By Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW
The WHO estimates that depression affects over 300 million people worldwide, many of whom never seek medical treatment. It probably affects you or someone you know, whether you realize it or not.
Early depression is often characterized by losing interest in the practices that make your life feel good and work well. Junkier food becomes more appealing and you might become more sedentary, telling yourself that you lack the time and energy right now for more active pursuits. With each choice of this type, more life quality slips away and the emotional hole gets a little deeper.
Choices like these are poor building blocks for a quality life in any event, but they also increase your risk for many medical problems, including depression itself. Ironically, the choices you feel most attracted to while depressed are the choices that will intensify it rather than providing relief. You want to feel better, but you’re drawn to the choices that make you feel worse.
Depression, in the medical sense, refers to suppressed functioning of the nervous system. Because your nervous system is intertwined with every other system in your body, the symptoms of depression are quite varied. In addition to a depressed mood, you may experience other symptoms like low energy, loss of motivation, loss of enjoyment, isolating yourself from supportive others, self-critical thoughts, mental fogginess, eating too much or too little, sleeping too much or too little, crying more of the time, feeling anxious, and feeling generally slowed. You might feel pessimistic about ever feeling okay again, perhaps even to the point where you lose interest in living.
Depressive episodes don’t have to involve every single one of these symptoms, though it can happen. Having any of them is a sign that you need to step up your self-care immediately and start paying attention to whether or not you are improving over time, because you might be able to keep depression from settling in if you work at it intentionally. The challenge is that you need to tackle it aggressively at just the time when you’re beginning to feel apathetic and unmotivated.
Sometimes though, depression will prevail despite your best efforts, dragging on or getting worse no matter what you do. In that case, it’s time to reach out for help. Counseling is a good place to start because a licensed psychotherapist can provide valuable support and help with coping skills, along with an assessment of whether medication might be useful. If medication is recommended, your therapist can coordinate with your family doctor or psychiatric professional to get you all the help you need. It is essential, by the way, to fully inform your healthcare providers about your patterns of drinking and other drug use so you can avoid the possibility of risky drug interactions. Consult with DAN to see whether your medication might pose any problems while diving.
Because depressive episodes can often be nipped in the bud, it’s important to know what to watch for in order to catch them early. Consider how you live, think, and behave when life is good and you’re at your best, then try to notice the earliest possible stages of beginning to behave in ways that are “not like you” in your ideal state.
Your own denial may be your biggest obstacle to staving off a budding depression, so beware of any inner rationalizations about how you haven’t changed that much yet or how it hasn’t been going on for very long. If you’re not behaving like yourself, something’s up—you may be seeing the early signs of an emotional descent. Your best chances at turning it around are early on rather than once it’s well under way, so it pays to be proactive. It will be difficult, but it’s essential that you get to work doing those things that reliably make your life better and that you maintain the effort even if it doesn’t seem to be producing results right away.
You might be able to reverse the depression but even if you can’t, you might still be able to minimize how bad it gets. If depression settles in anyway, focus on maintaining your self-care the best you can while you reach out for help. No matter how you feel, keep working the problem to the best of your ability—if you go down fighting, you probably won’t go down quite as far.
If you find yourself having thoughts like, If I died in my sleep tonight, that would be okay,
remember that this is a symptom of depression rather than an indication that life is no longer worthwhile. Depression is a medical condition that interferes with your ability to think and feel like yourself, and it’s highly treatable. Life is too short to suffer with it when you don’t have to.
Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW has been a certified diver since 2000. She is a psychotherapist and community educator who has written extensively on topics of interest to anyone seeking to maximize their health and overall enjoyment of life, though her primary specialty is the treatment of overeating. She recently published “Why We Overeat and How to Stop,” (available at Amazon.com), a new approach to overeating which empowers readers to end the cycle of yo-yo dieting once and for all. She resides in southwestern Pennsylvania where she spends as much time as possible outdoors, preferably on, in, or near water. She can be reached through www.elizabethbabcock.com and on Facebook.