I’m in the midst of a depressive episode. Self-assessments using the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) have consistently scored 20 or more for each of the last seven weeks. According to the interpretation guide for PHQ-9, this equates to my having a severe depressive episode that requires monitoring, medication and psychotherapy. The good news is that my PHQ-9 scores are improving. I’m hopeful that this means that I’m coming out of the episode.
I mention this because this depressive episode is a very different creature from my last. My last episode was very dark and bleak. This one is less so. I continue to have hope, continue to see the positive wherever possible and continue to pursue my recovery. My last episode was filled with excessive isolation. This one is less so. Unlike my last episode, this time I make a point of finding reasons to go out, not stay in. My last episode was rife with melancholia. This one is less so. I find reasons to smile every day. I find events for which I am grateful every day.
In fact, this episode is so different that it took me some time to recognize it for what it was. As I have previously disclosed, it was my losing the motivation to paint that caused me to question my mood.
It would seem that just as I have undergone change over the last thirty-plus months, so has my mental illness. In this, it has served to remind me that although the illness has a known list of affects, how each affect manifests itself is quite different from person to person. Nonetheless, the commonality of affects suggests that the change that has worked for me may work for another. It is with this in mind that I share how I have changed with you.
In my case, the change I have affected in myself has made me more resilient. It has enabled me to maintain perspective, to continue to see joy where my illness would try to deny joy’s existence. It has have given me the ability to see thoughts as only thoughts, denying the depressive episode the ability to derail my recovery. It has given me balance, rather than a skewed view of life.
The first change I undertook was to become more transparent about my mental health. Silence, I learned, can be deadly, whereas openness paved the way for support.
That was the root of the second change, an acceptance that I could no longer manage on my own – I needed guidance. Acting on my own had taken me to a very dark place. I needed to be shown a different path.
The third change was reaching out for this support. I was fortunate that those whom I approached were compassionate and patient. They gently nudged me along, recognizing that with the proper direction, I would find what worked for me.
A fourth change was a growing ability to share. It ties in with my growing openness. It began with a journal that I shared with my son. This was transformed into a blog that I used to keep my son apprised of my recovery. It grew to become so much more. As I wrote, I found that I was purging myself of elements of the despair and this, inevitably, promoted recovery. In time, I grew to share my story on other blogs, guest write for Healthy Minds Canada and participate in mental health chats. In support groups, I discovered the power of sharing as I both taught, and learned from, others. Notwithstanding the isolation that my illness promotes, I was truly not alone in my suffering.
I was introduced to the concept of mindfulness, a secular form of Buddhist meditation. The use of mindful practices in my life is a fifth change I have undertaken. Even through this current depressive episode, I have maintained my morning mindful coffee ritual, mindful walks and mindful breathing exercises.
I was also introduced to the idea of unhelpful thinking styles. It had never before occurred to me that my style of thinking was making me prone to illness. Just as thoughts can have a positive placebo effect, they can also be detrimental to your health. An idea that seems so very obvious now, but was never before considered by me.
Yet another change has been the emergence of creativity in my life. During a group support session, we were asked to colour a mandala. It was a delightful moment, filled with silence yet innocent joy. I found the activity to be meditative and soothing. Subsequently, at the end of an out-patient treatment program, I was given the chance to participate in an art class. This introduced me to acrylic painting. So important did painting become, that it was its absence that alerted to me to this new episode.
Please notice the seeming simplicity of these changes. I say seeming because they required a paradigm shift in my thinking and actions. They required me to challenge my nature and accept that the changes I have undergone are for the betterment of my health. The changes have worked. Yes, I still experienced a depressive episode, but it is very different, and much more manageable, than my last.
It was clear to me that in order to manage my mental illness, I had to change. Each of these changes has proved beneficial to my recovery. Perhaps they can prove beneficial to yours.
About John Dickson
A lifelong battle with Major Depressive Disorder resulted in a suicide attempt. That attempt taught me the danger of being silent about my personal struggles with mental health. I've had to learn to be more open about my struggle. I now choose to reach out with the hope that someone will be inspired and end his/her own silence. I'm a dad, a blogger and a new convert to the power of social media.