Make the black dog your bitch…

Written by Pony.

Incidents of depressive disorders are unfortunately becoming increasingly common in our society.  Most people now know at least someone who has depression, if not have it themselves. The statistics behind depression in Australia make for sobering reading: In Australia, it’s estimated that 45 per cent of people will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. In any one year, around 1 million Australian adults have depression, and over 2 million have anxiety.

I have suffered major depression now for more than 7 years since diagnosis, but probably had it for more like 14 years when I look back at my history.  It has very often been a serious struggle and at my worst, the point at which I was diagnosed, I spent a lot of time thinking about why I should bother continuing to live. Despite appearing to have what many would consider an ideal life on paper, I lost the ability to recognise that and basically lost the ability to feel anything – I became emotionally flat lined.  Since my treatment with medication, cognitive behavioural therapy, meditation, self study and a lot of support from my family, I have reached a stable state of mind and feel much more satisfied overall with life.  I recognise that it is very much worth living and I am grateful for all of the opportunities that come my way.  I’m not sure if I could categorically state I feel happy with life, but I certainly have happy moments.  Life is a rollercoaster of ups and downs, and I now know that bad times will invariably pass, no matter how bad I feel.

So what can we do about it?

Well, far from being a one size fits all approach, different things will work for different people and if you are suffering, I recommend trying to experiment with as many approaches as you can to find the things that work for you.  When you find things that work, reinforce them to make them a part of your everyday.  These are 10 things that have worked for me:

  1.  Seek professional help.  I found a doctor I trusted, got referred to a psychiatrist I trusted and engaged a psychologist I trusted.  I built a little team of skilled people to help me through the dark times and teach me coping skills and strategies.  If any of those professionals no longer offer what you need…find another one who does.  I went through three psychologists before I found one who worked for me.  Be ruthless.
  2. Consider medication. The magic happy pill will not fix you, period.  It may, however, get you to a place where you can be motivated enough to take actions to help yourself.  Again, persistence is the key, there are many medication options, don’t be scared to change them to find one that helps you.  I ended up settling on an older class of anti-depressant, a MAOI, as the newer SSRIs didn’t work for me.
  3. Exercise.  Plenty of scientific studies have proven moderate levels of exercise to be just as effective, if not more so, than medication.  I don’t know if they are synergistic together, but exercise certainly seems to help me.  Studies show exercise reduces stress, improves mood, boosts self esteem and helps you sleep better…not to mention getting you fitter and stronger!
  4. Nutrition.  No, I’m not talking about a diet per se, but at least clean up what you can.  Eat less processed food, eat more lean meats, fruit and veggies.  Supplement with Omega 3 oils which are awesome for your brain. You wouldn’t put crap fuel in the Harley, so why put it in your body?!  Go for moderation, not exclusion…you still want to live and enjoy yourself as much as possible.
  5. Avoid addictive behaviours.  If you find you are the kind of person who becomes addicted to things (whether that be alcohol, exercise, eating or anything else), seek to add more positive activities in your life to reduce your reliance on addictive things.  Take up a new hobby, visit more friends, study something….anything to distract you.  I decided to study how my brain worked and see how I could actively influence my neural pathways.  Then I took up photography.
  6. Meditation.  I was a total nonbeliever to start with.  My psychiatrist convinced me to buy a clinical hypnosis CD and give it a go, despite my vocal protests.  Wow am I glad I did!  After initially assuming it was a load of BS and that hypnosis was nonsense, I reluctantly gave it a crack…and wow!  What a difference it made, I finally felt a semblance of peace and was able to sleep again.  I still use it to this day when I become stressed or depressed.
  7. Sleep.  Like many people who fight depression, I couldn’t sleep effectively and just got more and more tired, which totally intensifies your depression.  It becomes a self sustaining spiral dive.  Aside from meditating, I also used a sleep training program (yes, sleeping well is a skill) to reset my sleeping habits.  It was a slog, but it worked.  Nowadays, I’m a sleep champion!
  8. Reduce Stress.  Pretty obvious you would think, but not well executed by most people.  It takes a concerted effort to reduce the amount of stress in your life.  Things that cause stress are different for all of us, so find a quiet place, grab a notepad and write a list of things that you find stressful.  Then eliminate or at least reduce the effect of as many of those as you can.  Even small steps will help unclutter your mind and free up space for more objective thoughts….ie happy thoughts!
  9. Relationships.  Mega important.  Recognise your support network, or build one if you need to.  You don’t need to fight this alone.  I found that once I opened up and just talked about my problems, many people offered to help or support me. Yes, there is still an unfair stigma about mental health, but screw the people who think that way.  This is your life…not theirs.  What they think of you is none of your concern.  Genuine people will be there for you.  Having people to simply talk to can make all the difference.  The VMCSCC has become a critical outlet for me.
  10. Find your ‘happy’. Happy is subjective. You also don’t need to feel happy all of the time.  Do things that mean something to you. I initially focused on repeating activities that I knew from past experience made me happy whether I actually felt it or not. Eventually, fleeting feelings of happiness returned which grew stronger the more I exposed myself to pleasurable pursuits.  A key point though is to understand you are unlikely to ever feel happy as your basic state of being.  Even non depressed people don’t achieve that.  As long as some things give you a feeling of happiness…you are winning and can build on it.

Fighting the black dog is a bitch, and for me at least, a battle that will go on as long as I draw breath.  But you can control it!  It takes effort and it is definitely hard, but you owe it to yourself to get this right, make your life and your world a satisfying place to live.

Don’t forget the VMCSCC operates a Veterans Access Centre…we want to help.  The rate of suicides amongst Veterans is tragic and we need to do all we can to stop it.  Please contact us or any of the other organisations such as Beyond Blue or Lifeline if you need help.

I highly recommend this link which has plenty of great info…  www.blackdoginstitute.

Thanks for reading, stay positive and help each other, we can win this battle.