Okay, you've been feeling down lately, you seem to have no energy, either can't sleep well or are sleeping too much. You can't eat or are eating too much, particularly carbs. Things that used to interest you don't feel worth doing anymore. You find yourself retreating from your friends, don't feel like dressing up or paying attention to your grooming. Moreover, this has been going on for a while and maybe you can't even point to a specific event that brought it on. Sounds like you're depressed. What should you do? This is what I learned from years of fighting depression.
FIRST, SEE A DOCTOR. When you're depressed, your brain chemistry changes, and that can happen for different reasons. They may be behavioral, environmental, dietary, or physiological. Tell your doctor how you've been feeling and review any medications and supplements you've been taking or have recently stopped taking.
Discuss your daily routine. Lack of sleep. sleep disorders, chronic stress and lack of exercise all can affect your brain chemistry, as can exposure to toxic chemicals, pesticides and lack of sunlight. Too much caffeine, allergies, and vitamin or mineral deficiencies can be culprits as well. Your doctor should check for physiological reasons for your depression, such as insulin resistance, chronic infections, and hormone imbalances. Report any familial connections to depression--it may be genetic.
Finally, although it's rare, an inborn abnormality or insufficient blood flow to the brain can affect your brain chemistry.
I haven't said anything yet about antidepressants for a reason. There are some very effective medications available, but if the cause of your depression is due to one of the above reasons, taking a pill may make you feel better for a while, but you're still swimming upstream if you don't eliminate or rectify the cause. You can easily end up on medication for the rest of your life. Furthermore, it is common for your body to become tolerant of medications, so you may have to take more and more in order to obtain relief.
So what do you do if your doctor has checked you out and none of the above reasons for your depression are present? You might need to change your thinking habits because your thoughts can change your brain chemistry! Neurologists, psychiatrists and psychologists have a saying: "Neurons that fire together wire together." The more you think a particular thought, the easier it is to think it again, and the harder it becomes to think differently. Thus, if you often think, "I'm a loser," the easier it is to believe it, even if it isn't true. That's why it's easier to learn to do something than to unlearn it. Habits are hard to break, and you have to really work to change your thinking habits. Here's where an antidepressant really helps. It may take a few weeks to alter your brain chemistry, but doing so will make it easier to tackle the work of understanding where and why your thoughts have made you depressed. A therapist can help you understand how your thoughts are making you feel bad, and once you understand, it becomes easier to change. If your thinking habits are longstanding, however, it may take some time.
I know. I've been there.
IN CASE YOU ARE INTERESTED, my book, EXIT THE LABYRINTH: a memoir of early childhood depression, its onset and aftermath, will be available on Amazon for your Kindle at the special price of $2.99 for one day only on Saturday, September 24th.
Stephanie Kay Bendel is the author of EXIT THE LABYRINTH: A Memoir of Early Childhood Depression – Its Onset and Aftermath, MAKING CRIME PAY: A Practical Guide to Mystery Writing, and A SCREAM AWAY, a romantic thriller published under the house name, Andrea Harris. She has also written numerous short stories and articles on writing.