“I’m not depressed, I said to anyone who cared about me.” A good few months each year, often in very early spring or late winter, I would admit that I had some sort of seasonal affective disorder. But depression, no. It’s referred to as denial and, maybe like alcoholism, denial is a key factor when professionals evaluate your case.
You may not be surprised that those SAD (seasonal affective disorder) episodes became lower and more frequent. Then, in late May 2008, I had what I now understand was a panic attack. It was real and it was terrible! Even though the episode trigger was nothing earth-shaking, my anger and resentments were running very high.
About one week later on a Sunday afternoon, our seven-year-old grandson brought me his bike and asked that I put the chain back in place so he could ride it. I said, “Sure,” and took the bike to the garage to do the work. I couldn’t fix the chain! The crank had lost two bearings and would consequently not allow the chain to remain on the rear sprocket. I just went nuts – threw up my hands and roughly told the boy I couldn’t make the chain on the bike work. Into the house I went, having my second panic attack over virtually nothing at all, but was rendered totally depressed, and discomforted.
On the advice of a long-time member of Alcoholics Anonymous, who was sent to me by my wife for an hour-long discussion, I was told that, “We have to be more relaxed.” But how?
Monday I called the internal medicine doctor and went to see her in the early afternoon. I had previously explained to her that I sometimes thought I might have SAD. She asked whether I had increased my intake of Vitamin D. I replied yes, but to little avail and it didn’t stop me from having two panic attacks in about a week. The doctor checked me over and wrote a prescription for a drug that treats both anxiety and depression, explaining that it would begin to show effects in four to six weeks. I went home and sat in the house for most of the next month. I am retired and was at the time.
My brother-in-law explained the molecular duties of the drug thus: “It slows up the little hair-like things on the nerves that lead to the psychic part of the brain. It cuts down the faulty messages getting to the emotional part of the brain.” Alright!
In about a month, my anxiety level dropped and the symptoms of depression began to recede. Now and since that first episode in 2008, I am nearly cleared of anxiety, which I now believe drives the depression.
The doctor asked me if I would like to do some counseling. My first reaction was to say no, as I didn’t want to admit to anyone else that I had been or was depressed. But I did agree and spent about four years in weekly talks with a psychologist. She got me to express my fears, resentments, anger, and discontent. We developed a tool box, one with the tools to deal with the “ups” that make me anxious.
Here’s a look into my tool box.
- I cannot have resentments.
- I have to communicate my feelings for people.
- I don’t need to necessarily avoid things that cause me anxiety as much as try to overcome them.
- When I wake up in the morning, I don’t think too much on a project. I simply get up and begin the day.
- I try not to have resentments and make amends quickly, admitting when I was wrong or misguided.
My sister wrote me a note with this advice, which I’ve tried to adopt in my life. “Counseling sessions are vital to your well-being. Exercise daily in some way that is not task-oriented. Finally, be advised to begin to live your life.”
I also try to “think happy thoughts” and each day read and think about a five-step program to practice optimism. Here are the five steps recommended by a professional counselor:
- Become aware of your negative thoughts and question whether they are accurate.
- Challenge your negative thinking and see if it can become less extreme and occur less often.
- Think of an alternative, more positive explanation of events.
- Remember that pessimistic thoughts paralyze us from action; so think about how your negative beliefs are stopping you from obtaining what you want in your life.
- Focus on the present and practice gratitude.
Guess what? My life is so much better much of the time. Of course I have to do a little refresher training from time to time. My wife helps to point me in the right direction in that regard.