"Ever since I was a small child I had a very poor immunity. When other children came to pick me up to go out and play with them, often I sadly had to send them away."
If you are disabled you might be encountering extra frustration because you feel you are not valued by others, or you may feel you are being discriminated against. You might lose your job or not be able to take up the job you would love to do. You could be feeling that you are not contributing to society as much as your able bodied friends and you might feel isolated because you have greater difficulty getting around. This can contribute to you feeling alone and depressed and I would therefore like to share with you a story of somebody, whose name I changed, which has battled depression for several years and managed to overcome it.
Recently I visited Beachy Head, which is one of the most beautiful places in England, where I met a man who I shall call Charles. These cliffs, reaching up to 162 meters, can also become a very sad place. Unfortunately, they have become a favorite place for depressed people to end their lives. But the good news is that the number of people, who die at Beachy Head, is declining from year to year. Credit for this is likely to be given to a charity, of which Charles recently became a volunteer that organizes pickets at Beachy Head. The volunteers try to change people's minds, so that they think twice about jumping off the cliffs. Charles told me that he also once suffered from depression and had suicidal thoughts. He is grateful to all those who helped him in his difficult times, so now he wants to repay that service by helping others who are in a similar situation as he once was.
It is important to realize that a person suffers from depression. Symptoms manifest themselves by sadness, loss of interest in almost everything or poor lifestyle ... There are a lot of tests on the Internet where one can establish the degree of intensity of depression. In my article How to deal with problem seekers I mention that these people do not want to admit that something is wrong in their lives. If they sought advice, they would have learned how to deal with their anger or rage more constructively.
Charles told me that before he was diagnosed with depression he would never want to admit to himself that he had a mental health problem. He only realized when he had to seek psychiatric emergency. The situation was so bad that it took him three years before his started to improve. It was only during therapy that his psychologist drew his attention to the fact, that during his childhood other members of his family were dependent on him. Everyone needed him, and therefore he was not able to receive emotional support he naturally needed as a child. In addition, the members of his own family sexually abused him.
1. Realize that you suffer from depression and seek professional help. In the case of suicidal thoughts you should seek help urgently.
Then we discussed the extent to which depression can be classified as an illness. Of course psychological conditions cannot be "caught". Aside from some minor exceptions, such as bipolarity, depression cannot be passed through genes. We can of course come across cases where family members are predisposed or affected, but the question is more, how they learn to cope with difficult situations - often using the same or similar tactics as the rest of the family. When we break a leg, we know for certain that it will be kept in plaster for 6 weeks. In case of mental illness we cannot exactly pinpoint the length of the duration. Charles, while depressed, thought that there was no chance that he would ever get better. He especially could not stand it when he was told by others to pull himself together and that others in his situation managed it. Today he knows that depression will sooner or later pass. Although Charles used to be desperate, he always believed that light would appear at the end of the dark tunnel.
2. Even though you think there is no chance that you will ever improve, everyone eventually overcomes depression in their own time.
Keep in mind therefore that at the end of the path of suffering light is sure to appear. In the case of Charles, his illness manifested itself as a result of something that had happened some 30 years ago. The trauma of sexual abuse had caused a feeling of inferiority, feelings of guilt and fear, and when he was little, he could not confer with anyone. Therefore, he learned not to share his feelings with anybody and bottled them up inside him. At work he was not able to say NO, when asked to work over time. Increasingly he quarreled with his wife at home till he suffered a nervous breakdown. Nowadays people are in constant pursuit of material values, they want to have more and more. Among his work colleagues it was always debated who has a better car, and comparison was made against those of their neighbors. When somebody in the neighborhood bought an expensive car, he or she started the competition for the best car in the street and everyone gradually started to own better equipped cars. By that Charles meant to say that nobody has time to get to know oneself and that we all try to reach something we do not even know what. We leave ourselves to be ruled by various vices such as alcoholism, cigarettes and drugs, but also seemingly less harmful activities such as spending excessive time working, studying, exercising, watching television, or spending time on the Internet. Charles explains that enjoying reading to broaden your horizons is beneficial, but if you read to escape something, it could be apparently harmful.
3. Make time for yourself so you can find out who you are and what you expect from life.
Watch yourself so as to discover whether you do not exaggerate certain activities, even those that seem harmless at first glance.
