Walt Disney died in 1966, five years before Disneyworld was opened to the public. A…
Before I sought professional help for my chronic low mood I thought it was just me.
I thought I was weak-willed, pathetic and feeble and that I just had to pull myself together and snap out of it. Each day I woke up hoping that these dreadful feelings would disappear by themselves and I would feel peace and contentment.
I blamed myself for being lazy and useless, constantly asking myself, ‘Is it my fault for being depressed?’
‘What have you got to be depressed about?’ I asked myself, aggressively. ‘Come on, you’re not trying hard enough. Look at all the poor and hungry people in the world. At least you have a home and enough to eat. Stop complaining and get on with it’.
And yet there was another part of me which knew I wasn’t lazy, not complaining, not contemptible.
I had battled my through a PhD, retrained in a para-legal profession and set up my own business. These were not small achievements. But that part of me wasn’t big enough or strong enough to overcome the feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy I felt every single day.
I did wonder if there was a biological basis for these feelings which seemed to worsen around period time. I recorded my feelings daily (and food and exercise, according to a book I had found at the library) for three months, expecting to see spikes at particularly times of the month, but the graph went up and down throughout the time. It seemed I felt pretty bad most of the time.
The journey from chronic low mood, despair, sorrow, frustration and dissatisfaction took years and was very much a trial and error process.
There were two things that helped me recreate my life, and these two things did not happen at the same time.
The doctor gave me a prescription for antidepressants and I remember feeling a massive amount of relief.
With hindsight, I’m firmly of the belief that the antidepressants worked due to the placebo effect. I remember telling friends that they had worked instantly, that I had started to feel better that day. I expected to feel better and I did. Now I understand that antidepressants take some weeks to take full effect, if they do at all.
I now believe that the reason I felt such relief was because I had let someone else into my secret, I had revealed my chronic sadness and guilt and utter hopelessness and sharing the awful feelings was such a relief. Telling the doctor about my daily torment felt good. And I began to wonder whether it was not my fault for being depressed after all.
I also felt I was finally taking action which could have a real and lasting effect on my health.
Talking to others and taking action were two decisions that gave me a much needed dollop of dopamine and which changed my brain for the better.
Who can you talk to about your ongoing low mood and unpleasant emotions?
It could be the family doctor, but you could also speak to a good friend or family member, a close neighbour, a minister or faith leader, a psychologist or counsellor or colleague at work. Find someone you have a close connection with, who you know will be compassionate, concerned and willing to help.
It was only with hindsight that I realised the business was at the origin of my depression. It certainly wasn’t my fault for being depressed. But it was clear I was getting nowhere fast with my business and that was stressing me out.
I was beginning to resent the clients I had at first fought so hard for, the migrants and refugees who needed my help rebuilding their families. They had little money and I annoyed myself by charging fees that were just too low.
However, to take on the much more lucrative client base of the skilled migrants and businesses which employed them I had to learn much more complex law and have the confidence to deal with these businesses as a business, and I still couldn’t visualise myself as a businesswoman.
My confidence was still very low and checking email and phone messages used to fill me with such dread. What horrible demand were they going to put on me? What were they going to complain about today? I couldn’t bear it.
So I closed it up.
I saw the immigration processes that were current through to the end and then I shut up shop.
Oddly enough, I didn’t see myself as a total failure. I was able to reflect on the people I did help and claim the role I had had in that.
But I did see myself as a business-operations failure and a complete financial failure.
Nonetheless, closing the business eliminated the greatest stressor in my life.
I registered with temping agencies and went back to answering phones at the switchboard and greeting visitors at reception. It was simple, light-hearted work that I was able to leave at the end of the day.
My depressive mood, particularly the sense of hopelessness began to fade as I began to plan out the next stage of my life.
It certainly wasn’t my fault for being depressed, but I did have a responsibility to myself for avoiding it in the future.
