Monday, 13 February 2012

My Experience with Depression & Anxiety



I've been debating over writing this for a while but decided I would the other day after a conversation with a friend. She has also struggled with depression and anxiety, and said that hearing me talk about it so openly, and seeing how well I am now gave her hope. While you might think that a post about depression doesn't fit in with the 'positivity' theme of this blog, overcoming it and knowing that you're not alone in these problems is all about positivity.

One in four people suffer from some sort of mental health problem in their lifetime yet we don't talk about it. Part of that is the shame inherent in the illness, you feel bad enough about yourself without everyone knowing how much you're struggling. However, this stigma which involves keeping your illness as a shameful secret is only going to make things harder. The more I've been open about what I went through the more I realise just how common these problems are.

The recent Time to Change campaign has been a big step forward in mental health awareness and tackling stigma. It's hard to talk about these things and one of the reasons I did, and still do in some respects, find it difficult is the thought that if people knew about my illness it would change their perspective of me. I would no longer be this lovely, fun person but instead a weird, depressive type. Mental illness can affect anyone and I've come to realise that depression can go together with any personality traits: it's an illness not a personality in itself. So when people learn that you've been depressed, they may well be surprised - but likely they will have respect for you for battling through this difficult illness.

The people that don't understand mental illness are often given either isolated medical symptoms or sensationalised stories in the media. The people that do understand, because they or someone close to them has gone through mental illness, don't talk about it out of shame. It's only by talking about it that we can tackle misunderstanding and discrimination.

I've had two acute episodes of depression and anxiety over the past few years. There have been chunks of my life where the illness has taken over. There have been times when I've thought I was better and then I've had a blip. I've been on medication and I've even ended up in hospital a few times. Right now I'm the best I've been mentally in a very long time. I got through it: with good people around me and medical support.

The hospital visits though the scariest to everyone else, and myself in retrospect, were not the hardest moments. They were the moments when I gave in. The defining moments were months of not feeling, moving or eating and there’s no drama in that. So that's what I'm going to talk about - the day to day experiences of living with depression.

Emotional Sensitivity
In the beginning of a depression I would cry all the time. I would be so desperately sad that I would sob and not be able to stop. I was crawling out of my skin, not able to satisfy any sort of need because there wasn't one - I just felt so sad. Not only would I cry out of sadness, I would cry at anything - especially nice things. I was so raw emotionally that anything could provoke a reaction: whether it was a lovely telly advert or a nice gesture. I remember once my boyfriend at the time had made me some chips to try and get me to eat. He brought them through to me and asked if there was enough mayonnaise on them. Of course - this prompted crying. To me at the time it was the most overwhelming nice gesture. I was being difficult and he was being so caring.

It's in my nature to find the humour in everything and one of the funny moments in retrospect was when I put my shoes on the wrong feet one morning when I was going to the doctors. I realised when I was on the bus, but I couldn’t do anything about it. It'd be weird to take your shoes off on the bus and put them on the other foot. This caused me the greatest upset and anxiety having to wait til I got home to amend this mindless mistake. Very bizarre.

As time went on this emotional sensitivity led onto being emotionally numb. I just felt dull. Nothing could make me cry and nothing could make me laugh. Everything was just this mundane shade of grey. This is what I remember: just months of feeling nothing, just merely existing.

Sleep
I once read somewhere that the hormones involved in depression are similar to that of when you are struck down with a virus - telling the body to take to bed to rest. This is what I did. There was no limit to how much I could sleep. Then the less I would do the less I felt like I could do - the destructive cycle of lethargy. As time went on and I had to get on with things, I went the opposite way and had awful insomnia. I would try to do the things you're supposed to do to help - no caffeine, drinking camomile tea, having a bedtime routine etc but nothing would work. Each day the evening would come and I would dread the next day. I felt like the sooner I went to sleep the sooner the next day would come and I couldn't deal with that. I felt this great sense of dread, even despair, that I would have to wake up and do it all again - that I would have to face the world. It was unbearable.

Nightmares
When I did eventually manage to get some sleep at night I was plagued by the most terrifying nightmares. Since those episodes I did research and found that what I was experiencing was a sleep disorder called sleep paralysis. This is something which is common to people suffering from sleep deprivation, stress or sleep disruption, and is also associated with anxiety disorders.

