I have dealt with depression for most of my life but I never REALLY talked about it, especially not online, not in a way that really shined a light on how bad of a problem it was for me. Since long before I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis it was just always there even if an apparent reason was not. I would just wake up with a heavy feeling of nothingness in my chest. No motivation and no desire to do anything but try to sleep in attempt to escape this feeling in one of my crazy and vivid dreams.
You see, since I was a child, a lot of my dreams would often leave me wondering whether or not something really happened while I slowly woke back up into reality. I have so many of these dreams burnt into my mind because remembering a lot of them feels exactly like remembering an old memory. Not because those dreams were exciting or disturbing or anything memorable like that (in fact, a lot of them were pretty mundane) but because they felt so real. For the longest time it was sometimes hard to accept that they did not really happen, that they were not memories even though they felt like they were (and still do). I dream in color, I experience a lot of these dreams from multiple perspectives, I remember how things physically felt, how they emotionally felt, I remember sounds, tastes, and so much more. I even have dreams that take place in locations that do not actually exist but nonetheless, I have visited over the years, time and time again as if my brain has constructed an alternate reality. So they were a good escape from depression. At first.
When I was about 17 or 18 it became too much for me to handle on my own so I reluctantly saw a doctor and started trying to find the right anti-depressant for me. At first, it would feel like the medication was helping but after a while I would randomly wake back up into the terrible void that is depression. So once again we would either change the dosage or change the medication in attempt to get things right. In 2013 I started Zoloft and I finally felt well-balanced. Sure there would still be occasions where something would happen that made me depressed (especially now that MS had become pretty central to my life) but that was not at all the same as the depression that I would wake up with for no reason at all. I have realized over time that there is a huge difference between situational depression and the depression caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. They are, at least for me, very different and each require different efforts to overcome. I am not saying one is worse than the other, both can be emotionally/mentally crushing, I am just saying that to me they feel different.
When I moved back to California from Colorado (thanks to my awesome “MS Specialist” who really did not know anything about MS and how to treat it) I of course was dealing with a bit of situational depression but I was able to manage that pretty well especially when I was feeling hopeful that Lemtrada would fix me up. But it hasn’t, not really, not like I thought it would, so in the last 2 or 3 years it has felt like my health has been continuously falling apart and it was becoming more and more difficult to manage the resulting depression. Nothing was working! I was losing the “fight” in me because I just could not get ahold of life. So I worked hard to stay active, eat well, exercise and do whatever I could to not let my depression consume me. That worked OK for a while but in the last few months or so I started waking up feeling depressed about nothing again. Even after a good day. I felt like I was just hanging by a thread and then finally? It broke. That void was back but this time it was stronger than it has ever been and it had a team mate; I had never experienced that feeling of situational depression and “biological depression” at the same time. It doesn’t seem like they would be distinguishable and I would have never guessed that they could have been but wow, they were.
It felt like my life had derailed and I can’t even begin to try to explain how I felt but it was all just too much. I felt like I was trying to stay afloat in the middle of a huge ocean; it was overwhelming and I knew that no matter how hard I tried to keep my head above water it was just a matter of time before I would lose my strength and start to drown. I felt like I had completely lost control of everything; I pretty much stopped doing anything to manage my MS and began spending my days doing less and less. My health (MS) got worse and this made my depression worse and then feeling more depressed made my MS worse. The vicious circle.
Among other symptoms, the fatigue was just so heavy yet I could not sleep because remember how I said my dreams were so vivid? Well now that was playing against me because one of two things would happen. Either my dreams would offer me an escape so far from reality that upon waking up and realizing that none of that had actually happened I would fall straight into depression because I knew I actually had a whole day of misery ahead of me OR I would wake up already depressed because whatever I was dreaming about was so depressing in and of itself. That led to an anxiety of having to sleep which led to insomnia where I did nothing but let my mind race and think about all the things I knew I should not be thinking about when trying to fight depression. Klonopin will help me sleep through it right? Nope. I realized that when I took Klonopin my dreams were even worse. No matter what pill I took or how high a dose it was, nothing got me through the night. Cannabis did though because THC suppresses REM sleep or something like that so it’s just a whole night of nothingness but after a while I noticed that I was waking up really groggy and I was not getting anywhere.
So once again I reluctantly sought help. I had to break myself out of this. I started seeing a therapist. I went into it genuinely hoping she could help but the first day left me unimpressed. I had taken notes so I went home to spend a week thinking about everything that we had talked about. After just a couple more sessions and a lot more thinking I had a sort of “aha” moment and everything started making sense. It was like all that time I had been trying to solve a sort of puzzle but I was stuck and my therapist helped me figure out why I was stuck and then everything else started to just fall into place. Everything just clicked. At first I was surprised at how quickly I was able to see the answers to a lot of the “problems” I have been living with for so much of my life but then I figured that it makes sense because when you are stuck on a problem for so long sometimes you just need to get the perspective of someone else rather than dwelling on the only answers you can come up with on your own like I have done for years.
So I am hoping things will start to turn around for me soon because now that I have an idea of how to deal with the situational aspect of my depression it will be a lot easier to deal with the biological side. I decided to not change the dosing of my medication because I started exercising again, eating better, I changed my sleep schedule and started changing a few other habits that I thought were contributing to my depression and already I am feeling a lot better so I feel like I can now manage it on my own alongside the dose of antidepressants I have been on. I still have so much to work on and it will take me much time to get back to where I was even just a year ago but what really matters is that I feel like I am back on track. I now have new goals and I now know where I want to get to in life; I don’t yet know how I will get there but I have a destination and when you are dealing with depression it really helps to know where you are trying to go because how can you plan any sort of journey when you don’t even know where you are heading? Knowing this helped me realize that the journey is not as bad as it looked before. There will without a doubt be many more bumps in the road ahead but I will have no problem moving past them now that I have a destination in mind. So let’s do this.