Charles always thought that he had a special gift to be the only family member to get on well with his grandfather. His grandfather did not have an easy childhood, when he lost his parents at a very young age. He found it hard to cope with and often lost his temper and shouted at others. Charles's mother suffered a nervous collapse, but Charles helped her to return her purpose in life. When the psychologist asked Charles, who was giving him emotional support when he was little, he did not know. The psychologist opened his eyes and guided him on the right path. But before Charles was encouraged to relive the moments when he was sexually abused in childhood. This method of therapy did not suit him at all and he used to return home with an even worse mood. Therefore, here follows the next strategy.
4. You definitely need professional help as it would be almost impossible to manage everything on your own, but you need to choose the appropriate form.
If you feel worse after therapy, it is necessary to find something new and continue with it, because problems are usually very complex and need longer time to be solved.
As a result of his abuse in childhood Charles learned to back away from everything and tried to satisfy everyone without letting others know how he felt himself. He was never able to tell his abusers NO and was too scared to talk to his parents about his incidents of sexual abuse. Whenever sex scenes appeared on television, his parents immediately expelled him out of the room, stating that he must not watch such obscenities. They were far too ashamed to discuss any sex education openly with their children, so when Charles asked them how he came into this world, the answer was that he was brought by a stork. On the other hand, adults who abused him told him the truth, but not always in a way which he could understand. He said he felt that he was selling his body for truth and that he felt ashamed and unclean. Likewise, he felt as uncertain in relationships with women and did things that he did not want just to please others and this is why he was unable to refuse extra requests of work. Therefore, the next advice from Charles is
5. Learn to say NO and explain to others how you feel.
Eventually it was his depression that said NO for him. Charles was so ill that he could not work for three years. His body gave up and did not want to do what it was asked and this way arranged some healing time. Charles felt often guilty that he was useless and not able to take care of his family and provide for his wife and children financially. He constantly blamed himself for everything, but then began to understand that he can become interested in other things for which he previously did not have time. His children got on better with him, because he played more with them, read to them and took them on trips. And he resolved that he wanted to help others who were experiencing similar situations as he used to, and therefore participates in patrol at Beachy Head trying to distract people from committing suicide. He learned that something bad might lead to something good.
6. Do not blame yourself for things that turned out badly.
Often these are matters that you could not influence for better. Try to find something positive in a negative situation. Living with a depressive is not easy. But Charles told me how he appreciated his wife's help and encouragement and how she eventually pulled him out of depression. But a lot of friends, family and even the neighbors were very nice to him at that time, and he is again very grateful, because without their help, he would not know how to manage it. His seventh strategy is therefore as follows.
7. Surround yourself with people who can help you during your difficult period
Meanwhile, we admired a beautiful sunset and Charles told me that tomorrow would be a new day. When he started to pull out of depression some days were still very bad, so he always thought that he should be looking forward to a better day the following morning. He hung his motto, TOMORROW WILL BE BETTER on the living room wall and those words helped him to become increasingly positive at times when it looked that everything was just going down the hill again.
It was time to say goodbye, and on my way home, I reflected that for the English who are not very open and need some alcohol to come out of their shells, it must often be difficult to deal with depression. When I first came to England, I was shocked that my neighbors sent us Christmas cards. I asked myself why we cannot wish ourselves Happy Christmas in person. For the past 15 years since I have been living in England, a large number of new neighbors moved in, some houses already have fifth owners, and what surprised me even more that some do not even bother to introduce themselves to us and my children invent names for them. One gets used to this style of behavior, knowing that there's not much one can do. I'm certainly aware that I cannot count on much help from my neighbors, something that would never happen back home in the Czech Republic. The problem nowadays is that people find it increasingly difficult to connect with others, do not have time and do not want to help them or better said they are not interested. Recently a pregnant woman complained in a newspaper article that when she asked a young man whether he could give up his seat for her in her condition, he'd just snapped, that he is not in the least interested in her expecting a baby. The agony aunt responded with the following question "... where does she come from, does she really think others would be interested in her life" And because we lose this very important human touch, I believe that today we encounter many more people who are affected by depression than fifty years ago. In 1952, when the diagnostic book was first published, it contained 112 mental disorders. That number rose now to 374.