The nightmare would be that I was in my bedroom, in bed. The details were exact and I could see everything vividly. I would try to talk but I couldn't. I would hear my flatmate walking past my room and I tried to shout her name but I couldn't. I had my radio on my bed and felt like I was banging it on the wall to try to get someone to come in. Or I would feel for my phone on the bed, I would get it in my hand but when I would try to pick it up it wasn't there. Sometimes my flatmate would come in and sit on my bed and I would explain, in a raspy barely there voice, that I was trapped. She held my hand and from the touch I knew it was hers. Except then she would mutate and would be attacking me, pressing on my chest or even causing me to choke. Other times it would be my then boyfriend, but always they would mutate into a violent malevolent force. Sometimes it would be a little girl just standing in my room but looking away: refusing to move.

It was this uncanny familiarity of my room combined with the distortion of people I trusted and to put it lightly it was terrifying. So even if I did get to sleep, I would wake up feeling anxious and not at all well rested.

Time
Time is a subjective experience, something I really found to be true over these depressive episodes. When I was told that meds could take 4-6 weeks to work I was distraught. I felt like I couldn't wait for that long. However it could also go the other way. I would wake up and be lying in my bed, not sleeping, not moving, barely even thinking - for hours. I would think - 8 hours til my boyfriend gets back from work, and this would seem like an eternity. The next minute my phone would be ringing and he would be outside. He would often wonder how I wouldn't be bored: not reading or watching anything, just lying there. It was like life was just too much for me and my response was just to zone out: physically there but mentally switched off in this almost catatonic state.

Food
With depression you either go one way or the other on many factors including eating - you either over indulge or you eat very little. For me it was the latter option. I would spend most of the day in bed and then would try to eat a meal late in the evening, which I would never be able to get through. Everything was either too bland or too unbearable. I could barely taste the food I was eating, and it felt like too much effort physically to chew an entire plate's worth of food. Even if someone prepared the nicest meal for me - there was no appetite or even capacity to enjoy the food. I ate because I had to, and even then very little. Inevitably, this didn't help with energy levels.

Alcohol
One thing I'm certain of is that alcohol and depression do not go together. You think it will make you feel better to go out and have a drink, but alcohol is a depressant and it will bring you down. I would be left emotional and impulsive that night but also I would feel worse for the next few days. Our culture is obsessed with drinking but you just have to find the strength to say no and know that it is for the best. My Dad has also had to give up alcohol. Where I would go out and go wild drinking, he would drink every evening at home. Alcohol interferes with mood and hormones, but especially when you are on medication - you will not be able to handle your drink the way you used to, and the medication will not be able to work effectively either.

Treatment
With my first episode I refused medication but tried counselling. I didn't engage in the counselling. I felt that the man that was treating me didn't understand and it was with great reluctance that I would attend these sessions for what was often an agonising hour before going home having gained nothing. I ended up getting better over time. It took a long time but I got there. Reading helped me a lot, especially Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert but also having to be there for a friend when they were going through a manic phase was something that ended up dragging me out of my own depressive episode.

My second episode required more help than the first. I knew the warning signs and tried to help myself as much as I could. I went to a workshop at my university on 'dealing with low mood and depression' where a psych student read out from a powerpoint the symptoms of depression: not helpful at all. I was very reluctant to go on anti-depressants, feeling I should be able to cope without them. This is ridiculous - imagine if a diabetic was insistent on beating their condition without insulin. However it's a surprisingly common reaction. Me & my Mum have often talked about how medication is probably actually under prescribed as people are so stubborn about going onto meds - pride and shame being a huge factor in this. I ended up on Citalopram which I still take now even though I recovered a long time ago. I also went for counselling again. By this point the medication had lifted my mood and this, in combination with a different counselor, meant I could really engage with the treatment. I was put on a waiting list for CBT which I received about 8 months after my episode when I was doing well but I still went. Prevention is better than cure and I wanted to understand and be able to tackle these unhelpful and unhealthy behaviours which contributed to the illness.



