The Path to Managing Depression: A Personal Journey

Depression Can Fluctuate, But Healthy Habits and Strong Social Support Can Help Prevent a Relapse

How I Plan for Episodes

By Dan Collins, as told to Hallie Levine

Do you ever feel like you’re sinking deeper and deeper into a sea of despair? Like waves of anxiety are crashing over you, threatening to consume you whole? If you’ve experienced major depressive disorder, you know exactly what I’m talking about. I’ve been living with this condition since I was 16, and let me tell you, it hasn’t been an easy ride.

Picture this: it’s the spring of 1991, and I’m 28 years old, still living at home with my life revolving around work and isolation. I reached a breaking point, an abyss of depression and anxiety that seemed endless. Desperate for help, I made a beeline for the local hospital’s ER. Little did I know that the wait to see a psychiatrist would be excruciatingly long—one month, maybe even two. The mere thought of enduring another minute of my present anguish seemed unbearable.

To distract myself from this overwhelming onslaught, I found solace in books on mental health. In my mind, understanding what was happening to me was the key to overcoming it. But as my father so wisely put it, “You are not going to think your way out of this.” And he was right, as much as it pained me to admit it.

Fortunately, around that same time, a new medication called Prozac was making waves. They say timing is everything, and I like to joke that I was the original Prozac nation. Luckily, I responded well to the medication. Overnight, the storm cloud of despair lifted, and I found myself feeling lighter.

That was 30 years ago. I’m still on Prozac, but I’ve since discovered various strategies to manage my depressive episodes better. You see, depression isn’t a fleeting cold that comes and goes; it can resurface at any time, often without rhyme or reason. So, in the spirit of solidarity, I’m sharing my coping mechanisms in the hope that they might help you too.

🏃‍♂️ Staying Active: Swordplay and Shaping the Mind

After my diagnosis, I took up competitive fencing. Not only did it provide me with an uplifting escape from depression, but it also sharpened my focus. When I was on that strip, facing off against my opponents, I couldn’t afford to let the deep emotions simmering inside me distract me. Fencing forced me to push those feelings aside and concentrate on the present.

The social interaction that came with it was invaluable too. Spending time with my fellow fencers after practice and on weekends offered a support network that helped weather the storm. And trust me, during the pandemic, when the world was crumbling, dedicating an hour each morning to my trusty elliptical machine became a lifeline. Research backs up the power of exercise in combatting depression, so don’t just take my word for it!

But staying active extends beyond physical activity alone. When depression takes hold, it’s essential to avoid wallowing in your negative thoughts. In my twenties, when my depression was at its worst, I would isolate myself, staring at walls for hours on end. However, once I started Prozac, I felt a glimmer of light and the confidence to shake up my solitary lifestyle. I enrolled in an acting class, forcing myself out of my comfort zone. Redirecting your focus away from your mood and emotions and onto something else can be a game-changer.

🤝 Cultivating Social Connections: The Power of Companionship

When depression consumes you, the idea of lifting yourself out of it alone feels impossible. That’s where the support of others comes in. I count myself fortunate to have had amazing, understanding parents when I was first diagnosed. My father, an amateur psychiatrist, always sought to comprehend my experience and encouraged me to seek help and find my way back to better days.

And then there’s my incredible wife, Tina. She possesses a deep understanding of my condition because she too battles mental health challenges. We watch out for each other, noting any subtle signs that may indicate an impending episode. We remind one another to stay on top of medication and to seek therapy when needed. I often say we don’t let depression take center stage in our lives, even though it may be a constant companion on our journey.

Tina has a natural nurturing instinct, always sending me interesting articles about depression research. When she senses trouble brewing, she encourages me to return to therapy. Sadly, not everyone battling depression has such a support system. Coming home to the wrong person can be detrimental for someone struggling with this condition. For me, it took until I was 51 to find the perfect person, which is why I finally decided to tie the knot.

💊 Finding the Right Treatment: Medication and Therapy

When it comes to my depression, medication has indeed hit the mark. Prozac was a game-changer for me right from the start. However, therapy proved to be more challenging. Finding a therapist who truly clicked with me was a lengthy process, much like finding the right primary care doctor. I spent years searching, and just when I thought I had struck gold, my therapist tragically passed away. I miss him every day, but he left behind invaluable tools that help me navigate even the darkest moments.

Through it all, one thing remains paramount: we must never give up. Yes, there may be weeks or months of agony ahead, but remember, you are stronger than you think. And sometimes, being open about your depression can contribute to healing. The stigma surrounding the condition still runs deep, particularly among men who often view it as a sign of weakness. However, discussing it openly is crucial for your well-being. There is no shame in acknowledging that you need assistance in managing your mental health. Depression is just like any other chronic condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure—we can handle it together.

🙋‍♀️ Q&A: Your Burning Questions Answered

Q: Can exercise really help with depression? Absolutely! Research shows that exercise has a powerful antidepressant effect. Engaging in regular physical activity releases endorphins, those feel-good chemicals in your brain. So, hop on that treadmill, go for a walk, or join a Zumba class. Your body and mind will thank you.

Q: How do I know if therapy is right for me? Therapy is a deeply personal choice. It may take time to find the right therapist who truly understands your needs. Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen overnight. Keep exploring different options until you find the right match.

Q: Can depression ever go away completely? Depression is a chronic condition, meaning it can’t be completely eradicated. However, with the right treatment and coping mechanisms, it is possible to manage your symptoms effectively and lead a fulfilling life.

Q: Are there any alternative treatments for depression? Every individual is different, so what works for one person may not work for another. Some individuals find relief in alternative treatments such as acupuncture, yoga, or herbal supplements. It’s essential to discuss any alternative treatments with your healthcare provider to ensure they align with your specific needs.

I hope my journey and insights have given you a glimpse into the world of managing depression. Remember, you are not alone on this path. Reach out for support, explore different treatment options, and above all, believe in the strength within you to rise above the darkness. Together, we can pave the way to brighter tomorrows.

References: 1. Journal of Psychiatric Research: “Exercise as a treatment for depression: A meta-analysis adjusting for publication bias.” 2. [Link to a relevant topic] 3. [Link to a relevant topic] 4. [Link to a relevant topic] 5. [Link to a relevant topic]

📣 If you found this article helpful, please share it on social media to spread the message of hope and empowerment to others facing similar challenges. Remember, together we can conquer anything! 💪✨