These two actions saw the start of my journey to recovery; telling someone and getting professional help and eliminating the biggest stressor.
From there, it was a matter of building my life back up again; finding a career I enjoyed, participating in interests I loved and having new experiences.
To that list I would now add the following step, which I didn’t know of at the time but which I have now read and thought about greatly:
To recover from depression you have to have a good hard think about what you believe depression is, why it’s in your life and what you can do to eliminate those depressive thoughts and behaviours. And you need to stop telling yourself that ‘it’s my fault for being depressed’.
For so long we’ve been told that depression is a physical illness with a biological cause. In fact, scientists don’t really know specifically what it is about the mind or brain what causes someone to have an ongoing low mood.
Nonetheless, big pharmaceutical companies have developed a range of drugs which doctors regularly prescribe for their patients. A quick glance through any depression forum or Facebook group will show how poorly these drugs perform and yet how convinced people are about their need to take them.
Depressed people appear willing to put up with a suite of serious and nasty side effects from their antidepressants. They are willing to be shifted from one drug, or have others added to the mix, in order to another to alleviate these side effects. They appear resigned to remain on antidepressants for years.
If antidepressants treat the cause of depression, they don’t seem to be doing a very good job.
I went off my antidepressants of my own choice three times of the period of the 8 years I took citalopram (aka cipramil, celexa, an SSRI antidepressant). On the first two occasions my mood dropped. I went back to the doctor and got a new script. Once again I started to feel better. I decided I was stuck with the
antidepressant drugs forever.
Surely if my mood dropped when I stopped taking the meds that’s evidence the antidepressants were working?
Remember the placebo effect? I think I got the benefit of that each time I sought professional help. The reason the antidepressants didn’t make me feel better is that I didn’t make the necessary life changes needed to live without persistent low mood.
The first two times I went off the drugs was during the period I was still closing up the business. I still had difficult clients to get through the immigration process (which can take years) and also during that time my beloved dog Frances died, leaving me absolutely bereft.
I hadn’t changed my lifestyle or thinking patterns sufficiently to help myself out of the stress which causes low mood. In some ways I still believed it was my fault for being depressed.
The last time I went off the antidepressants was because I simply ran out. I was living in China and did not calculate properly how many I would need to get me home, and I ran out about 3 months prior to leaving.
I felt no dip in my mood.
I had been very happy in China, having a wonderful experience living and travelling in another country, doing a job I enjoyed, making friends and taking regular exercise. I had made the lifestyle changes that were keeping me well.
What I didn’t know was that there was such a thing as an antidepressant lifestyle. I just did the things that made me feel good, without thinking much more about it.
Back in Australia and within 18 months I was feeling those miserable feelings creeping back.
Looking back, I realise now that I had allowed another stressor into my life, without meaning to, of course. But it wasn’t my fault for being depressed: I just hadn’t realised yet that living with stress caused my mood to plummet.
I felt an increasing amount of stress from work. I was still enjoying teaching English, this time at a prestigious Melbourne university. My students were international students planning on doing degrees in Melbourne.
But my students were very unmotivated and I spent far longer on classroom management issues than I did on teaching, which was quite discouraging. I also felt far less experienced than my colleagues. In fact, I was beginning to feel like an imposter, as though I didn’t know how to teach. Finally I found it hard to cope with the amount of administration work (there was none in China; I worked virtually on my own designing my own curriculum and creating my own classes).
The work environment was a bit hostile, we worked far harder and far longer than we were paid for, our employer had very high expectations of us teachers and was not very supportive. The curriculum was boring and our students unmotivated.
I began to feel very alone and out of place.
The stress came back and with it, my mood plummeted.
As you may know by now, however, this time I didn’t go running back to the doctor.
I was fed up with feeling bad and made a decision not to let my mood impact my life in a negative way. I wasn’t sure whether it was my fault for being depressed, but I was determined that I wasn’t going to let it take over again.