I got through it in the end. I know that I may have bad times in the future but I know the warning signs and I will go straight back to my doctor if I spot them. It helps to talk about it but crucially if you are suffering you need to get help: whether that's in the form of therapy, medication or a combination of both which is what worked for me. There is no shame in getting help. It is an illness like any other and the sooner you get help the sooner you get your life back. It's hard - but there is always hope, and you are never alone.


“If you can’t fly then run. If you can’t run then walk. If you can’t walk then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”
Martin Luther King

49 comments:

  1. Thank you for sharing this...it's a very moving account. Glad you're in a better place at the moment :)

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  2. Great post I have experienced many of the things you talk about with my own anxiety based depression. I get insomnia and have had night terrors (awful nightmares that seem so real when you wake up you think it's still dream and have a panic attack) as well as just normal nightmares.
    And you are right, it's hard to talk about these things, but we have to, people will never understand if we don't tell them what we go through. I've also been writing on my blog about my experiences with depression, have a look if you are interested.

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  3. recognise a lot of this! currently feel like I'm torturing myself coming off the anti-depressants I've been on for around 5 years -a massive leap of faith that I'm not going to end up how I was before, but seeing other people out there, talking about it, helps hugely. great account x

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  4. This is so spot on that I couldn't have written it myself. I have suffered from depression for thirty years now and essentially it has consumed my life. It's nice to read something positive about it.

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  5. This has put into words exactly how I am feeling, I'm so glad you got through it. It gives me hope I'll manage it too.

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  6. Heartfelt congratulations for doing so well in your struggle with depression and for being brave enough to publish this. I am bi-polar with a high level of anxiety and I hope that one day I can speak/write about my experiences with such honesty and clarity. You should be proud of yourself, I'm sure that those close to you are and I know that I am. Well done you.

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  7. I feel like it's fate that I have read your post tonight. On friday, I finally 'gave in' and admitted to myself that I needed help and the doctor has prescribed me that exact medication, citallopram. I haven't started taking it yet but will start tomorrow I think. I have had depression and anxiety, panic attacks etc.. for 8 years... but have always had counselling to see me through and have got to the point where i am just used to it. I didnt realise how bad it had got because I've learned to live with struggling every day but lately I've come to the end of a long road. I feel better for months and then it comes back worse... So, I hope now I am on the right track. Thanks for writing this! You are more brave than I have ever been. :)

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  8. There is a strong genetic contribution - both myself and my father have suffered. Hospital was therapeutic for me - I discovered that there were many far worse off than myself. If there is a next time (more probable than not) keep telling yourself to keep on keeping on, as they say.
    Kim Booth

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  9. Very accurate and moving account.

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  10. Thank you for posting this. Made me cry but it was brilliant.

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  11. Thanks for sharing this. I can relate to almost everything you said. I've been depressed for most of my life. I'm on Citalopram too.

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  12. Mark Watson retweeted this today and it came up on my news feed on twitter.

    I myself am a student living in London training to be a TV producer, and have recently been determined to get the funding together to do a documentary about the misunderstandings and stigmas that are related with mental health illnesses.

    I myself have always suffered with depressive episodes since a very young age, but refused to acknowledge or accept that it was any more than just normal 'downs' that I assumed everyone got, for a very long time.

    It was when I ended up in hospital this January after a particularly bad dip that I had to begin to come to terms with it being more than just the occasional normal downs that everyone got, and that I too suffered with this horrible and misunderstood illness.

    Thank you for posting this, because I feel that it is so helpful to read about someone who experiences such similar things to myself, and can in some ways raise some light on the things that I have not wanted to accept as being a part of it all. (The lethargy mainly.)

    For anyone else reading, who has had similar problems with dreams, it is important to acknowledge that Citalopram, a medication I am also on now, can be the cause for strange and terrifying dreams.
    I found them very disturbing when I first began taking the medication, but it has been a slight comfort to know that they are related with it and not just out of the blue.

    Good luck with staying well, and to all others who may read this and feel a similar way, you are not alone, you are no less worthy of getting medical help than someone with a physically visual illness, so if you are in a position of feeling alone or unsure about how to move yourself on, do not be afraid to talk to your Doctor.

    I used to be afraid of talking about my depression with people, and embarrassed especially to go the GP about it. I still occasionally feel very uncomfortable, but I am so glad that I have now spoken to someone, because at the end of the day, they are there to help, and they can make things better, maybe not a hundred percent better, but it does help.

