On Depression

By | July 28, 2016

This revelation may surprise you. Based on my emails and comments, I get the impression that you all think of me as a cheery, breezy, funny, high-spirited, thrifty, gal who you are secretly (and not so secretly) falling in love with and, while I’m loathe to dispel that myth, I have to dispel that myth. A bit. A wee bit.

*Deep breath*

In actuality, dear reader, I suffer from fairly severe clinical depression. This entrenched sadness, I call her Precious, lives in the center of my bones, in my deoxyribonucleic acid, in the chemicals in my brain and is as much a part of my sense of self as my financial acumen, my wit, my height. Precious is a big part of the reason I went for early retirement and why I spend so much of my time contemplating happiness and how to achieve it. I yearn to feel some semblance of control.

Found in Sofia, Bulgaria

Found in Sofia, Bulgaria

I think I’m succeeding now, but it wasn’t always this way. I tumbled into depression when I first garnered the ability to think. With every birthday candle blown, every shooting star located, every coin thrown into a designated water spot, I used my wishes only to beg the universe for a coffin in the ground, to push the fast-forward button on my life, to stop feeling so freaking empty.

For the most part, I won the childhood lottery. I popped out into a stable country in a stable time period, born to loving and kind parents who only cherished and supported me, two older sisters who served as playmates, teachers and protectors and a gaggle of close extended family nearby. I never experienced food insecurity or worried about keeping a happy place to lay my head at night. I was shy, but I made friends without much effort. I earned good grades easily enough. I was physically healthy. I wanted for nothing.

Except death.

It hurt to breathe. I would wake up in the morning devastated that I had to live another day. I felt exhausted all the time by the effort to pretend that I didn’t despise existence. I thought the world was cruel and unfair and everything felt wrong. I had no idea where these feelings came from, but I desperately wanted oblivion.

Found in Oslo

Found in Oslo

I now understand that those feelings aren’t normal for anyone to have, much less a 5-year-old. I didn’t know how to handle life and time only seemed to make it worse. 21-year-old Thriftygal thudded painfully and finally onto rock bottom with an involuntary stay in the crazy bin. That is my deepest secret.

I have been climbing the stairs up ever since. I’m not saying that I’ve beaten this thing because that would imply that I was done with the journey. There are still stairs to climb and views to appreciate, but now I can easily say that I’m happy more days than I’m unhappy and that each year I rotate around the sun, I feel better and better.

I wish I could talk to Tween-Thriftygal and give her these tips because I read her diaries and cringe and cry and marvel at how different I feel. I’m still learning, but here’s what has helped me and if you’re suffering, maybe it can help you too.

Tip 1: Medication. Depression is a disease. It’s a sickness, an illness, a wrinkle in the makeup of my cells. Science theorizes that the neurotransmitters in my brain don’t have enough receptors to create the necessary hormones for positive emotions. Or something. I really don’t understand it.

What I do understand is that when I’m taking my medication, I feel better. I’m not as emotional. I don’t think about death or dwell on the injustices or despair at the meaninglessness. Stuff is fun. I look forward to things. It’s easier to cross tasks off my to-do lists. Hell, when I’m not on the medication, it’s a struggle to even make the lists, much less cross items off them.

Also in Oslo

Also in Oslo

When I’m on the medication, life doesn’t seem as hard or as draining. I’m not sure any of these other tips would even be possible without my sertraline. I want to sit down with my past self and tell her it will take a few tries, but you’ll find a medication that works eventually. You’ll love your life one day. I know you don’t believe me. You will. I promise.

Tip 2: Resolutions Chart. This is kind of my master list and how I steer the ship of my life. I’ve written about this chart before and I truly love it. This chart is my entertainment, my reason for waking and my buddy. I pilfered the idea from Gretchen Rubin’s “The Happiness Project”, but Benjamin Franklin did something similar back in the day. Just another reminder that everything has been done before.

“Take pills” is always on the list. But I also include any actions I want to make habits, any current operation I’m working on, reminders, etc. I tend to have about ten or so ongoing resolutions a month, but I’m changing them up constantly. Here is a teeny smattering of some of the items I’ve used for my chart.

Occasional resolutions for my chart

  1. Make a to-do list
  2. Do some sort of physical activity, you lazy slob
  3. Take a picture and put it on the Instagram*
  4. Write for 2 hours
  5. Floss
  6. Tackle a nagging task
  7. Avoid time wasters
  8. Read
  9. Wear lotion
  10. Wear sunscreen
  11. Practice the evening tidy up, you lazy slob
  12. Operation NYC, Yeah You Know Me
  13. Be generous
  14. Avoid stats
  15. Check stats
  16. Tackle a nagging task
  17. Stop calling yourself a lazy slob
  18. Wear makeup
  19. Work on the blog for 10 minutes
  20. Meditate

This list is much, much longer, but you get the picture.

