From my own experience depression can dog you like a black cloud on an overcast day which bodes no good as it’s sure to bring rain sooner or later. In contrast a Depressive Episode is more like lightning striking – it’s a violent shift in your emotional balance that hits you in a moment and lays you out for months.
You can have what’s clinically called “Low Mood” but which is actually borderline depression for your entire life without having a major episode but many people with “Low Mood” (myself included) are not that fortunate.
If bipolar depression is like a sine wave with peaks and troughs, as you go from one extreme to another, then long term depression with depressive episodes feels more like a straight line graph with irregular and sudden dips. You’ll feel down all the time and then a trigger will make you feel a whole lot worse.
Medication helps you raise the line so your dip-downs don’t feel so down but the key to staying level (see what I did there) is to stop the dips from happening. Knowing what triggers and facilitates your depression is key to developing emotional resilience.
Being sleep-deprived or exhausted facilitated my previous depressive episodes but for me the key triggers were major (emotional) events in my life.
Facilitators create the conditions in your mind that can leave you open to an episode of depression. By analogy in much the same way your immune system can be compromised leaving you open to illness your mental strength can be affected by fatigue. Cortisol, the hormone released when you become stressed affects the body and mind weakening your ability to cope with everything life throws at you. By themselves unless I was already borderline depressed they weren’t enough to pitch me into an episode.
Hindsight being a wonderful thing looking back on my life I’ve realised I’ve had a number of episodes in my life that impacted me and left me in a depressive spiral. These occurred after major events and memory triggers. Major events in my life which caused episodes include:
Hitting 29 years of age with a crunch and feeling like I’d wasted my life
Getting kicked out of my flat by my landlord
Being made redundant
Breaking up with my fiancée
Finding out my fiancée now had a child by her previous husband
Some trigger events, (usually major events), you have time to prepare for. However the more insidious triggers are memory triggers as they can come out of nowhere.
You’ll be sailing along, happy as Larry and then you’ll find a photo on Facebook, or you’ll forget to skip over a song with some significance. “Our” song is now “their” song and POW, your sailboat hits the rocks and sinks below the waves. Often it’s a relapse back into depression after a recovering from a major event such as a break up.
If you have “Low Mood” (lack of energy, lack of motivation, feelings of helplessness are some indicators) I have the following tips for avoiding a slide into full blown depression.
Do your best to prepare yourself for the triggers you can see coming by increasing your capacity to cope. Try to reduce your workload if you can. Work stress and emotional stress are a nasty combination. Try to make time for relaxation and don’t shy away from regular leisure activities, especially those with a social element. I heartily prescribe scheduling good times with good friends as a way of coping with the oncoming storm
Next do your best to reduce the facilitators. For instance – If you’re at risk from exhaustion prioritise your sleep. Five to six hours minimum, seven is better. Don’t leave it until the weekend to catch up on sleep. You need to be well rested every day.
For memory triggers I recommend Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Thought Analysis but not on your own. If you think you need this kind of help doctors and professionals win over self-help books every time. There’s no question getting a full assessment from a professional was the turning point for me.
Finally again I must emphasise the importance of supportive company. Talking with people who empathise is by far the most effective insulation from depressive episodes in my own experience.
These techniques can help you to become emotionally resilient against the triggers you can’t see coming. After all of that THEN it’s over the counter supplements and medication to help you get through depression. If you do it the other way around you’re just papering over the cracks. Trust me on this one.
You can’t avoid falling. We all trip and fall, we all crumble and fold. Learning to roll into the fall and come out on your feet is an emotional survival skill we all need because we are all at risk in this day and age.
Support Links & Further Reading: Samaritans ; Depression Alliance
(Note from Colette B: Many thanks to Smiley Yearwood for his excellent guest-author article for the Wishing Well. Text is copyright Smiley Yearwood and appears here unaltered other than insertion of the images (all images are my own original work and copyright Colette B. at the Wishing Well)