Monday, August 25, 2008

Our First Depressive Episodes

I plan on spending this week talking about depression. For those of you who've read my blog for some time, you know that my first depressive episode occurred when I was an 18-year-old college freshman in 1968. I was the wrong girl at the wrong university at the wrong time. Kind of like Doris Day at a Janis Joplin concert. A fifties girl in a sixties world.

In retrospect, choosing the University of California at Berkeley in the sixties was just too big of a transition. And I didn't have the self-knowledge to admit I'd made a huge mistake, so I stuck it out for a year. By then I was truly depressed (albeit I had no idea that what I felt was clinical depression) and thought something had "broken inside." Had I sought help, and had it been the right kind of help, I think my problems could have been fairly easily resolved.

What's important about that first episode is that I thought about it over and over for the next two-and-a-half decades. During that period, I did seek help. In fact, I saw six psychologists (for very brief periods), and one psychiatrist for somewhere between six to nine months.

No one diagnosed the first episode as a clinical depression nor the subsequent ones. About ten years ago, I read that stressful life events can cause depressive episodes. It was a huge relief. By myself, I came to realize the significance of that first episode--so I could finally be done with it.

Most of the literature I've read doesn't suggest how important the first episode is. But I believe it's terribly significant. What I realized years later was that I didn't have experience dealing with disappointment so when I was so disappointed at Cal because it wasn't what I envisioned, I didn't know what to do. I was afraid to tell anyone at the Student Health Center because I didn't want it to go on my college record. I didn't discuss it with my parents because I thought they'd be disappointed in me. And I didn't talk about it with my friends because all of them seemed to love college.

While I told every psychologist and psychiatrist about this episode, none of them ever asked, "What do you think caused it? How did you deal with it? Did you confide in your parents or your friends? If you did, what did they say? If you didn't, why didn't you? How have you dealt with disappointment since then? What events cause you to feel disappointed?"

You get the drift. My point is that I now believe that if I had only realized that I didn't deal well with disappointment, I could have changed my pattern rather than repeating it. Without that knowledge, I continued to deal with disappointment the same way, and for most of my life that was the primary cause of my depressive episodes.

I have often wondered if other people feel the same about their first depressive episodes. Do you remember yours? Has it had a lasting effect on your life or were you able to resolve it? Do you agree about the significance of your first depression?


Gianna said...

my problems are rooted in a dysfunctional and sometimes outright abusive family. I was depressed as a result of having a heinous father at a very early age.

no one ever asked me about abuse when they decided to attempt to medicate me for life.

in my experience as a professional with the so-called 'severe and persistently mentally ill" virtually all the people had abuse in their background. It's my belief that if this was not swept under the rug much less medication would be necessary for even the most drastically distressed individuals.

this has been demonstrated at places like Soteria House.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Gianna,
While I know your story, it always saddens me to hear about it. Thanks so much for sharing it with others.

I don't know anything about abuse, but it's very disturbing to realize how many people have suffered from it, and how little these issues are addressed before prescribing medication.



Bradley said...

I can't remember a time when I wasn't depressed. Having grown up in a very verbally violent household, I remember feeling depression as a young child. My father once commented that he'd never known a kid who was so unhappy. Too bad he never realized he was a major cause of the problem.

Wellness Writer said...

Welcome back from your visit with your daughter. As a parent, I am so dismayed to hear a story like yours. But I'm heartened to see that you survived as such a loving father yourself!


katie said...

hi susan,
my depression started in childhood as well. i remember the reality of living in an family poisoned by alcoholism and rage caused me great emotional pain and anger that i focused on myself, my ownly safe outlet. i remember pulling out my hair and hurting myslef as a child to help ease my pain. but my saving grace was my vivid imagination, where i would escape to other worlds with my imaginary friends. those memories i have, and they feel sweet to me.

Wellness Writer said...

Hi Katie,
I am so surprised that you, Gianna, and Bradley had such difficult childhoods and emerged as such wonderful people.

I would imagine it takes a lifetime to deal with the childhood issues that were so painful.

Since my depression was situational in nature, I can see how much easier it was to resolve.


Nancie said...

Dear Susan,

I can't quite recall when was my first episode of depression. But I do recall one very severe episode about 20 years ago when I first left my hometown in Malaysia to come to work in Singapore. I was all alone and face many challenges. I found that for me stressful life events and difficulties handling disappointments do cause depression episodes. As I look back now, most of my subsequent depression episodes are rooted in very stressful work situations or great disappointments.

Being some kind of a perfectionist my expectation of myself and others are sometimes way too high and unrealistic. I don't realize this most of the time. So in some way I am prone to high stress and disappointments. Failure to properly address these issues and learn to manage them probably have worsened my condition over the last 20 years or so. I am thankful that awareness and medication is helping me, as I slowly learn to manage my condition. I am glad that you are coping very well now and your experiences is helpful to many of us. Thanks again for sharing your life and experiences with us. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Take care and have a great week ahead!


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Nancie,
It has taken me a lot of years to be able to deal with disappointment as well. And I, too, have felt it most at work but with family members and friends as well.

I only wish that someone had told me many years ago that it was partially responsible for my depressions and given me tips on how to handle it.

Thanks for your good wishes, and back at you! I hope you're feeling better.