    Good luck all and best wishes.

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  13. Thank You. The courage to share this after a difficult time is an example to everyone. I relate to & share many of your thoughts. Once you start to release yourself from cynicism, fear & inhibitions, things get so much easier, more free & spontaneous. Positivity, fun & laughter are the best medecine! Everyone is too concentrated on what they are doing to think about the subtleties of what you are doing/thinking & judge you. The fact is 99.99% of people are really rather nice & supportive and you can feel it, if you don't bring your preconcepted fears & self-doubts to the situation.

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  14. this is fabulous thank you for it. I tried citroplam but hadn't a terrible reaction to it. so refused drugs for another 6 months, then gave in, and went on to Fluoxetine. And even though you have to keep gonig as you can feel bad when you start on these drugs, i am now finally coming off them, and feel like i am seeing the world for the first time.
    I did try counselling but just didn't like or beleive in what the guy was saying to me, i was just in such a bad and low place, didn't think anyone got it.
    when i managed to start talking about it, those around me stopped ignoring me and just became the supportive group i needed.

    thanks again,

    Lara

    thank you for sharing.

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  15. Im really pleased you had the courage to share your story. For people like myself who haven't experienced depression but live along side it. This has enlightened me also assist with its understanding from a different perspective. Thankyou ever so much its good to hear you are much better and all the best for the future

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  16. This is such a beautifully written post and one that I can identify with on so many levels. The stigma attached to depression, you're right, is what stops many people from getting better. I remember telling my father that I was suffering from it and his reply was 'don't be so bloody stupid', which only served to make the problem worse.If people can't talk about it then how are the going to be cured?
    I really don't know how you got through the months waiting for CBT- I was lucky enough to have private medical insurance through work and was sent to the priory on day visits- the therapy was miraculous and I stopped going a few months later.
    So congratulations on your recovery and your blog- the more we can see things like this in the public eye the more people will be able to be rid of this horrible illness.

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  17. Thanks a lot for sharing this:-)

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  18. It's true; depression is the common cold of mental illness. Your account echoed mine closely - I have had repeated episodes since I was about 12. I also resisted medication for many years but have now been on citalopram for 13 years, very successfully. I found that CBT was very helpful but only once I was able to 'take on board' the approach, through being well enough to do so. Recently I began MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy) and this was possibly even more helpful. Time will tell! Interesting how everyone comments on the bravery writing about depression. I suspect this is a cultural phenomemon. I'm from NZ and have never had an issue about being open regarding my struggle with depression and can't fathom why it seems to be a source of shame over here - I hope that particular cultural attitude is changing. I think it is, thanks to people like you!

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  19. I can relate to so much of this. Glad you came out the other side and glad you feel able to talk about it now.
    We almost have a duty to talk about it, else we'll never shake off the stigma, but it has to be at the right time for each individual.

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  20. Thank you for this post. Some of the things you say resonate very deeply with me. Kindness causing me to cry - as if I am not worthy of it and it makes me feel tearful. And the terrible dread of tomorrow keeping me awake each evening. I am BP2 and get very anxious and very low and I haven't found a way to manage it yet. I am trying to make a career in the arts, which is stressful, and stress is hard for me, but I don't want to give up on everything. Thank you for sharing as it is knowing that you are not alone that helps keep the will to carry on.

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  21. Thank You. It is so good to hear other people share their stories, and explain it so well. It helps as one going through it to know I am not alone or going mad, I am just ill.

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  22. well done and well written. i have just volunteered for time for change; i have bipolar 1 so mostly high, but can identify with your crippling depressive episodes. i am glad that your generation has access to things like your blog - i coped for 20y with a profession and motherhood before finally getting a diagnosis and treatment. it is so important to be able to speak out because there is still marked stigmatisation of mental illness amongst professional people.

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  23. An excellent article; very well written and documented. When you talk about the being so very sad about everything it almost made me cry. It's really good to see other people talking openly about depression and anxiety.

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  24. Thanks very much for sharing :-)

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  25. Thankyou very much for writing this - it is so important to know from someone how it actually feels. I have never been depressed and I really, really want to understand it so I can try to help those around me who are (my dad and boyfriend) but few people actually tell you in such great detail about the reality of it. You are definitely right that it needs more awareness - people need to tell their stories so the rest of the world can understand.

