Depression and the Elderly

John Folk-Williams Health Guide
  • Merely Me's beautiful post on the losses of growing old ended on a sense of acceptance about leaving behind people and events long gone and moving through life stages with faith in the possibilities of the future. Those wonderful reflections made me realize how differently I used to experience the passing of years. For me, it was all anguish looking back and fear looking ahead. I was so much in the grip of depression, anger and anxiety, and most damaging of all, shame about who I was - that getting older only seemed to seal my fate.

    I felt like a tiring runner, losing ground instead of gaining, trying to reach the goal of ending shame, self-hate and hopelessness. But the race I ran could never be won. Each time the finish line was in sight, I managed to push it farther and farther away. I couldn't run fast enough to beat time and get there first.

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    I started from a place that severely depressed people know only too well. I was convinced I could never do anything worthwhile, that any achievements were a fraud. My head always pounded with condemning voices, sometimes so loud I didn't think I could bear them any longer. At the same time, I had fantasies of becoming the perfect this or the greatest that ... whatever amazing career I had in mind at the time. Wasn't that the clever trick of a depressed mind? With the goal of being perfect, I could never be satisfied with anything I might do. The relentless movement of time, the arrival and passing of each decade, only confirmed my inability to become someone good. Being me just wouldn't do.

    But something big - and it feels pretty vast - has changed in recent years. I can't believe how long it took, but one day I realized that I'd gotten past depression. My sense of time and aging changed as well. I don't feel like I'm running from myself anymore. Time doesn't seem like an enemy. In fact, time - at least my inner sense of it - often doesn't feel like it's moving on into a future. It sort of circles around, blending those separate states of past, present, future into a single awareness full of energy and possibility.

    Well, on good days. After all, this isn't Nirvana, and I guess I should put this a little differently. Of course, I'm living in a world that very much measures time as moving relentlessly forward, full of appointments, deadlines and consequences for being late. And I'm keenly aware that I've accumulated a whole lot of years, I'm aging physically and I won't live forever. But there are so many days when that sort of time doesn't matter as much as it used to. It's more like a time-free zone. I didn't get here by winning any race. The race disappeared, and there I was, just living.

    Even those bad days are different. I can see a storm of depression coming, observe how it's pounding away at me again but then watch the ominous thunderheads break up and disappear. It's out there, like bad weather, getting me wet with cold rain. But then I dry off - that's it. The key seems to be detachment. I just start telling myself: that storm is here again. And then it's not inside my head.

  • That sounds ridiculously simple. How is it that something I suffered through for decades - and I'm talking here about half of the bleeping twentieth century - could suddenly stop? Don't the statistics say that older people are more, not less likely to experience depression?

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    That doesn't matter a whole lot, though, when "young" and "old" don't dominate my thinking so much and don't stir up fear that I'm running out of time. I can miss deeply the friends and family I've lost as well as whole communities of great people, homes that meant so much to me or wonderful times of life that are gone forever. I feel all that, but I know that I can't change the past. I've gotten to the point of acceptance that Merely Me describes so well. Here I am in the now, and the now is what there is.

Published On: August 04, 2009