Tip 3: Therapy. I have been in therapy periodically throughout the years. When life gets particularly tough, it’s a good gut check to speak to someone unbiased who can call me out on my wallowing bullshit. I’m highly critical of myself and sometimes I find it hard to disbelieve Precious when she tells me that I’m not enough. When a big life change happens, good or bad, it can still feel overwhelming and therapy brings good perspective for me.

My family and my friends are so unbelievably amazing that I have trouble accepting their assurance. It’s also a relief to voice the dark thoughts without fear of freaking someone I love out.

Tip 4: Futureme.org. I’ve mentioned this website before in the context of reminding yourself of your progress with your financial goals, but I also consider this website a cheap form of therapy. I use a calendar reminder as a prompt to send my future self an email every few weeks. I love getting emails from the past.

Happy horse in Iceland!

Happy horse in Iceland!

Some of the emails are happy and upbeat. Some of the emails are mourning dead relationships. Some of the emails are casual chitchat that make me giggle. It’s a good reminder that life is a tapestry of emotion and what I’m feeling at this particular moment is not forever. I appreciate the highs so much because I’m so very acutely aware of the lows.

Tip 5: Retirement. I know, easier said than done, eh? But, it’s worth the effort. You guys, I feel like my life is mine and only mine. I feel in control. At least, as in control as it’s possible to be. I’m not beholden to a boss who swears at me; work I find meaningless; stretches of boredom; tiring my body and my mind to enrich someone else. I don’t have to wake up earlier than my exhaustion feels like waking up. I can tailor my energy level to my activity.

I fill my days with the things I love to do. I get to travel and explore. I can read as late as I want. I meet up with old friends and share a bit of their recent lives. I make new friends and delight in the reassurance that, yes, bad things happen, but people are mostly good. I write out the thoughts that swirl around my brain and I receive so much positive, uplifting feedback that a permanent smile and blush now adorn my face. There is almost always a kind, thoughtful email or comment awaiting me when I login.

IMG_20160414_125202_1

It worked, dear readers. I’m shocked, but also jubilant. It’s working. It took me a long time to decide to publish this article, but I’ve read this comic strip more times than I can count and it has helped me so much. You all have brought me so much happiness with your love that I wanted to give something back. I know it’s shocking that this smiling person in front of you has (had?) such a dark passenger inside, but that’s the beauty. If I can do this, anyone can do this. I am actually grateful for Precious now. Without her, I’m not sure I’d be where I am today.

*You can follow me on the Instagram if you’d like.

62 thoughts on “On Depression

  1. Julie

    Thanks for being honest! The internet needs more honesty and less Photoshopped fake happiness. I have a book that I think might help you – without sounding creepy, could I get your mailing address?

    Reply
  2. Nicole

    What a powerful, honest post. It really took some courage to put yourself out there like that. Thanks so much for sharing your experience. I’m constantly inspired by you!

    Reply
  3. mike

    Honestly, I guess I had a crush on you and you were my superhero. You still are. How brave of you to share something so personal in your life.

    I don’t think I’ve ever suffered depression to the depths you have, but here are two things that bring me daily joy: Exercise–somehow it just gets me going, picks me up. #2 My dogs. I have a golden retriever and a blond lab. I don’t know what it is, and it kind of makes me sick thinking about it, but I love these animals more than I love a human. These are my second and third dogs and I never would have thought they could bring so much joy in my life. Also, I’m vegan (well for the most part anyway) and I think one of the byproducts (I did it initially for health) is that I have a clean conscience. IOW, I’m not partaking in the suffering of animals for my gustatory pleasure.

    Anyway, probably too long an answer, but thank you for your sharing your soul.

    Reply
  4. Joe

    I still love you and you only have to say the word and I’d leave my wife and some of my girlfriends for you…

    You have shown a lot of guts (or whatever guts are in American) by writing this. It’s good to know that people we hold in high esteem and on a different level to us can have the same challenges as us and in your case what sounds like much tougher challenges than many people have faced.

    Virtually all my friends suffered depression and been on medication at various times. I thought it would never happen to me and about 12 months ago started to get pretty depressed. I refused to take medication because I’m concerned about the effectiveness (vs placebo), becoming drug reliant and it being a sticking plaster (band aid) rather than a solution to the problem.