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  26. sorelle white9 March 2012 13:04

    well done for being bold and talking about this out loud. x

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  27. thanks for sharing ,good to see that were not alone in this struggle, having a bad day today reading this makes me feel so much better thanksx

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  28. What a wonderful blog post. I can relate to so much of what you have typed. Good luck with your ongoing recovery and future journey.

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  29. Just saw your post by accident, and saw so much of myself in your words,it's so true that unless you have had depression people don't understand, they say pull yourself together it's all in your head, just makes you feel more low and just want to go back to bed,why do people think that it's easy to snap out of we do need more talks and programes about it so people who don't have it can try at least to understand !! Reading your post has giving me hope that you can get a life back thank you for writing it I wish you lost of luck in your recovery too. Take care x

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  30. I was really moved by this post and it resonated so much for me too. Being able to be honest I have found is the most important aspect of depression - honest with oneself and with those around us. Although many people don't understand and sadly, don't want to understand. I've been lucky with my experience of Citalopram although it took many months for my inner control freak to accept chemical help! Good luck Amy and keep going xx Amanda

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  31. Very good blog, which set me thinking...

    I wonder if one of the reasons that people don't talk about depression (I can't talk about anxiety as I've never really suffered from it, at least not at the medical grade, unlike depression) is that if you're in the middle of a bout you feel worthless, and that talking about how you feel so bad must be desperately boring for everyone else.
    Plus, it's normal for people with little or no experience of depression themselves (i.e most of the world) to try to be helpful and suggest things. Which is quite UNhelpful when you're depressed.
    And, when and if you've recovered from a bout of depression, talking about it can reawaken some of the bad feelings you had when you were depressed - talking about depression can be, in itself, very depressing.
    So I don't find it surprising that, even when up to a quarter of us suffer from depressive illnesses during our lives, we aren't all that eager to talk about it even after we've recovered.
    Though my experience is perhaps unusual - for one thing, I never felt suicidal.
    I did, however, comfort eat and spend as much of the rest of the time as I could asleep, so your blog rang bells for me there.
    I consider myself quite lucky - my depression was reactive and (with more luck) shouldn't recur.
    Keep plugging away - the sun comes back eventually. Just make sure you're around and awake to see it.

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  32. A huge hug and a huge thanks.

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  33. You might be interested in looking at Mindfulness as a treatment for depression/anxiety. Check out this talk, really REALLY worth a watch the whole way through
    http://www.scienceoxfordlive.com/watch-us-archive/mindfulness-watch
    (hopefully me including a link won't be seen as spam!)

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  34. I recognise SO much. Part of my problem is not to despair (!) when it comes back, just be kind to yourself and remember, it's an illness, it's not YOU. Bless you for bothering to write and share all of that. Thankyou xxx Declan

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  35. For much of my twenties I suffered terribly and could tell a similar story to yours. I like you am much improved but watch myself..... knowing your triggers/signs is key. Thank you for writing this post, it is good o know we are not alone!

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  36. My Dad suffered from anxiety and depression for most of his life. Two years after mixing his medication and alcohol caused his death from a heart attack, I still find it very hard to forgive him for some of the things hes done. Thank you for sharing your story. I hope one day I can fully understand.

