Multiple sclerosis (MS) has made many different aspects of my life difficult: getting around, doing simple chores, staying awake, functioning while in pain and being able to remember important dates (to name a few examples). But MS can affect life in lots of indirect ways as well. Because MS can limit what you can do in life it can cause a deep depression to grow in some and I am definitely one of those people. Though I try not to talk about it too much I have occasionally blogged about my being depressed but I have never actually seen a therapist about my issues with a sometimes debilitating depression so if there is a magic cure I am currently unaware of it. Yes, antidepressants can help but what not everyone understands is that the goal of an antidepressant is not to “make you happy”, it is to help balance the chemicals in your brain so that you feel more “normal” but here is the thing, it is “normal” to feel depressed about a depressing situation. That is what I am talking about here; feeling depressed about an actual situation in life, not because of a chemical imbalance that causes you to wake up feeling depressed for no reason.
Now, as I said, I have never really talked to a therapist about my depression so I have never really learned how to “properly” deal with these feelings. Usually, a crappy situation comes about and I will just try to distract myself until I basically forget why I was depressed to begin with. Well lately (as in the last year or so) my life situation had become so much of a daily hindrance that I could no longer try to just ignore it and so my depression overwhelmed me. I was really starting to feel “like my life had no meaning. Like on a day to day basis I was just so inactive and unaccomplished”. I looked at my life and the lives of the people I grew up with and I just felt so behind! Because I started to really dwell on these things I became even more depressed which made me even more inactive causing me to accomplish less and less in my daily life. I was stuck in a vicious circle; catch-22 became the theme of my life!
It became pretty clear to me that I really needed to get in to see a therapist but because I had zero motivation to do anything I could never get myself to make an appointment! But one day I just had enough! Something had to change! So I approached this situation the way I approached any other problem in need of solving. First I needed to identify the problem; I felt like I was literally wasting life itself because I was not doing anything but waking up and trying to kill time so that I could just go back to sleep. But was I really doing nothing or did I just feel that way? So I started a list; on this list I would write down anything and everything I did throughout the day even if it was as simple as “brushed my teeth” (which can sometimes actually be really difficult when you are extremely depressed). At the end of the day I would read over my list so that I could see that “actually, I did get a lot done today”.
This eventually motivated me to want to try to get more done so at the end of the day I would have a longer list to look at; like trying to score more points in a game than you scored the day before. So I did a little more every day and surprise surprise, feeling more active was directly solving the problem of not feeling active. As the depression lessened I was able to get myself doing really basic exercises and even though I have always hated exercising I can say that it definitely started making me feel better. I did not feel all tight and shriveled up but more importantly when I sat down to watch TV because I felt so exhausted I did not feel all guilty about it because I felt like I really needed that time to rest after actually moving out of bed! Ironically, if I actually get up and move around it helps my fatigue especially when I sleep so well the night after a day of busy work! So not only was I feeling better mentally but I was feeling better physically which most people with MS can agree is a typical cause of depression; feeling like crap every single day!
Now, because I have always dealt with some form of depression since my teens this is an issue I really care about. So while this is a simple solution to my own depression I recognize that depression affects everyone differently just like MS does. Because of this, I really do recommend seeing a therapist if you are feeling depressed so that someone can work with you to determine the best approach to treating your own depression. Looking back at my life I can say that I definitely handled this problem like a stereotypical man; I kept convincing myself that I did not actually need help even though I clearly did. Don’t let pride get in the way of getting help; if anything, look at it like you are just going in for some free advice because that is what I will be doing!