No, not many of us would count depression as an old "friend", but for many Moodscope users it is a familiar acquaintance which comes and goes or, too often, comes and stays far too long. And, however brief its stay, depression is always an unwelcome visitor.
I was speaking to a friend this week who has just met depression for the first time. Because this is the first (and hopefully the only) time she is experiencing it, she is feeling that she is in unfamiliar territory without a map; it's a scary place as well as a dark one.
So, for anyone going through this illness for the first time, or anyone who needs a reminder of the basic A, B, Cs of it, here's some basic advice:
• Depression is an illness, not a moral failing or weakness. You cannot just "pull yourself together" or "snap out of it" any more than you can "snap out" of a broken leg.
• Even if you feel you have contributed to it yourself, self-blame and beating yourself up about it does not help, it makes things worse, so don't do it! (And yes, I know that's easier said than done.)
• Although depression is a mental illness, having it does not make you "mad" (except sometimes in the sense of being angry).
• If you have been prescribed drugs, then take them: they do often help and will enable you to recover more quickly. There is more than one drug available; if the first one doesn't have an effect, another one might work.
• Find out all you can about your illness and take responsibility for your own health. Moodscope can help enormously with this. Try to work in partnership with your GP.
• Give yourself as much slack as you can. You may have to continue working, but cut down your commitments as much as possible and give yourself permission to let your standards slip – just for a time – while you recover.
• You may want to hide yourself away and feel you cannot face people. That's fine, but ensure you have just a few people around who understand and can support you. Leave a comment on Moodscope's blogspot page and you will be surprised at the positive response you get. Be honest with as many people as you feel you can trust: many more have gone through this than you would think, and will empathise with you and offer support.
• Try to eat healthily and to take moderate exercise if physically possible.
• Try to avoid alcohol and sugar: it feels good in the short term, but the bill comes in later and it's usually more than we want to pay.
• Hold onto Hope. Depression does usually lift and you will get better. While you are ill you may feel that there is no light and that you will be stuck in this place for ever, but hold fast to the belief that you will one day be well.
Let's hope that day will come soon – for all of us.
A Moodscope member.