How to live with the 'Black Dog'
Or coping with Depression…

Article Witten By: Wendy Markby (Enriched client)

My mother tells me I was a happy and contented baby, easily settled and always smiling.

Having been diagnosed with severe Clinical Depression 16 years ago, I wonder what happened in that time to get me where I am today at 43, facing a life time of anti-depressant medication? The truth is, it doesn't really matter what it is, (though it is important to deal with your demons if you have some issues that are holding you back from achieving your potential). Now I treat it as scar tissue, by that I mean that it's visible if you look closely enough, but it doesn’t have the capacity to hurt me anymore.

Some with depression would ask, how does depression not hurt you? It affects everyone in your life… the mental pain and anguish is sometimes overwhelming. “Well” I see it as an illness much like diabetes, you have to see a health care professional, manage your diet, exercise, take medication, engage in cognitive therapy, seek support services. You can't beat yourself up about it. Would you feel guilty if you had Diabetes?

Support and Education are critical to your wellness. A support group such as those on the Black Dog Institute website www.blackdoginstitute.org.au, Beyond Blue at www.beyondblue.org.au, Uplift Program at www.upliftprogram.com , Depression.Net at www.depressionet.com.au or Goldenhope Manufacturers Of Depression Cement on Groups at www.msn.com.au, etc. or your local Mental Health Clinic. Becoming pro-active is the key for me. Educate yourself about new treatments. The Internet has a wealth of informative material if you know where to look. Your local library should have reference books also.
(Steer clear of well meaning people who tell you to "snap out of it") They really know nothing of the depth of despair felt by sufferers.

Sometimes a few words from a career, friend or family member are enough for the depressed person to feel hope. For me, those words were, "we will get through this" or "you will be well again". Sometimes those words can come from the most unlikely sources. From a stranger in chat over the internet, from someone in the Community who has experienced Depression, either personally or as an acquaintance of someone who has.

There are also some self help tips that may help.
I have composed a list of tactics I engage when I’m going through a rough patch.

  1. If you are able, get out of the house, sometimes a change of scenery can distract you for awhile. It is also beneficial to be in sunlight as the Serotonin in the brain is boosted when exposed to the sun. Especially between 7am and 9.00am.
  2. Go for a walk or call a friend, go shopping (of course it depends on what you feel you are up to doing.) If you can’t stand crowds then stay away from the shops until you’re feeling better J If lack of finances are holding you back, Opportunity shops can be a fun excursion, looking for bargains.
  3. Exercise, I have found this most beneficial. Ask a family member or friend to be an exercise partner, as lack of motivation is one of the key characteristics of depression.

Make the length of each exercise session at least 30 minutes and exercise two to five times per week.
Exercise at around 60 to 70 per cent of your maximum heart rate. To calculate your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220. Strength and stretching exercises are of great benefit also. Remember to thoroughly warm up and cool down.

Generally try to live a more active lifestyle - walk instead of using the car for short trips, or avoid the use of labour saving devices when possible. (See your health care professional before engaging in exercise) For more information on this subject go to www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au

  1. If you are able to, keep up with your hygiene, put on some make-up or have your hair or nails done. (Massage has also been proven to be beneficial.) You probably won't care to at first but trust me, when we look better we feel better. J
  2. Do something that used to give you pleasure, it may not give you pleasure now, but it will again soon.
  3. Talk to someone who has battled depression and is now well. I have found that if we have hope, we can get through even the worst depression. It is hard to believe it will get better..but it will J
  4. If you feel up to it, do something nice for someone else.
  5. Eat healthy, our bodies run better with the right fuel.
  6. Try to develop an interest, mine is painting..but anything that you can lose yourself in is great, like Gardening, or going to the movies, stamp collecting…whatever.

*If you have feelings that you want to harm yourself (or someone else) tell someone you trust. These are symptoms of depression and will alert others to the extremity of your depression. In my experience most people who think about committing suicide don’t really want to die, they just want respite from their anguish. So once it is clear that they will get well usually these feelings will improve. Of course if they don't, go to a General Practitioner or Hospital. Or call LIFELINE  

For the families and carers of a depressed individual I say, try to have patience...patience…and more patience. I know that's easy to say but much harder at the time to do. But it will be worth the effort when your loved one is well. Make sure you look after yourself by having frequent respite. There are also support services in the community for carers looking after someone with a mental illness. Look in your telephone Directory for local services in your area.

Always remember….your depression does not define who you are. You are a person coping with an illness and that illness has a name.  Depression!

One final remark that I feel is the most important for getting well. Take one day…or hour or minute at a time. Don't focus on what happened yesterday, or even tomorrow. Just do what you need to do now, and be kind to yourself, you are worth it!