for you to be part of the conversation, so let us know what makes you and your perspective unique (or common) in the comments below, or jump over to our Facebook page to join the conversation.

It’s perhaps not a surprise to anyone that knows me, that when I hear the phase “unique and common” my mind goes straight to the area of mental health.

At age 21 I was diagnosed with depression.  Or, in official diagnostic language, a Major Depressive Episode.  Or, in layman’s terms, “clinical depression”.  That is, depression that was serious enough to interfere with my ability to function in everyday life, and caused me a significant amount of distress to boot.

silhouette of woman with open arms at sunsetIt lasted, off and on, for around five years and took a variety of therapeutic interventions, combined with some significant life changes, to resolve.  I also think that it could recur at any point in my life, given the right set of circumstances (which I also think is true for anyone).  So these days I tend to live my life in a particular way (maintaining boundaries, talking through my emotional experience with supportive people, keeping my life balanced and so on) to maximum my wellbeing and minimise the chance of things ever getting as bad as they once were.

I count myself relatively lucky.  It took a fair bit of effort, but it’s been roughly another five years since I’ve felt significantly depressed in any way.  I’ve had periods of feeling down, sad, or blue of course (again, as everyone does).  But fortunately not to the extent that it’s defined my day to day life.  It’s not that simple for everyone, I know, and many people struggle their whole lives to manage ongoing depression, anxiety, substance use issues and other mental health concerns.

One of the things that struck me repeatedly from inside my experience, was how terribly alone I felt.  No one else around me seemed to understand or have ever experienced any kind of struggle with their own mental health.  This was of course partly the depression clouding my thinking, but also partly I think true – no one really did talk about these kinds of issues at that time (at least, not in my circles anyway).

This, thankfully, has changed drastically over the last ten years as we talk more and more about mental health in everyday discourse.

It’s remarkable really, that’s it’s taken this long to become a part of mainstream conversation, given that one in five New Zealanders will experience a significant issue with depression, anxiety or addiction in their lifetime.  Given too, that these kinds of issues are such a common and normal, rather than abnormal, experience.  

I will always remember the lecturer in an undergraduate psychology paper who said “you get depressed when depressing things happen to you”.  I think at some point, everyone will know what it’s like to have a hard time with life – to lose a job, or a relationship, or experience the death of a close family member.  

And of course, the combination of things in life that can make a person depressed can be more subtle and personalised.  More unique.  It can be related to the way you think about things, the beliefs they hold about themselves or others or the world, about what people think they are owed or what they do (or don’t) deserve, or how hard they are on themselves.  And yes, there even seems to be some pretty good evidence that vulnerability to depression has a genetic or biological component too.

So, that’s depression.  An incredibly common, but also remarkably unique, experience.  And it was only by recognising this dialectic that I began to first accept, and then resolve, mine.

So how about you?  What common, or unique, experiences have you worked through in life?

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