Being diagnosed with depression can be both emotionally and practically challenging. Listening to others who have experienced similar situations is often re-assuring and can be helpful for you, your loved ones or when preparing questions for your doctor or a specialist.
John is a married education officer with three children. John was diagnosed with depression in 2008 when he was under immense work stress. He is taking antidepressant medication and undergoing counselling. He has changed his perspective on life since his experience with depression.
This interview has been sourced from Healthtalk Australia. Healthtalk Australia is the Australian collaborator of healthtalk.org (UK) which conducts award-winning research into patient experiences in conjunction with the Health Experience Research Group at the University of Oxford, UK.
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John experienced family tensions, sleepless nights and suicidal thoughts.
Probably when I began to notice that things weren't going well was - I started to have sleepless nights, so I was lying in bed and I was trying to figure out why a particular individual wasn't doing the right thing, or wasn't doing their job, or whatever it might have been and it was kind of like circular thinking, I just couldn’t figure it out. It just made no sense, I couldn’t figure out these problems and I'd just lie in bed all night thinking about them.
The sleep sort of got a bit worse. I started getting these, really vivid dreams. I'd wake up totally drenched in sweat; I'd just wake up totally wet and I'd have to get up out of bed and I'd have to pull the covers back and then I'd sort of go for a walk around the house, get a drink and wait till I'd dried off and then I'd go back to bed. And they - those sorts of dreams stayed with me for years, just really vivid. Not so much nightmares, but just vivid, vivid dreams, and really stressful dreams.
The tension was really, palpable at home and just the sense of conflict and even when we weren’t talking it was passive aggressive, you know? It was just simmering all the time. I got to the point where I just couldn’t manage anymore and I couldn't see any way forward. Everything was just too hard, everything was just too painful, I really wasn’t coping and in my scrambled brain I - I knew that really the only way out of this situation that would be best for my wife and for my family would be for me to suicide, to end my life, because I think- my, my parents separated when I was 10 and I know the impact that that had on me as a child, and I just couldn’t do that to my kids.
John talked about the swift transformation he experienced upon starting antidepressants.
I remember before I started on anti-depressants, it was the school holidays, I'd taken two weeks off work and I went away camping with my wife and another family, and I didn't talk to her for - I think we were camping for a whole week and I didn't talk to her for a whole week. I mean the hostilities were just so intense, the resentment was, just so intense, I just - I just didn’t want to talk to her. And aside from pass the salt, that was about all I said to her for a whole week.
And then I think for whatever reason I just thought, I've just got to try this, I've just got to take these - these anti-depressants and just give it a go and see if it helps. So I filled the script, the doctor said start for the first four or five days on half a dose, which I did and after two days - I think between 24 and 48 hours I felt so different that I rang the doctor and I said, look do I have to go up to a full dose, because this is amazing.
And he said, no not at all, just stay on what you're staying on, it's just that we normally ramp up.
And of course all the literature says, you know, six to eight weeks, or four to six weeks before you get an effect and I got an effect straight away and my wife basically said I became human again, and she said, I could talk to you again, because before that she couldn't talk to me because I'd just explode. And, the amazing - I guess for me medication meant that everything just levelled out.
I mean the downside of it is yeah, you go numb, so you neither feel good nor bad, and if something good happens it's like, wow, that's good, but you don't feel good about it, it's just logically you observe that that is a good thing.
So, I mean that's the downside, but the upside is that for me, I just levelled right out, I became, calm again, peaceful again, I didn't suffer from anxiety anymore and so, ah, I guess I advocate it for people whom it's prescribed for because it just gives you a chance to actually step, step back a little bit from just the frayed edges, the frayed nerves, the kind of - I mean you're on alert all the time, you're on high alert, it's just you're in this high state of alert, the adrenalin's pumping, um.
John felt his highly demanding job was contributing to his depression so resigned to take up completely different work. The change assisted his recovery.
So I was kind of looking through the paper at that stage and I decided I'd do a job that was, that I - that would use my strengths, because I really firmly believe that if you're doing a job that uses your strengths and that you're passionate about, you can actually come away energised from it, not weakened by it. And having burned out I think I'm really aware of the things that I'm not that good at, that I used to think I was good at, but I'm not.
So I thought it was good and two days a week, so it was ideal and I went in for the interview, I was fortunate enough to get the job and I, I really enjoyed it. Plus I was drawing from my own experience as well. The course was largely around, resilience and preventative stuff, protective factors for, for young people, but at the end of the course it does talk about, getting help if you need it, help seeking behaviour and I was just able to share a little bit from my experience and say, look I was really unwell and, and by this stage the kids had all gotten to know me as, you know, a reasonably strong person and ah, an educated person, a capable person.
And, I, I think my message really impacted them and kind of snuck up on them a little bit too because they see someone who's, just a normal person saying, you know, I got really sick. So I was, I was quite effective at my job and at the end of the three month period (organisation name) was actually able to, find some funding and I was able to continue on in the, family mental health support service.
And I've seen all the reasons why not to stop working, because now I do some, some workplace mental health stuff as well.
And sometimes people can't stay in the same job if it was that job or workplace that made them unwell.
Sometimes they can change roles maybe, move into a different department. But, you know, work's really important because, you've got relationships at work. You've got a sense of purpose at work. Financially you're going to have a lot of worries if you're not working.
So the financial pressure of not working is huge as well. So sometimes that can be restructured. So for me work was, I really think work was, was a big help in getting better. So for me doing the physical stuff was really good. No responsibility, all I am is picking tomatoes, but it was a beautiful green environment.
John thought it would take a lifetime to find out some of the things he had learned, if he had not experienced depression.
So I just - I've really checked out of the whole, get more done equals more life idea. I actually think you get more out of life if you get less done, if you're less ambitious, you plan less in a day. I mean you - I really do smell the roses, I mean I genuinely do smell the roses. I move slower, I walk slower, I do everything slower, it's fantastic.
And I've got more time for people, it’s - the irony wasn't lost on me, but after I gave up being a pastor, I actually had more time for people, so, you know, it's really strange because my life was full of just meetings and planning and budgets and events and programs.
So, I never wanted to – I actually never wanted to get better and have my old life back. I never wanted to get back to the way things were because I realised that I had to change and, I actually wanted to be better because of depression and so for me recovery, it was, it was a journey that hopefully, ended up with me being a changed person for the better. And I guess they're some of the things that have changed for the better in, in my story.
Source: Experiences of depression and recovery in Australia, 40-49 John
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Last reviewed: September 2013