Charles remained on patrol until late that evening and before we parted, he told me that the above strategies worked for him and as each of us has a completely different experience, all of his advice may not necessarily be suitable for everyone. Charles had many other interesting comments, but I have already written about many of them in my article How to Cope with Sudden Illness or Disability, on the Disabled World website.
At the end I would like to return to the question which I asked myself in the course of writing this article. I think that depression is not an illness as such, but it contributes to many health problems that people and doctors cannot explain as they did not appear on any tests. We constantly learn more about how our mind and physical body are interlinked and interact. Doctors still do not know exactly how exactly drugs heal depression. In research studies, both people who take antidepressants and those who only take placebo, get better. In any case, it is necessary to consult a psychiatrist and never stop taking any medication at once. I rather think that depression is a series of bad habits that can be gradually overcome. It's also a warning that something in our lives is wrong and that we should pay attention to this and do something about it. It is therefore possible that depression often comes back because some internal conflict persists, but as Charles says, in time we should be able to overcome it.
Ever since I was a small child I had a very poor immunity. When other children came to pick me up to go out and play with them, often I sadly had to send them away.
I had to tell them I had yet another pneumonia or tonsillitis and was not allowed to go out. As I started to grow up I just said to myself that I have to ignore all my frequent illnesses, otherwise I would just have to spend most of my life in bed, which I certainly did not want to do. As any other teenager I had lots of dreams which I hoped would fulfill themselves.
Today I should be able to tell you whether my strategy worked. For many years I thought so as I was successful at anything I touched and I thought I enjoyed my life to the full. But five years ago everything in my life started to fall to pieces. For years I was ignoring the warning signs of the symptoms of my illness and suddenly I found myself so ill I could not even manage the smallest of things. I finally started to realize that I was not managing my illness very well and that I must find some strategy how to push myself from the bottom of my despair. Even my lifelong optimism was no longer helping.
I had the impression that every time I make a step forwards I am pushed backwards by three steps. Some of my friends remained loyal to me and tried to support me as best they could, but others were disappointed as they no longer found the same enthusiasm in me as before. I really tried to take notice of any positive comments, including those which were originating from my young sons. I was very impressed with the advice they have given me which I would only expect from a trained counselor or psychologist. But at the same time I realized that they learned this type of positive encouragement from me as I always surrounded them with a lot of love as well as positive and constructive criticism. It was at that time I wanted to share all this advice with others who would have found themselves in similar situations as I did then.
At that time I started to look at my illness from a different angle. In the past I might be slightly angry that I have to suffer and cannot quite achieve what I wanted to do. Later I started to understand that there are people who have to overcome so many obstacles and are still happy. I therefore accepted my illness, rather than constantly running away from it and fearing it. I started to redefine my life's ambitions and understood that if I want to help others I have to help myself first.
Even though the strategies are aimed at ill or disabled people, they are based on principals which are valid for everybody - belief in each one of us and that we can achieve almost everything we wish for. On our journey through life we find ourselves at various crossroads and cannot always take the route we would have liked to. But despite that we can still reach our goal, even if slightly slower.
Writing my Seven Strategies has given me a tremendous strength, which I am only pleased to share with others. Often we do not believe in ourselves and unfortunately abandon our dreams. We listen to advice and suggestions of others which might not necessarily be always right for us. Naturally our plans will not materialize overnight. One has to be patient and take small steps and highlight the positive rather than worry about all the negative stuff that happened. Our life is a journey in which we shall naturally make mistakes. But we should not be held back because of them, but rather learn through them so we can avoid them in the future.
So when I look back at my life I can definitely say that trying to ignore the symptoms of my illness certainly did not work. I tried to pretend everything went well, but the reality was different. I was often engaging in projects which have exhausted me. I was not listening to my body, actually I found it really difficult to sit down just for a few minutes doing nothing. I preferred keeping myself busy as I would not be able to spot how uncomfortable and full of pain my body felt.
So nowadays I know that I must slow down if I do not feel very well and give my body some well deserved rest. Perhaps I shall not manage as much as I used to but slowly I shall approach my goal and nothing would be falling to pieces. So if you feel that there is something missing in your life, that your relationships or work does not fulfill you or you want to live healthier, I would definitely recommend you to read my Seven Strategies. You will see that they will help you change your life for the better. Step by step, but you will learn about it in How to Cope with Sudden Illness or Disability.