I have a loving wife and family. I’m a generally healthy 29 year old who’s moderately active and doesn’t smoke or drink. I don’t have any life threatening illnesses or ailments (that I know of) and aside from a couple of broken bones, I’ve never been seriously injured. I have access to medical attention when I need it. I live in a safe neighborhood with friendly neighbours. I love my career and I earn enough money to cover my needs.
From this description you might be saying to yourself, “why is this guy depressed?”. Depression isn’t always easy to spot. Some people are so good at building a façade and acting normal that you’d never know.
I’ve had depression since before I met many of my close friends and even my wife. Most people in my life have only known the version of me with depression: My short fuse, my habit of falling asleep at family get togethers, my binge watching of TV and movies for days… my addictions, and how I latch onto and obsess over the next “big thing.”
To my close friends and family, this was just “Brian”.
But it’s not me… I’ve never seen myself that way.
It started at age 13
My earliest memory of feeling depressed was in grade 8. I was 13 years old, it was the fall, raining and cold outside. All the kids were playing indoors, but I wasn’t.
I was standing at the doors looking out to the playground watching the rain fall, feeling what I’d later come to understand is a paradox of depression…
The desire to be alone, but also feeling extremely lonely.
In the winter, it got worse… but school, friends and hockey kept me distracted. In the summer, I spent most of my time outdoors and my mood improved.
Later that year, when I started Grade 9, the depression manifested a bit differently. One day after class, I reached out to my high school Phys Ed teacher and explained to him that as fall comes I feel like there is a thick, black fog that sets in over my brain and it makes it hard to feel happy or care about life.
“a thick, black fog that sets in over my brain”
I wasn’t told to see my family doctor or talk to the school counselor. I wasn’t even told to tell my parents. I was told “it’s all in your head; everyone gets the winter blues”, and for the next 5 years that’s what I went on believing.
It was kind of like living with a really bad cold for 5 years, that got even worse in the winters. That cold that you tell everyone, “I’m fine, don’t worry it’s not contagious” as you sneeze and cough with a weary smile. Secretly, you know you’re still sick.
I’d fake feeling well, hoping people wouldn’t see the symptoms. But deep down I knew something was off. I just didn’t know it was depression.
A real diagnosis
After another 5 years, I mustered up enough courage to get over my self denial and went to see my doctor. She diagnosed me with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I remember the “Aha! I knew it!” feeling mixed with curiosity and regret.
She gave me two options for treatment: light therapy and/or antidepressants
I wasn’t keen on antidepressants. I believed that if you were taking antidepressants, you were pretty screwed up and I wasn’t ready to admit to myself I even had depression.
So I decided to try light therapy and I bought myself one of these bad boys…
Unless you want people asking a lot of questions about the giant lamp sitting in your living room, I highly recommend going with something a little bit smaller. This is the one I’m currently using. Philips HF3332/60 GoLITE Blu
A Sliver of Hope
Yay a treatment! It works!
It took a long time before I started feeling better… like 4 weeks, and I couldn’t be sure if it was the days getting longer or the light therapy kicking in.
The therapy didn’t come close to relieving the depression to the level of relief I’d been experiencing in the summer, which turned out to be still pretty depressed by clinical standards.
I started to grow very curious though. Learning that there were treatments as simple as sitting in front of a light opened up a world of possibilities for treating my depression.
I started doing research and experimentation into different remedies. I tried quite a few over-the-counter & DIY solutions. Some of them even worked, but after a few weeks I’d be back at square one.
Eventually, I gave up.
I started to pretend I wasn’t depressed. I slowly built a façade of my own and I struggled through trying to keep the collateral damage of my emotions to a minimum.
It turns out you can’t trick yourself out of depression and ignoring it doesn’t make it go away either.
“You can’t trick yourself out of depression”
I lived for years in denial of my depression. I graduated University, started my company, and even managed to get married.
But living with depression meant I was making a lot decisions from a negative state of mind, whether I was aware of it or not. Over time, those decisions compounded and eventually the cracks in the façade turned into gaping fissures.
The façade I built was a tricky one. It buried my flaws very deep and it often made other people feel like they were the problem. I wasn’t abusive or mean. I didn’t drink or do drugs. I went to family gatherings. I worked hard on my business, telling my wife it was for our future. Generally, I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I think it might have been easier for my wife if I was. Then she could have pointed her finger at the elephant in the room and brought the underlying issue to the surface.
My wife is one of the most caring and compassionate people I’ve ever meet. She’s the kind of person who cries just by seeing other people cry. She’s constantly looking for ways to make the world a better place (she spent a month in Bolivia taking care of animals rescued from traffiking) and she believes it’s her vocation to one day save dogs who end up in kill shelters…
But mostly, she cared so much about me that she took on the responsibility of my happiness. And, like a black hole draining the sun of it’s light, I was slowly sucking the life out of her.
I couldn’t blame her when she told me “I feel like I’m alone when we we’re together”.
“I feel like I’m alone when we we’re together”
We were supposed to be a team, but after three years of her carrying our marriage, her light had run out.
I might have taken some chances experimenting with home remedies for depression, but I wasn’t going to take any chances with my marriage.
It was time to see a professional.
Our first few sessions with the therapist were pretty by-the-book, but as the therapist started to get to know us better, he started to see the writing on the wall.
What the therapist knew that I didn’t know was that unless I started to treat my depression, we were only going to going to get so far with repairing our marriage. So he proposed an ‘experiment’: try antidepressants for the winter months, and if they don’t work, stop.
After a short discussion, my apprehension to antidepressant medications (mostly around side effects) was put at ease and within a few days I had my prescription filled and a new daily habit.
A Slice of Hope
Over months of working with the therapist, we started to see some great results. My mind was clear. My anxiety was fading. I had a vision and plan for the future, I was setting goals, and I’d built new and healthy habits. I felt in control and capable of handling whatever the universe threw at me. I was a lot more present in my marriage. My wife felt it too. She felt supported and cared for. It may seem crazy but even my vocabulary improved. Shit, I even found the silver lining when my office burned down!
The antidepressants were working, and I had experienced no undesirable side effects. Bonus!
It seemed like each month I felt better and better.
For the first time since I was 13 years I old, I felt what how other people felt. I felt normal.
…And then I didn’t.
The fog gradually rolled in. I wasn’t able to stick to my goals and I lost sight of the future. I wasn’t helping around the house anymore and instead of spending time with my wife, I started to gravitate towards escapes like binge watching hours of Netflix.
This regression seemed to line up perfectly with the when my Seasonal Affective Disorder would normally kick in. But feeling good is addictive, so when I started to lose it I knew I needed to get it back.
I brought up the changes in my behaviour with the therapist and within a week I had added a second medication on top of the first one.
After a few months of taking this second medication, which did bring on some unwanted side effects (yawing constantly, insomnia, headaches and trouble recalling short term memories) I wasn’t feeling any better.
Getting to First Principles
It was around this time that I started wondering if I was actually treating my depression or slapping band-aids on an open wound.
I’ve realized that unless I understand what’s causing my depression, I’m just throwing darts in the dark and crossing my fingers that one will hit the bullseye.
I couldn’t agree me more with Einstein’s famous quote “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
So… it’s time to do something different.
I believe that, to have a chance of curing my depression, I need to understand the root cause. The “first principles” as Elon Musk would say.
To start, I’m going to create a list of clinically identified causes of depression and then take or develop the tests required to rule out each cause until I’ve found the root.
As I go through this journey, I will use this website to publish my theories, methods and results so that if you wish to attempt to cure your own depression, you can save some time and learn from my trials and errors.
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