A personal story of a mother with depression shows the truth behind the feelings.
What is depression? The answer will depend on who you are asking. As a Licensed Professional Counselor, I have worked with many people suffering with depression over the years. At first, I thought that to answer the question "What is Depression?" I would give the usual statistics about its prevalence, how it is rising in the last fifty years and includes children and teens, the symptoms of depression and how it can be treated. Yet the facts don't always paint the picture of what depression is like in the life of those impacted by it. My hope is that this article will give you the "feel" of what depression really is all about.
Sally sat in the chair in my office tears streaming down her face as she shared her story.
I can't remember a time when my mother wasn't isolating herself in her bedroom or on the couch in the living room. It was a daily experience, at least in my memory, especially in my teen years. I remember in the sixties programs were talking about how mothers didn't have to be home with their children all the time to have "quality time" with them. Quality time... what was that? My mother was home all day but she wasn't really there. Her essence only flickered in our young, needy developing lives. It was my task to fill in the absence of her. I was in charge of making sure things got done around the house, took charge of my siblings and made sure they didn't bother her. After she had her sixth child, I remember getting up to his cries in the middle of the night because she wouldn't come. Sometimes she needed me to stay home from school to take care of her baby. That was my senior year in high school. But I refused to keep doing that and went to school.
One of the things that still echo in my ears is her yelling at us, "You kids are driving me crazy." Then why have so many I thought. I then felt bad for that because which one of my siblings would I not want to be born? It was hard trying to be a kid and feel like no one was there for you. My stepdad just let her get away with whatever she wanted to do. When he came home and she’d had a bad day with us, the belt would be our punishment for "upsetting" the Queen.
That is how I came to think of her. The isolated Queen in her throne room who might give you an audience if she felt like it had the support of the King. Sometimes she laughed, said funny things and talked to you like you were a person. You hung on every word and lived for the next time that part of her came out. But, the next time she would yell and scream at you to "leave me alone.” Of course, we would leave the throne room and close the door behind us. Then we were on our own to deal with our feelings of rejection and abandonment. You just never knew who was going to show up: her real self or her depressed self.
I think that each time I was pushed out, the emotional gap grew between us. It is still there today, though we are doing our best to make it smaller. I think the last blow for me, before I left home, was when I was worried about something and asked her about it. She looked at me and said without feeling, "I can't help you with your problems. I have enough of my own." That time I got it. I was on my own and there was no need to look to her for any help. That painful experience and the belief I created about not needing anyone followed me into my adult life. Here I am at sixty learning how to ask for help and not feel like I'm failing.
Like most people with depression, she told me her mother complained of body aches and pains, especially in her lower back, and tiredness. She also had mood swings which continued for most of her mother's life. Though her mother received medication management for her depression, it didn't seem to make it go away enough for her and her siblings to not feel cheated out of a mother who was nurturing, loving, caring and involved in their lives.
Depression is more complex than once believed. It consists of many issues such as:
- Some medications
- Personal conflicts
- Deaths or losses
- Major life changing events
- Serious medical issues and illnesses
- Substance abuse
Due to the advances in technology, fMRI, PET, SPECT scans, scientists are able to look at the working brain. The three areas that seem to be impacted by depression are the amygdala, the thalamus and the hippocampus.
In my work I have found that no matter what the major diagnosis' my client have, they share one thing in common. They have all experienced one or more traumatic experiences that have gone undiagnosed, and therefore untreated. We know that the amygdala (fear receptor) and hippocampus (emotions and long-term memory) are part of the limbic system. The thalamus is part of the brain that receives sensory information and relays it to the cerebral cortex which directs speech, behavioral reactions, movement, thinking and learning.
When a person has intensely frightening experiences that are not understood, processed and expressed, they lay dormant until the right sensory experiences triggers that memory and they react. If this happens too often, their energy becomes fixated on avoidance and more isolation. It becomes self-reinforcing and very distracting to anything else. Their world becomes smaller and smaller until the world is their bedroom. They are distracted by focusing on avoiding thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and memories. They are either trying to avoid the past or afraid of the future. They are not in the present. Their fear receptor (amygdala) overrides the more cognitive part of their brain (cortex). Dr. Bruce Perry calls this an "amygdala high-jacking."
These are a few of the answers to the question: What is depression? It is a complex process that takes people away from their core selves and keeps them stuck in survival mode. It may feel like a friend at times but it is a foe to those who love the depressed person. Depression does not have to be a life sentence anymore.
There are many techniques that can help people move from depression and out of survival mode into the light of living and loving and being present for those they love. One I have found very helpful is the ACT method. Act stands for Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. It is a recent development in the field based on the view that our ongoing attempts to get rid of "symptoms" can increase them instead. This model has been shown to be effective with depression, OCD, workplace stress, chronic pain, anxiety, PTSD and others. It is about taking effective action in your life guided by your deepest values and teaches the skills of how to engage with the present. A user friendly book is The Happiness Trap by Russell Harris.
Please, if this article resonates with you or you find yourself in any of these life experiences, get help. You don't have to go this alone. You are more important than you know. Especially to those you love. They miss your presence and want you back in their life.
Soulfull Woman Deborah Chelette-Wilson is a Licensed Professional Counselor, speaker and life coach who has helped many women find that elusive “something missing” in their lives. Are you ready to step onto the path that leads to a fulfilling and enriching life? Sign up to receive Deborah's newsletter, Discovering Your Heart and Soul, to get started on your own personal journey to awaken a more authentic and soulfull You