    What I have done is:

    1) Take supplements – krill oil (like fish oil or some other veg acceptable omega 3’s for you), vitamin D (large dose all year around), Vitamin K (essential if you take vitamin D), Zinc and Magnesium and pro-biotics from a pill and ideally from home made kefir/sauerkraut/kimchee. I read Dr Mercola (and Tim Ferriss) who recommends all this stuff.

    2) Read “A New Guide To Rational Living” by Albert Ellis. This is a non-PC book by today’s standards written in the 50/60’s but it is so simple and it works. Feeling Good by David Burns is an updated longer padded version. Effective but I found it contains a lot of fluff at 700+ pages. Also anything by Wayne Dyer, ideally Your Erroneous Zones – this is based on Albert Ellis work but written in a more easy to read manner. Wayne Dyer is more inspirational than all the rest. He also goes in to some pretty deep stuff in his later work.

    3) Exercise almost daily

    4) Meditation every day as soon as I wake up using Calm/Headspace

    5) Cold Showers – this saves money too so you must do it and please tell me how you get on

    6) Wim Hof’s breathing technique. I do one round, takes about 5 minutes. Ideally more the better. Any pranayama will work to oxygenate the blood.

    7) Green Juice, either homemade or using one of those powders (ie Amazing Grass). Combined with the breathing this keeps your body alkaline.

    8) Avoid all processed foods and sugars as much as convenient. I will eat them for social or lazy reasons only.

    9) Read inspirational blogs by beautiful women who retired in their 30’s and imagine a happy future together

    Reply
  5. R

    Excellent. This is a courageous, and incredibly valuable post. Thank you for being willing to share, as it will undoubtedly help someone, perhaps in a big way. Best wishes to you, iFriend, and keep up the awesome.

    Reply
  6. Andrew Ma

    Wow, it’s not like your journey wasn’t already an inspiration! Thank you for sharing such personal details of your past and ongoing struggles with depression.

    I know there’s such an ongoing stigma concerning mental health that it’s hard to come out with these issues. Case in point, pre-disgraced Lance Armstrong is able to publicly high five the entire world after he beat cancer but if it were a mental health issue he would have been far more circumspect. So thank-you for sharing your experiences and allowing sufferers and non sufferers alike to understand how normal and treatable it is.

    Andrew

    Reply
  7. Juan

    Anita,
    you are lovely! Please continue for a long time doing what you are doing with your travels and your blogs.
    Best wishes,
    Juan

    Reply
  8. Jen

    Thank you for sharing! You are amazing! I battled depression for a very short period of time when I was going through some difficult times. Medication, therapy, exercise, and making some life changes helped me and I was off the medication and back to normal before long. It was a scary, dark time and I can’t imagine going through that as a kid and/or for a long period of time. Good for you for getting a handle on it and learning how to make life better for you!! By posting this, you can be an inspiration to many others!

    Reply
  9. Aperture

    Shout out to you sister Thrifty. I never would have guessed that you had a PhD in surviving. I was homeless in Philadelphia in the Fall of 1988 in a crucible of fiery guilt and remorse, and it was so much better then the depression I lived through in my adolescence and early 20s. Your post reminds me of ALL that I have today to be grateful for. Thanks, Aperture.

    Reply
  10. Seeking Saturdays

    Hey Thriftygal,

    I loved reading this. It’s nice to see the inside view of someone suffering from depression and what they’re doing to try to cope. From your past posts, I don’t think I would’ve guessed that you had such a dark side pulling at you, but I guess that’s me looking from the outside.

    The idea of keeping lists to keep you going and on track is so great. I’m sure a lot of us do the same to keep life focused on the things we want and the things that will better our lives. I love following along on your adventures and hope you know that even though it’s probably more a release for you to write these things, it’s also nice for your readers to share in your experiences no matter what they are. Life isn’t always pretty especially for some.

    Reply
  11. Mary Ann

    Always an inspiration! I’m so glad you continue to share your journey with us, thank you.

    Reply
  12. L

    This was like reading my own biography. It’s a lifelong battle and I periodically like to convince myself that I’m fine. Not feeling is being fine right? Anyways you are an inspiration, I’m committed to retiring in 5 years, for my 39 birthday. Love your posts and if our globe trotting adventures ever coincide I’ll definitely get in touch!
    Thanks so much for sharing your story.

    Reply
  13. Melissa Leslie

    ThriftyGal – you are amazing. Thank you for pulling back the curtain and showing us the depths of nothingness that depression can be. I have friends and family who are clinically depressed and I’m guessing my happy nature is the last thing they want from me.

    You were so brave to share this with all of us. I’m glad you now have more good days than bad. God Bless You!

