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Reader’s Write: Dealing with Depression in Recovery

ReadersWriteThe worst part of having clinical depression is the crash that generally occurs after experiencing a ray of hope. Or, if I dare admit, after feeling “happy” for the better part of a day or two.

However, there are times when I feel so low, that it takes unimaginable effort just to get out bed. These are times when simply eating or showering require too much energy. It only serves to crush my spirit even lower when a friend or perhaps an acquaintance in recovery offers comments such as, “You know of course, this is your choice to be depressed,” or, “It’s such a beautiful day outside today, why do you want to sit around feeling sad all day?” I’ve even heard, “Look, I have bad days too, but you don’t see me moping around all day,” and, “I wasn’t going to say this, but I think you’re just lazy.”

Such comments lead me to feel intense shame, which spirals me deeper into the dark hole of depression. I begin to question myself and ask, “Am I so delusional that I am choosing this incomparable sadness?” Other thoughts will follow…“Is this some sort of sick perversion that I am enjoying unconsciously?” “If this is truly within my control, why am I so blind to it?” “There must be some way to flip a mental switch, and actually feel the same enjoyment in life and recovery as my friends seem to feel.”

I understand. I know there are people in the world who use a claim of “depression,” when their real struggle in life is their need for attention. I have frequently thought that those individuals are possibly lonely and haven’t developed any healthy means to ask for the attention they seem to crave. Unfortunately, this kind of person may have made a lasting impression on people who do not live with depression. That impression often leads to adopting an attitude about all people who identify as having depression. This attitude in turn can force people to push away from the people who have a true diagnosis of clinical depression — a diagnosis based on a chemical imbalance in the brain.

So to the true depressive – I get it! I know Reader’s Write: Dealing with Depression in Recovery why you isolate and hope that others will not witness your level of depression that seems to get deeper and longer as time goes by. I trust the science that has determined that many of us have a brain that simply does not produce required levels of serotonin, norepinephrine and other neurochemicals to achieve emotional balance. Of course, there are still many unanswered questions. I am just grateful our mental health professionals have moved forward from the often barbaric treatments for depression from the past. There is still much work to be done.

I am in recovery. Gratefully I have lost the mental obsession to take drugs or drink alcohol. The fact remains that I still feel the need to keep secrets. Secrets about how low I feel at times. Sometimes the secret is that I even have depression. With all I have gained through recovery, how dare I express anything but joy and gratitude? I often feel I am obligated to respond to innocent questions about my day with, “Things are great! Couldn’t be better!” Sadly, this is often a lie.

Current research tells us that “co-occurring diseases” such as addiction and depression are far more prevalent than ever thought before. Perhaps we — addicts with clinical depression — need to step out of the shadows of despair and self-imposed isolation. Perhaps we need to find each other and employ some of the same basic tools we have used to address our addictions. Maybe we might find strength in the connectivity of one depressive-addict helping another?

All I know is that I did not work this hard, for this length of time to not be capable of enjoying some of the simple joys in recovery. For so long, I have only known prolonged periods of varying levels of stifling depression. Along the way I had found temporary relief in substances. Yet no matter how much I used, relief was shortly followed by even more complicated depths of despair. Maybe there is hope after all. Hope is not a word that depressives can buy into easily. What if frank and supportive communication with another person of equal affliction could give us a place to begin recovery from depression as well? We have already seen this approach work with addictions. To others like me, what do we have to lose? As they say, we can always ask for a refund of our misery.

Now a word to our friends and loved ones who have, each in their own way, tried in vain to “pull us out” of something that is perhaps as equally painful to observe as it is to have. We know you have the best of intentions. However, those with depression are equally frustrated. If you are in recovery, try to recall how difficult it was and how frustrated you were when people bombarded you with statements such as, “Why can’t you drink like everyone else?” “Your brother or sister doesn’t need to smoke marijuana to relax!” Or, “Just how tough is it for you to take your medication like it is prescribed?” Can you remember how you felt? Remember the shame when it seemed as though you were letting everyone who cares about you down?” Do you remember thinking, “They just don’t understand my addiction or alcoholism as a disease? I never wanted it this way.” There is a parallel here. People have said to me, “Feeling depressed is normal in early recovery, we all go through it. If you would put more effort into your recovery your depression will go away.” What I hear in those words is, “You’re doing something wrong within your recovery program. Depression is your fault. If you ignore it, it will go away. All sadness, hopelessness and despair is completely within your control.”

To people who suffer with clinical depression like me, these statements do not motivate. They crush us into deeper bouts of still more depression. Partly because we know that a tiny part of what you say is true. And then we feel more shame. It is the shame that tells us we can’t admit that there are days when we feel good. Those days however are few and far between. Sometimes it is a fact that we do feel good, and feeling good is uncomfortable because it is foreign to us. And when someone starts questioning us, it can feel like an attack. However, if someone we know struggling with the same type of depression should talk to us about the days when the depression has lifted for a while, we are much more willing to listen.

My hope is that we find a place where depressive addicts can meet and share our fears, flaws, and perceptions with other depressive addicts. I also hope for a future where our fellow addicts in recovery, who don’t suffer with clinical depression, can make an effort to be part of our collective solution. Not someone who through misunderstanding becomes another layer of our problem.

I believe in the power of people helping people, when there is a common foe. Be it addiction, alcoholism, depression, PTSD, or any of a long list of diagnosed struggles. I am continually learning. With hope, I can get better on many levels. Together with other depressive addicts, I can find the strength to recover from all co-occurring illnesses. Together we walk out of this as better for having had the experience along the way.

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