(Article for ‘The Glad Wrap’, a section in the Northern Rivers Echo newspaper where anyone can contribute a story about what makes them grateful…)
I’m grateful for being able to feel gratitude. Not so long ago, this was not possible. I had a life threatening illness – major depression.
Having major depression can feel like being half dead, with the lack of energy to match.(1) I was unable to enjoy anything, even though I had so much to be grateful for. Depression felt like being stuck in a deep, dark hole, with no way out. I spent endless hours trying to work out why it was happening. My thoughts went round and round, and I became more and more unwell.
Mental illness will affect about 1 in 5 Australians this year.(2) It will almost certainly affect someone you know. Unhelpful comments I heard were: “you have no reason to have it” and, “chin up, there’s always someone worse off than you”. Now, can you imagine saying either of those things to someone who’s just told you they have cancer?
I am grateful to have finally discovered why depression occurs.
Some people are more likely to develop depression (because of their experiences). A “depression gene” has also been found.(3) A combination of predisposition and prolonged stress can lead to major depression.
Dangerous stress is as follows:
1. It has an effect on your body: racing pulse, headache, etc.;
2. You want to avoid it;
3. You feel unable to control it.(4)
These feelings can be triggered by a wide variety of stressors. As each person reacts to life events differently, it is unhelpful to compare your own experiences to another’s. For example, my stressors included being at home with kids for ten years, feeling cut off from society. Many others might view this as heavenly! The point is: if stress (caused by anything) is affecting you adversely (as described above), then it is dangerous. When people judge others based on “how bad” their situation is, and whether they really “should” be unwell, it only adds to the shame that depression sufferers often feel.
Fortunately, just as there are a lot of stressors around, there are also lots of ways to get help. Things that helped me get out of the hole were: my GP, a psychologist, prescription medication, exercise, the kindness of friends and family, mindfulness meditation and high dose vitamin B. After getting help to deal with the debilitating depression, I was then able to work on the underlying stressors, again, with help.
If you have depression (or any other illness), you need to accept that you have a disease, and keep plugging away until you find the solutions that are right for you. It will probably be a long, hard road. However, while you stay determined to walk it, the possibility of getting better always remains.
If you make it, you will know what it is like to feel gratitude, in every fibre of your being.
I dedicate this to those who didn’t make it. I hope it will contribute a little towards decreasing confusion and stigma around mental illness, which adds greatly to the suffering caused by the disease itself.
– Jessica Lowe, with input from Dr Nathan Kesteven (GP)
P.S. Something to remember:
“… most others won’t understand the hell in which you’ve been in
Until they’ve wrestled with a demon…” (5)
In the meantime, they will need to use their imaginations, and compassion.
- Solomon, Andrew (24 May 2014) Opening address, Sydney Writers’ Festival. http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/weekendarts/360docos-audio-segment-template/5464380
- Sane Australia: www.sane.org: Facts and Figures about Mental Illness fact-sheet
- Catalyst (2012) The Brain Issue, ABC Television DVD
- Medina, John (2014) Brain Rules, Scribe Publications, Brunswick, p. 61
- Hilltop Hoods (2014) Through the Dark – (a song about a child’s battle with leukaemia), from Walking Under Stars
Other interesting sites to check out include: ABC Open: Speak Your Mind, Beyond Blue, Black Dog Institute, Black Dog Runner and Grow Australia (which has a Lismore branch).