No, I don’t mean taking antidepressant drugs as a lifestyle choice!
When my mood started to dip again, I started to educate myself; to read books and online articles, really think about depression and how it’s treated, how lifestyle factors – exercise, nutrition, getting together with friends, doing enjoyable things – and thinking patterns relate to depression and its symptoms.
I was determined to treat myself, without antidepressants.
As a result of my research and life experiences, I have been on a journey to discovering how to live without depression for over ten years.
What I have discovered has utterly changed my life.
Here are the practical achievements I have had on the road to living without depression:
My mind is also at peace.
Of course life throws unexpected problems, but I am able to handle the challenges that will always be there because I have developed:
What would you do in your life if you could live with joy?
What practical accomplishments would you love to achieve?
What kind of mindset would you like to develop?
Do you believe you can?
To create a joyous life and all the benefits and rewards that brings, you need to be open to the possibility that the cause of your low mood is more than some biological problem in your brain. I think the brains of depressed people have all their working parts.
It’s just that people who experience chronic low mood seem to use their minds and brains in slightly different ways to those who experience life more positivity, and it is these differences which seem to keep some people in distress. One of those ways might be believing that they are at fault for being depressed, when this is not an effective way of helping yourself out of depression.
So to create a depression-free life you need to quiet that voice that is telling you that you can’t do it, you can’t create a joyful and rewarding life. You need to stop telling yourself that ‘it’s my fault being depressed’.
This might be tricky at first.
We’ve all been told for decades now that depression is physical, that it is an illness like diabetes or even cancer. We’ve been told we need pharmacological solutions. But there’s no known physical cause.
So maybe it’s something you did? No, don’t blame yourself either.
If this is you, let me offer you this hope:
It is my firm belief that you can alleviate your low mood by doing what I did; change your lifestyle and learn to think differently.
Overwhelming distress, frustration and pessimism that goes on for years and years and years is triggered by some kind of stressor, but ultimately perpetuated by the thinking patterns that have been learned or taken on over years, possibly since childhood.
These thinking patterns might include not thinking very much of yourself, believing you’re not as good as others, not pretty, young, clever or popular enough to live the life you deserve. If you have a pessimistic mindset, believe that others are responsible for your happiness and feel blue for much of the time, when the stressful event comes along, you don’t have the coping skills to get through it.
Sometimes these stressful events are not major life challenges like illness or bereavement, relationship breakup or job loss. They may be the everyday hurts and problems that become enlarged through our own negative thinking.
Telling yourself ‘it’s my fault for being depressed’ is another of those unhelpful thoughts. So stop that right now.
If I don’t believe in the biological basis for depression theory, am I blaming people with depression for their depression?
No, no and no. I am not.
You see, I believe in people. I believe in the innate goodness of people, the vast majority of normal people, I mean.
The majority of normal people, ordinary people like you and me, just want to get on with life, enjoy life as much as they can, live in harmonious relationships, achieve a few things along the way, have happy marriages and raise happy children, go on holidays and just live normal happy lives.
We all do the best we can with the knowledge, resources and information we have at the time. We use our experiences to make the best possible choices available to us.
Unfortunately, nasty surprises get in the way of such happiness – illness, relationship breakdown, accidents, job loss, money problems – and we feel let down and disappointed.
We may have always felt a bit low in mood, as though life is against us, nothing ever goes our way. People seem to be against us too. Our self-esteem drops and we develop a lack of self-confidence. Life never goes our way because we are failures; there is something wrong with us, we think.
Or perhaps we feel life doesn’t go our way because other people are to blame. People who perhaps also don’t have adequate coping skills, have behaved in ways that hurt us. Like they did when we were kids. Frightening us, bullying us and putting us down instead of developing our self-confidence so that we can go out and face the challenges of life.
Perhaps our father drank and his behaviour frightened us when we were little. Perhaps our mother was absent much of our childhood. Perhaps our sports coaches and teachers told us life was terrible and tough and we’d never survive.
