How Depression Affects Middle Aged People
In Part one of this series we heard from My Depression Connection members Izzy and LyraStorm on what it is like to be a young adult and cope with depression. In this post we will explore what may happen in later years (forties and beyond) as to how one deals with depression. Does it get any easier? Is it possible to gain wisdom from having had more experience with battling depression over many years? We will find out the answer to these questions and more with my interview with members Fifi (who is in her forties) and Judy (who just turned 60 this year).
How long have you been suffering from depression? At what age did this begin for you?
Fifi: I first noticed that I was depressed when I had a tumor at the age of twenty two and was trying to look after my daughter who was two at the time.
Judy: I think I've been depressed most of my life, but the first major episode I remember was when I was 12. I spent several months in bed with rheumatic fever - I could only leave to use the bathroom or to go to the doctor. After I was ambulatory again, I went through horrible insomnia until one night I just broke down crying, thinking about stuff like my parents dying some day, etc. Actually, there was constant arguing and yelling in our house, my parents fought all the time and my dad would scream at whomever was ticking him off at the time, so loudly the neighbors could hear it even when the windows were closed. For those three months, I had no life outside that room, other than to escape in books. But I always remember being afraid to feel joy or anything close to it and I think the depression usually took the form of numbness. I would lay in bed and listened to the yelling.
Do you feel that there are unique life stressors and circumstances one faces in their forties and beyond which may cause one to feel depressed?
Fifi: There have been a lot of stressors for me now that I'm in my forties, daughter leaving home, daughter getting married and also having my husband home after retiring from work at the age of thirty five and being pensioned off. Just being forty was a big deal for me I started to think that about mortality a lot.
There definitely are a lot of positives when you get in your fifties, but some unique stressors, as well. On the job, I saw myself gradually getting more and more shoved into the background; one day I realized that now I was one of the "old-timers" and saw how the younger people think you're uninterested in learning anything new, or that you're too slow or too whatever once you get to be over 50. You see people that you trained becoming your boss.
You also start thinking more about the transitory nature of life as friends and other people you know who are your age start dying from various illnesses. I always read the obituaries because there is often a name or two I recognize in there, even if it's the parents of someone I went to school with. I'm one of the few my age who has both parents still living, but my mother wasn't even 20 when I was born.
Then you look in the mirror some days and wonder when it was that things started sagging and drooping! You see your children become adults and sometimes think about all the things you would have done differently, if you could do it over. You realize that it's too late for a lot of things and it's easy to slip into cynicism, especially if you're prone to depression. And then, if you're in a job you don't love, you start counting the years, months and days until you can leave it, especially if you are, on the one hand, lucky enough to be getting a pension but, on the other, have too many years into it to be able to just throw them away and start over.
Well, that's me and that's not everyone's story and there is more to getting older than that - there are actually some good things!
How do you treat or cope with your depression? Has this way of treating or coping changed over the years?
Fifi: To help with my depression and anxiety I take sertraline. These have definitely helped with my depression as I feel that they have kept my moods more balanced.
Judy: I am on medication and have been for more than 20 years. What has worked the best for me is Wellbutrin, plus I have trouble sleeping so am on Klonopin for that. I've also been in therapy for more years than I want to admit, but after finding the right therapist, it has been of immense help. I'm not sure I'd be here if I hadn't gotten it. Now, when I get depressed, I'm more likely to tell myself that it won't last forever, even if it feels like it will, and I know I have a good support network. It takes time to build that because you have to learn how to trust the right people and then trust yourself.
Do you feel that you have gained more skills and wisdom to deal with life's challenges over the years? Do some things get better over time?
Fifi: I do cope a lot better now though. I know things that make me feel better, like exercise and eating a balanced diet with lots of fruit and veggies and fish. And I try to do these things even if I don't feel like it.
Judy: I've definitely gained more skills and wisdom with age. My perspective on things has changed so that some things are less upsetting than they used to be because I've figured out - first-hand - that nothing is the end of the world, life goes on no matter what happens and it will go on with or without me. You have to someday give yourself credit for whatever good you've done, own up to the mistakes and then let them go. I'm actually also finding myself not being as sensitive as I used to be about what people think of me. It's like I've paid my dues - I get to relax a little!
What words of wisdom or comfort do you have to offer people who are being diagnosed with depression for the first time? What life lessons have you learned which offer hope?
Fifi: I would advise people who are in their twenties and are feeling depressed, not to bottle their feelings and to speak to someone as soon as possible, not to isolate themselves, just get out even if it's for a walk ,just chatting to someone in the park can lift your mood and not to feel embarrassed about their feelings. Also not to put stress on themselves to be perfect, there's no such thing. Find something that you enjoyed doing when you were younger just for fun, where there's no competition, just because you enjoy it. One last thing, I recommend too have an animal to love and look after.
Judy: I would first hope that having an actual diagnosis would in some way be a relief, compared to walking around feeling terrible and not knowing why. I would say some kind of therapy is essential to help you think clearly and to be a source of support, especially if you're feeling suicidal.
Then you have to figure out what needs to change in order for you to feel better and to remember that depression is often the result of unacknowledged anger. If you don't start feeling better, you might want to check with a psychiatrist about taking medication; some people need medication to be able to get any benefit out of therapy. When you treat the depression, if you do have repeated episodes, they tend to get less and less severe; untreated, I think the reverse might be true.
Also, there's no need to feel ashamed of being depressed, even though most of us do at times. I think it takes more energy to try to hide it than to just disclose it as necessary. I don't think people will think less of you because of it and they may even appreciate your honesty.
Any last thoughts? Anything you want people to know from this interview?
Judy: I would hope that depression will carry less and less of a stigma the more people talk about it and acknowledge and share their experiences with it. Preparing for this interview made me realize what a different spot I'm at compared to my much younger days in dealing with it. There is more help available now than there was 40 or more years ago (although there are probably still not enough psychiatrists available) and new drugs are being discovered all the time.
But, in most cases, you have to know that you have to heal your soul, not just your brain chemistry - a pill can't fix everything. Healing is a journey, it's not going to happen overnight, but it can definitely happen if you want it badly enough.
Another thing I would like to say is that suicide doesn't fix anything, either, it just leaves a lot of hurt and grieving people behind, no matter how much of a burden you think you are. Life changes as we change and there are a lot of good things waiting for us to discover them. You will meet people in your life who will be nurturing and others who drain the life out of you and you want to try to hang around those nurturing ones as much as you can; in turn, some day you will be able to "pay it forward" and help someone else because of the strength you've gained.
The world needs survivors.
On that note I will say thank you to Fifi and Judy for sharing their stories here today. If you have a story to tell about how you are coping with your depression please do share it here with us. You help others when you talk about your own experiences.