Depression in Recovery

By susanpeabody 03/23/18

In early recovery, most people are elated and feel like they are on a pink cloud. They have reached out for help and believe they are going to get better. Later, when life gets difficult, or they begin digging into some deeper issues, depression can set in..

Depression acts like a wet blanket smothering the desire to do anything. It makes people tired and apathetic. It saps them of enthusiasm and the energy they need to live their life fully. You might say depression is like a thief in the night. When you wake up in the morning you have been robbed of the desire to do anything but the mandatory and routine things you need to do to survive.

Clinical (biological) depression is a chemical disorder and can often be corrected with antidepressants prescribed by a professional.

Emotional or situational depression often needs talk therapy or a dose of cognitive therapy, which is outlined in Dr. Burn's book, Feeling Good.

Depression has to be dealt with. Consider the following formula for treating it.

1. Practice positive thinking. Replace all negative thoughts with positive ones. There are a lot of books about how to do this.

2. Avoid self-pity. Self concern, for brief periods when things are tough, is fine, but don't get stuck in self-pity.

3. Be grateful. Gratitude is not an emotion, it is an "attitude." Think about the good things in your life. Thank some kind of higher power for the basics in your life. Gratitude when things are going wrong is the best kind of gratitude.

4. Find a therapist, or what I call an "enlightened witness." to help you heal from past trauma or "family of origin" issues. Once you have gone over the pain of your past, vent with your therapist each week. If you can't afford therapy, find a friend to be your "enlightened witness."

5. Talk to your doctor about anti-depressants. You may have to experiment to find the right one.

6. Consider embracing spirituality. Nothing will lift your spirits like feeling loved by some form of "Higher Power."

7. Get out of bed even if you don't want to. If you can, get out of the house.

8. Bathe even if you don't want to.

9. Phone a friend. If you don't have one, find one.

10. Love yourself unconditionally. You are a child of God. You are special. Embrace this attitude even if you have to fake it at first.

Personal Journey: I have suffered from depression since I was eight years old. I can see the pain on my face in old photographs of myself taken while I was growing up. Over the years, I used mood-altering experiences, such as eating, getting drunk, and falling in love, to ease the pain.

Eventually, these experiences stopped working and the depression overwhelmed me. I became suicidal. When I got into therapy and joined a support group, I felt better. As I worked through childhood issues, began to love myself, and found the joy of spirituality, the pain eased and I thought I would never be depressed again.

Then, in 1990, I was struck down with a debilitating depression. It came out of nowhere. I didn't understand it at first, but every day when I woke up in the morning I cried because I didn't want to face the day. I didn't know what was happening. I went back to therapy and tried to do more grief work. I continued my reparenting. I also pushed myself to go to my support group and to show up at work. The depression grew worse, and eventually the pain was so bad that I wanted to die.

I was tired all the time because I couldn't sleep. My appetite went away, and I lost a lot of weight. Eventually, my body was under so much stress that I broke out in hives. I was covered with huge welts. The hives worsened and my eyes and lips became hideously swollen. Then the histamine under my skin turned bloody. Steroids helped a little, but nothing took away the problem.

Eventually, I collapsed from all of the stress and my doctor sent me to see a psychopharmacologist---a psychiatrist who approaches emotional disorders with drugs to correct abnormal or faulty body chemistry. I remember getting a minor traffic ticket while driving to his office. I started crying and couldn't stop. When I arrived at the therapist's office I was a mess.

I was prepared to talk about my problems with this new therapist. However, he didn't want to hear the story of my life; he just wanted to ask me some questions. I answered them and he looked at me with great tenderness in his eyes. He said, "Susan, I believe your problem is chemical. I don't think talk therapy is going to help you this time."

The doctor then gave me an article about clinical depression. I resisted the idea of being clinically depressed, although my family had a history of this problem. I absolutely did not want to take medication because both my mother and sister had become addicted to narcotics prescribed by a doctor. (Later I learned that they had become addicted to painkillers in an attempt to mask their depression.)

Since I was afraid of medication, I suffered for a few more weeks. Then, one day I couldn't stand it anymore. With tears in my eyes, I called my doctor and agreed to give the medication a try. If the medication had not worked so quickly, I would have suspected that my condition had improved on its own without intervention. However, within days of taking the medication, I was sleeping through the night. The hives disappeared and I came alive again. I was not high, I just felt good because my body was not in so much pain. And I was ready to go back to growing and changing through self-help groups, therapy, and positive thinking.

Today, I understand depression in all its many forms, and I realize that different kinds of depression require different treatments. I did not medicate my daughter’s death or the loss of my sister, but I still take medication for clinical depression.

If you are depressed in recovery, Leave no stone unturned. Get help. Most of all, learn to love yoursef. Low self-esteem is a major cause of depression.

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