I used to tell a white lie when asked why I appeared to be “down.” I’d say it was due to some physical problem. That was easier than trying to explain depression to someone who’d never experienced it. My first clue to the challenge ahead of me was when someone asked, “What are you depressed about?” As if depression were “about” anything! The Mayo Clinic defines depression, aka major depressive disorder, as “a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.” It “isn’t a weakness, and you can’t simply ‘snap out’ of it.” The causes are as diverse as the symptoms.
The symptoms vary from person to person. The most common for me are insomnia, fatigue, loss of interest in things I once found pleasurable, trouble making decisions, loss of appetite, and increased severity of physical problems. Other people experience the exact opposite of these symptoms in addition to others not listed here.
Some depressed people are able to tolerate one or more of the prescription drugsdesigned to address this issue. Others rely on natural supplements such as Sam-e, St. John’s Wort, and 5-HTP. Unfortunately, I’m not one of them. My digestive system is intolerant of them all.
Knowing this, I make an extra effort to get the recommended nutritional therapy from my diet. I get vitamin B6 in the form of baked potatoes, avocados, bananas, and chicken breast. These are the staples of my diet. I get Omega-3 from salmon and anchovies. A daily salad provides folic acid. I also manage to tolerate a dose of liquid vitamin B-12 once a week. And I eat some dark chocolate every day. Whether the food I eat improves my depression is difficult to assess. I’m unwilling to alter my diet in order to test the theory.
When pain or fatigue are at their peak, exercise is a challenge. If I can’t do the 30-minute walk I prefer, I try to find an activity (even if it’s not very athletic) that I can do for 10 minutes at a time, three times during the day. It could be some dance movements in front of the TV to a favorite music station. It could be yoga stretches on the floor. It could be a balance routine as simple as standing behind a chair on one leg at a time, using the chair for support. Even this amount of effort helps to improve my mood.
Sunlight also makes a difference for me. It’s the major reason I moved to sunny southern California from Central New York state (not known for its excellent weather). Although never officially diagnosed, I suffered from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) while living there. Annually, I descended into darkness in the early fall and never felt human again until May. Many New Yorkers think snow is beautiful. To me, it was an unpleasant reminder of dreary days and unhappy feelings.
Here, in my new location, I find that an hour a day in the always-available sunshine makes a huge difference in my mood while also improving my ability to sleep. On good days, I walk in the sun for 30-45 minutes. That may be all I can accomplish that day, but it almost ensures I’ll feel more positive about anything else that I do.
Last, but far from least, being with other people is helpful for my depression. Just getting myself dressed and presentable to the outside world can be a chore. And it’s not always easy to smile and pretend to be interested in life. But knowing the difference being with others makes in my mood, it’s totally worth the effort for me.
Again, each person is different. It took years of experimentation to discover what helps for me and what doesn’t. And I’m still learning! I encourage you to make your own list. Try anything and everything. Don’t stop searching until you find what works for you. And when it comes to explaining depression, I wouldn’t even try.