    Melissa

    Reply
  14. Roy

    Bravo girl! You continue to inspire. Hang in there. I hope to catch you at one of your meet-ups some day.

    Reply
  15. Tishia

    Thank you for your bravery in publishing this post! We oftentimes see only the bright side of things, forgetting that there are highs and lows for each and every one of us. Thank you for your vulnerability and honesty – it’s a reminder that we each have struggles, that we’re not alone and to continue to keep forging forward in the journey. I really enjoy your blog and its honesty. Thank you for being an inspiration to so many people!

    Reply
  16. wishicouldsurf

    Brave and inspiring post, Thriftygal. I’ve battled some demons myself from time to time, though nothing to the depths of what you have described. The more I talk about, open up and face the issues, they lose power over me. This post was a great reminder to keep following that advice. I wonder how doing this post made you feel…. I love the life path you have chosen and I look forward to following your blog in the future. Keep writing!

    Reply
  17. Rgk73

    Wow! What an honest blog! Thank you for insight. I am going to re-evaluate my life and my feelings towards it. Most of my life I have been told to supress what I feel and its temporary but lot of water under bridge and I want to live again. I want to be that free , happy girl who used to spread laughter and happiness to all around me.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  18. Melinda

    Thank you for opening up to us. Your courage will help others. I respect and admire anyone who battles with mental illness and is willing to tell people that there is help. My husband is schizoeffective. That means he is both schizophrenic and bipolar. The combination is a tough ride. The right medication gave him a life that he had never known could exist. My heart goes out to anyone who has battled with mental illness and those who love them. Because of what my husband has been through, it helped me to become a better person. I am always grateful I hung in there with him. Almost 30 years later, I can say that with contentment. As I learned in a family support group, there can be a “better life with medicine” to pave the way. Thank you!!

    Reply
  19. Smith

    What a fantastic post. And I wish that it wouldn’t be taboo for so many people who feel like they can’t talk openly about the chemicals in their make up (not make-up!). I bet you’re helping hundreds of people — or more — with a few strokes of the keyboard. Plus, you write beautifully.
    Thank you!

    Reply
  20. Sheila

    I can never love anyone like I love my sister. You are so brave for sharing your story. Love you Neets!

    Reply
  21. Hernan

    I used to get sad when I was in high school. I recommend music by Devendra Banhart, Adanowsky, Queen, My Morning Jacket, Helado Negro (electronica/pop), Michael Franti, Os Mutantes, Jorge Ben (aweseome Brazilian music). I really believe that music has magical properties. Good luck on your quest for happiness!

    Reply
  22. Angelle Conant

    Your vulnerability and honesty are refreshing and beautiful! Thank you!
    Have you heard of the Bloggess? She can be found at thebloggess.com. Her blog and books are a veritable smorgasbord of vulnerability, honesty, fun, hope and humor. I think you might like her and her loyal fanbase (who can be found in the comments of her blog and on Twitter).

    Reply
  23. T

    I strongly suggest you write a page of “ram ram” everyday and chant one mala of ram ram everyday. Reading our Hindu prayers like hanuman chalisa, Durga Kavach and Ramraksha stores are extremely powerful. There is scientific evidence of the powers of Hindu mantras. These will build positive emotions and cure any deficiencies. Try it with complete faith.

    Reply
  24. Ally

    Speaking your truth has got to be the most liberating act ever in your life, far beyond retiring early, Thriftygal. Iyanla Vanzant once said ‘You must…address all of the things that are going on within you, and clear out the things that are not useful. Whether it’s fear or anger or shame or guilt or whatever it is – clean that stuff up.’ Getting out from under your “secret” lifts the heavy weight of fear.
    I ran through a period of that very heavy horrible flatness, and I think the only things that got me through it was the thought that my cats would have no one to look after them, so basically I lived for them. Whatever it takes, I say.
    But right now I have a skunk in my kitchen eating catfood, so I need to go kick her ass out the cat door. And my current cat seems loathe to deal with the situation.

    Reply
  25. WDR

    You are brave.
    I relish the way you convey the internal conversations I think we all must have with ourselves via your choice of words and phrasing. I totally “get” what you are saying at the same time as I am often appreciating the underlying humor I sense. Ever wish sometimes that you didn’t think so much? I do.

    Reply
  26. Classical_Liberal

    This is the best post yet. This blog just gets better with time.

    As a nurse and someone who has also struggled with depression, I believe thrifty gal is doing all the right things. The problem with depression is that the disease itself makes it extremely difficult to take the actions that help manage it. Insidious little bastard.

    Reply

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