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At first I thought not to include anything, because my experience with clinical depression has been more from an observer than a sufferer.  But then I figured my history with dysthymia might be useful so people can see that depression doesn't always mean severe clinical depression - it can affect your life in more subtle ways as well.  So here goes.

Looking back through my life, I would characterize myself as generally upbeat and happy.  The first time I can remember feeling unhappy with my life was in my late 20s, when I was in a highly stressful job situation in a new city with no friends.  I can recall thinking I'd like to just stop existing; not an active wish to die, just a thought
that if something would erase me from the planet, that would be great.  It never entered my mind that I might be depressed and should seek the help of a doctor or therapist.

Things were fine once I decided on a career change and went back to school.  I did great until some time after my son was born, when I was 36.  I did not suffer from classical post-partum depression, but throughout that first year, my life seemed to lose all its brightness. I wasn't *sad*.  I was irritable and flew off the handle at the
slightest annoyance. Life was just gray and I didn't enjoy anything any more.  Life seemed to be something you slogged your way though.  I felt overwhelmed by all my responsibilities, and resentful that my husband didn't help much (I was supporting us financially while he worked on a Ph.D., as well as running the household and caring for our son).

I still didn't identify my feelings as "depression", and it didn't cross my mind to talk to a doctor about it.  I remember thinking "well, this is just how life is going to be from now on."  What caused me to finally seek the help of a doctor was my husband's own breakdown and diagnosis of severe clinical depression.  When I asked him what I needed to to do help, he said "see a doctor and get an antidepressant."  I was shocked, as he'd never brought up anything like that before, but my life was upside down and I definitely wasn't coping with this new twist, so I went. 

My GP, who is a gem, told me she thought I was probably dysthymic, which is sort of a chronic, low-grade form of depression.  She prescribed Effexor, and I started taking it mainly to placate my husband.  But it worked.  I started feeling better and happier after a couple of months.  After about 4 months, I would sit in my car or at work and think to myself, "I'm happy!"  I felt like I'd gotten back the Me that had been missing for years and I hadn't even realized it.  And this was despite the fact that my husband's depression was still severe
and I was basically doing everything I had done previously, PLUS investing a huge amount of time in his care and well-being.

Nearly two years out from first seeing a doctor, I've learned an incredible amount about something I was completely ignorant about previously.  I am trying to wean off my meds, to see if I just needed a boost out of my funk, or if this will have to be a long-term accommodation for me. 

My advice to pass along would be to recognize that depression takes many forms, and you don't have to be intensely sad, or hopeless, or suicidal, to be suffering from depression.  And whether your symptoms are mild or severe, there's a good chance that either meds or therapy can help.  It IS worth seeking help.

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Revised: 04/02/05.

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