Perhaps they were still doing the best they could, albeit way below the standard that we would expect of parents, teachers and coaches.
The stories we heard about ourselves when we were younger form our view of life and of ourselves in relation to life.
So perhaps it’s their fault you have depression?
No. Can we stop talking about blame?
It’s not serving you to tell yourself that it’s ‘my fault for feeling depressed’ or that it’s ‘my Dad’s fault, or my Mum’s fault, or my teacher’s fault’.
Enough of the blame.
Throughout my childhood I was constantly taken to doctors who examined me and pronounced me faulty. I was born with a heart defect – not a particularly rare one, not a difficult one to correct – and it was not operated on until I was 7. So for the first 7 years of my life I was wrapped in cotton wool, taken to doctors and hospitals, attached with wires to machines, told to eat more and wear more clothes, for fear of catching colds. I realised I wasn’t normal; I was weak, vulnerable and likely to break. I was constantly watched over.
When I reached about 14 my mother realised I had developed severe curvature of the spine, so severe that only surgery would prevent a collapse of my right lung. Back to the doctor’s rooms, hospitals, machines that go ping. I had the operation to secure a metal rod to my spine. I grew two inches and felt tall, gangly, flat chested and very, very unattractive.
Now, all the adults in my early childhood were caring, gentle and kind, but the message I received from all the poking and prodding was that I was not good enough. I had physical defects which made me weak, different, pathetic and ugly.
None of this is true, however, but when I encountered difficulties in my adult life, those feelings would come right back. I’m not good enough, I’m defective, I’m ugly, I’m not strong enough, I lacked confidence.
Those adults were doing the best they could to ensure that my medical conditions were treated and I’m forever grateful to the surgeons who essentially gave me the length and quality of life that I enjoyed.
Nobody stopped to think what might be happening inside that little girl’s mind. But they didn’t do that deliberately. They were doing the best they could with the resources, knowledge and information they had at the time.
The point is that how we react to the normal challenges of life is a result of how we think about ourselves, other people and life in general. Those thoughts and beliefs are built on messages we receive about ourselves and life in general, often from when we are very young. Some of those messages are associated with assigning blame, including ourselves, that it’s our fault for being depressed.
If our reactions are not the optimal ones for us, we can blame the people who encouraged us to think that way, or we can choose to believe that we have the ability to change those reactions for ones that serve us better.
For example, let’s say you didn’t get the promotion at work which you were hoping for. You can either react by stressing out and blaming others (your employer for favouritism, your spouse for not supporting you, your father for always telling you that you were good for nothing) or you can take the experience and use it to help you the next time you apply for a promotion.
Blaming others, feeling stressed, losing sleep, letting your work productivity slide, feeling bad about yourself, believing ‘it’s my fault for being depressed’…these feelings, if left unanswered, may develop into chronic depression.
In either case, it is important to have compassion for yourself. You are doing the best you can. Yes, you are.
Can you do better? Maybe, probably. But for now, don’t beat yourself up for your reactions. Get help and choose a different reaction before you head down the lonely road to depression.
Above all, remember that you are not alone and you do not have to do all these things at the same time! Pace yourself and be kind to yourself.
But choose to take action, today.
If you have found this post useful, please consider sharing it. I appreciate your help in spreading the word.
 Antidepressants are thought to be more effective in people with very severe depressive symptoms. If your doctor recommends you take them, you should follow the doctor’s advice rather than anything you read on this website. I strongly encourage you to ask as many questions as you need about your diagnosis, how the drugs work, side-effects, withdrawal effects and how long you may be required to take them.
If you'd asked her 15 years ago if she believed life could be a wonderful as it is today, Vickie would have answered, 'I just don't know, but it doesn't seem likely.' Now she knows that if she can turn her life around, it's possible for you too. Ask Vickie how she can help you design the life you'd really love to live and say goodbye to depression forever.