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  37. Im glad that i saw your post it has made me realise i am not alone.I have suffered with depression and anxiety for a long time and still am not able to seek help through being trapped inside my darkness with no way out.Things have happened in my life which have contributed to my depression.The first major thing was when i was about 11 my auntie took her own life and i didnt even know that she had been ill, at that age id never heard of such things and the shock that this brought to me, i could never explain.I had seen her the day before she did this awful thing and she seemed her normal self to me, she left a note but it didnt say that much and it hasn't explained why she left us all heartbroken.And to this day we are left with questions, to why she left us, why she never told us, why was she depressed, she had everything and was so successful and she threw it all away! Why why why thats all we are left with.And we are left with If if we had known could we have helped her? could we of stopped her from doing this terrible thing? we will never know the answers.She was only 32 when she died, she was amazing and so clever, she was my precious Karen and i will never get over losing her.The next thing is when i was at high school my best friend suffered with depression and so did her mum, i saw her suffering and it made me sad and feel guilty for having such a good home life and being mad at myself.She then tried to take her own life on two occasions which she didnt succeed but it effected me deeply.Also bullying all through my life has contributed to my depression.Then later in life my nan had alzeimers and i saw her suffer and she was so precious to me, id seen her lose her youngest daughter (Karen) and then suffer when not knowing where she was with illness and then having to leave her in a home with her crying at me not to leave her, each time i had to leave her and see her sad face and hear her crys, it took away another piece of my soul.I have lost her now after a long time suffering in that home, i miss her so much but at least now she is in peace.There are more aspects of my past what are upsetting but i dont want to list everything.
    I think these are the things that have contributed to my depression and anxiety.I unlike you can get help, i just cant, its like im stuck un helpable unworthy of recieveing any help anyway.Struggling alone is hard no one really understands and i do find it like a taboo thing to talk about like people will think that i'm insane and just hate me.I guess im ashamed.Some days i feel like if i wasnt here then no one would even notice nothing would be any different, the world would be a better place maybe, without me.Sometimes it just feels too hard to carry on, to carry on in this darkness that is so dark and gloomy and dull and it hurts somehow. Its nice to know i am not alone because most of the time i feel very alone like im the only one who feels like this, like i am the odd one out, the weird person.
    Also just wanted to say that you are right about the alcohol, i cant drink has it makes me even more depressed than ever, i cant have anything to help me except herbal things from herbalist and they dont help, i have no cure, no help, i am uncurable. Thank you.

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  38. Wow great post. Possibly some of the best writing I've seen on depression. I've been through depression in the past, and everything you mentioned (aside from the nightmares - I don't envy that!) totally described me. I remember sitting and staring at the wall zoning out, and "waking up" from it several hours later. I also went on citalopram, and I'm about to ask to go back on it as I've been going through a lot of stress and change lately. Can I ask how long you've been on it now?

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  39. I am so sorry you are going through this honey. I'm not one to usually say "honey" because I know it sounds mean and all but I can understand your pain. Other than that think about the nighmares as an outlet... my mind has blocked the nightmares completely, the images are gone from my mind dude. So really just take advantage of the messages you are getting from what you feel, because for some of us, we don't even get many messages anymore, just very few.

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  40. Great post!
    I have mild anxiety that gives me insomnia but it is getting better. Last year a slow growing brain tumor (left undiagnosed for nearly 10 years) just about killed me. I am now putting my life back together and trying to encourage others going through depression and other difficult trails to do the same.
    You can read my personal story by going to the website below and selecting CATEGORY. Scroll down to MY BRAIN TUMOR STORY
    http://weepingintodancing.wordpress.com/

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  41. Thank you for sharing your experience with depression and anxiety. This would surely shed light to those struggling with depression too. Did you know the issues with Zoloft and birth defects? Well, Zoloft is an antidepressant which was allegedly causing birth defects to newborns. You may want to consider writing about it too.

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  42. I really loved reading your blog. It was very well authored and easy to understand. I also found your posts very interesting. In fact after reading, I had to go show it to my friend and he enjoyed it as well!.curing depression naturally

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  43. Actually blogging is spreading its wings and growing quickly. Your write up is a great example.combating depression

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  44. I want to encourage that you continue your great job, have a nice weekend! think you've made some truly interesting points.NATURAL DEPRESSION TREATMENT

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  45. Yours is the very first blog I read on this subject. I have walked through the pit and have come out. Now I would like to share the story. I wonder how many people are out there, tonight, in need of hope...

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  46. Hi there,

    I found your blog the other week and have spent a couple of days flicking through your posts and I love that you've decided to share your thoughts and experiences with this subject - very interesting and cleverly written! I too suffer from anxiety depression so it's nice to find blogs like this to connect with.

    I am also a director of a project about this whole topic and I thought it would be nice to get some anxiety sufferers on board too. Any help promotion or otherwise would really help us out, but more importantly we want to gather an audience of anxiety sufferers. If you could, could you read the through the site? Feel free to find us on facebook and twitter as well.
    http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/any-other-day--2/x/2654587

    Thank you for your time and good luck with your blog!

    Emily-Jane Curtin
    Director/Scriptwriter for 'Any Other Day'

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