Today we interview Martin from Australia. Martin has beat depression and runs an excellent website called Too Depressed, devoted to helping people with depression by giving strategies and tips for effective coping and growth.
Martin please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in the suburbs south of London, in the UK. I had a pretty good academic education at school, although in the 1970s boys grammar schools were hardly nurturing environments.
I did a lot of sport, had a lovely supportive family and a normal happy life. Then, 5 days after my 13th birthday my father died suddenly and everything changed. Pretty much from that day on my outlook on life became very negative and I struggled for a long time to know what to do with my life.
I drifted through my twenties doing a succession of jobs until, at the age of 29 I decided to become a lawyer. I qualified 4 years later and have worked in the law and related fields ever since, although with increasing levels of dissatisfaction.
Can you tell us about when you first realised you had depression?
This is quite a hard one to answer. I have had a tendency towards melancholia since I was 13 and have and had periods of ‘feeling depressed’ throughout my life since then. So, in a way, feeling down was quite normal for me.
But it was only when I had a major episode, starting in 2009, and I was formally diagnosed with depression that I truly realised or accepted that I was depressed.
It may be worth dwelling on the causes of this episode because it might help some of your readers recognise some of the risk factors.
The reality is that the roots of this episode of depression went back to 2005 or 2006 when I was under a lot of pressure at work and increasingly unhappy with my career. But between 2007 and 2009 I had a succession of extremely stressful life events, including moving from the UK to Australia, several subsequent house moves, fatherhood, my wife being sick for a long time after the birth of our daughter, various job changes and the downgrading of my work status.
Perhaps of most impact was the fact that I was utterly unprepared for moving continents and found it incredibly difficult to settle. I am lucky to have a wonderfully supportive and loving wife, but I had nobody else in Australia apart from her family and I felt increasingly isolated.
So, in the face of this combination of isolation, chronic stress, tectonic lifestyle shifts and loss of self-esteem, and with an entrenched pattern of negative thinking, I pretty much folded up.
What sort of effect did it have on your life? Tell us about things you stopped doing because of it?
I stopped doing almost everything. I managed to keep going to work but other than that I merely existed. I did not want to mix or socialise. I was unwilling to try to make new connections in Australia. I had little interest in anything.
Tell us how depression affected your relationships with your family and your friends?
One of the problems you have when you are in the depths of depression, is that you can just about get yourself through the day if you are lucky, but you have nothing else to give to anybody else.
So, the worst periods of my depression were hell for my wife, as I gave her little or no support at that time. I was also an absent father in the sense that I didn’t, or couldn’t do much to connect with my daughter. To add to the difficulties, for a long time I kept the whole thing hidden from my family and friends in the UK, which only added to my sense of isolation.
What sort of phrases can describe your experience with depression?
Hopeless, helpless, heaviness, heartache, anger, sorrow, guilt, despair.
Where you formally diagnosed with depression, what sort of diagnosis did you get?
I was simply diagnosed with suffering from a major depressive episode.
How was your experience with the health system. Did you find GP, Psychologists and other members helpful?
Everybody I saw was undoubtedly trying to do their best. But what I quickly realised was that some practitioners were better informed than others and that in any case there are no simple solutions to depression. There is no one-size-fits all approach, but I suspect that is what some parts of the health system are programmed to apply.
When did your depression get better? And how did it get better?
I was helped initially by taking antidepressants but the effectiveness of them wore off after a while. I have had a couple of phases of psychotherapy which have helped me to understand and correct some of my negative thought patterns.
I am always hesitant to say I am completely better because I have found that my recovery has come in phases and has stalled at times. I am certainly much better than I was and currently reasonably well. I also think that I am better placed to resist the onset of depression again in the future. But I certainly don’t think it’s all over.
In footballing terms this is a game that lasts a lifetime. As far as I am concerned, it’s only just after half-time. I conceded a couple of goals just before the break and was looking in trouble. I have now managed to get on level terms, but there’s a long way to go. It could even go to extra time and penalties.
What activities did you do to beat depression?
The main thing I did was to learn as much as I possibly could about the condition. Firstly, this helped me realise that it was not my fault that I had become depressed and, secondly, it made me understand how therapy could help me. In that way I could really buy in to the treatment, which I think is really important.
For example, when I was first depressed I rejected the idea that CBT type strategies could help me. Later I was more open to them and I especially had a lot of success with meditation and mindfulness based CBT techniques.
Studying depression also led me to look at other aspects of psychology and to deepen my interest in the various ways we develop and overcome psychological distress.
The result is that now I am studying counselling and psychotherapy and hope to be able to make a career in the field in due course. Given my background of career issues, this is a really important step forward in that it gives me a sense of direction for the future.
How would you encourage others who are struggling with depression?
- First, don’t blame yourself: this is not your fault.
- Second, it’s almost inevitable that you are going to have to try a few different treatments or recovery options before you find what’s right for you. You should also know that you won’t have a linear recovery. You will feel like you have relapsed at times, but you will recover lost ground and then improve further. Try to accept this and don’t fret when you don’t get instant outcomes.
- Third, learn to meditate and practice it regularly. In my experience, meditation is the gateway to the realisation that you can control your emotional responses and thus interrupt the negative thought spirals that bring you down.
- Finally, try to look forward – try to make some plans for how you can change your life for the better in the future or, more simply, try to always have something good to look forward to, even if it is something straightforward like making time to do something enjoyable entirely for yourself.
Tell us about your depression blog “Too Depressed” how did doing something like this help you and others beat depression?
It helped me as an outlet during some of the worst times and as a way of capturing some of the learning I was doing about depression and mental health. At the moment I am pretty busy – still working and studying as well, so I am not writing as much as I’d like. However, I have managed to get some different insights by publishing the work of other writers too.
Any final comments about depression and how to beat it?
It’s hard to say anything very profound here because when you are depressed, exhortations like ‘don’t blame yourself’, ‘don’t give up hope’ can sound pretty fatuous. What I can say is that you probably can’t beat depression on your own. You’ll need help and understanding from your friends and family, so try to be honest with them about how you feel. You’ll also need more formal help. Don’t fear therapy. It can change your life for the better as long as you commit to the process.
The three key takeaway points from Martin’s Story
- Psychoeducation is really important when beating depression. Learn all you can about depression. Read books, articles, news stories and be informed and up to date. Don’t think it’s up to the health system to do it all. You need to be proactive and take initiative when it come to recovery.
- View recovery as a longer term process that even factors in relapse and slow progress at times. It often takes years of unhelpful negative habits to cause a depressive episode, those habits are not unlearned easily or quickly.
- Don’t fear therapy and realise that you can’t do it alone. You need to enlist the help of a professional support base and be as open and honest with family and close friends during this process.