My way out of depression

Lydia was in 2019 for the first time in a tandem stage 7 days from Bonn to Osnabruck on the road. Here she talks about her experience with a depressive phase and how she found her way back into her usual everyday life through treatment. At the points where specific types of treatment are mentioned, it is important for us to mention that this is Lydia’s personal journey. Accordingly, certain medications or hospitalization are not appropriate for every person.

A few years ago I suffered from a severe depression. Exactly at a time when I was intensely concerned with the topic of happiness. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself. So one after the other.

At the time, I was in my early 50s and working as an educator in a crisis facility. There I cared for children from difficult family backgrounds. Working with the kids gave me a lot of joy, but also often pushed me to my limits. The shift work, the constant sick substitutions and calls in my free time were very grueling. I often thought about giving it all up. But I never did it, because I enjoyed working with the children.

Again and again I thought about how to better strengthen children and support them more in dealing with difficult life situations. Especially the children I take care of have little self-esteem and hardly any self-confidence.

Then a flyer about a further training course "School subject happiness" fell into my hand. This immediately aroused my interest. This training is about developing one’s strengths and abilities, strengthening one’s self-esteem and self-efficacy. Through many methods, one experiences firsthand what one can do to lead a happy and successful life. And, of course, how to pass on what you’ve learned to others.

Good luck was followed by negative spirals of thought

No question, I signed up immediately and a few months later we were off. I was totally inspired every time I came back from training and thought to myself that I had to put everything I had learned into practice right away. However, I didn’t succeed in this way and it increasingly got to me. The other participants were always talking about their successes and what great projects they were already planning. Little by little I put myself under more and more pressure, that I finally had to get something together. But at my work it really went downhill. The situation in my group was very difficult at that time. We had a lot of children with behavioral problems and were often alone on duty. There were situations in which I felt totally incapable of action and hopelessly overwhelmed. But I couldn’t admit it, because I thought I had to do it all by myself, as an experienced educator. Just now, when I had learned so much, what I could do better in dealing with the children.

The downward spiral took its course. I felt worse and worse. I could no longer switch off. My thoughts were only about work and I was afraid to go on duty. Because of that I could not sleep anymore. My condition deteriorated visibly. I did not know what was wrong with me. I didn’t know that I only had negative thoughts in my head.

Also for friends and family my condition slowly became stressful. Everyone tried hard to be there for me, but there were also phrases like, "pull yourself together", o.a.

My condition was getting worse and worse

A vacation should save it then. It was the worst vacation of my life, because the depression – slowly it dawned on me that it could be something like that – drove along. After the vacation I did something? I went to work. And it came, as it had to come. I ran around like a zombie. Even the smallest activities, such as.B. School materials rauszusuchen, overtaxed me totally. My colleagues looked at me stunned. But no one could explain what was wrong with me. In the morning I woke up the children and wanted to send them to school. One girl totally refused. She screamed and kicked and the transport service refused to take her. In itself a thing that happens more often in a crisis facility. But for me it was the supergau, followed by thoughts like: "I didn’t manage to send the child to school", "I am incapable", "oh God, what do my colleagues think of me?". Such thoughts were constantly running through my head. I was shaking all over and was at the end of my rope. A colleague then took over the group and I went home. It was clear to me that I could not go to work for the time being and that I had to see a doctor.

I always thought that if I could only sleep, then everything would be all right again. In the meantime I had not slept for weeks. At most, I would slump down and then shoot up again with a huge fright. Again the eternal thought loops and fear, fear, fear. So I kind of dragged myself to my primary care doctor and panicked that she wouldn’t give me a sick note. Because I had nothing, at least not in the conventional sense. I told them about my symptoms. She wrote me off sick for two weeks without even taking a closer look at me.

In these two weeks, I more or less vegetated away from home. Except for fear and insane guilt about the work, I felt nothing more. I did not leave the house at all. My family tried to support me where they could, and to get me out of the door. But it did not work. In the apartment I moved only between bed, sofa and toilet back and forth. I ate almost nothing, only drank. More or less out of a sense of duty, not because I was thirsty. I was biting my nails the whole time and smoking one after the other.

How the path of my treatment began

After 2 weeks I went to my family doctor again. I was in absolute panic to even leave the house, but somehow managed to do it. My doctor greeted me with the phrase: "Well, what can I do for you today?"?

Normally I would have jumped at her neck, but so I just sat there and said meekly that I wasn’t feeling much better. She wrote me off sick for another two weeks. I should look for a psychotherapist, otherwise she could not do anything for me anymore. No advice, no addresses, nothing. I was completely desperate, did not know where to turn to. I also had no strength at all to take care of it myself. My sister then took me to the hospital to see a psychotherapist, or rather, she almost dragged me there.

I then told again how I was feeling. She suggested I see a psychologist and continued to write me off sick. I went to the psychologist twice and felt kind of screwed there. She asked me questions like, "What color are her thoughts?"? Inside me it just screamed: "black, black, black"! But I said nothing. She then: "You see, now your brain is irritated". Well, I couldn’t do anything with that.

In the meantime I was getting worse and worse. I had lost almost 10 kilos and sometimes wished that I would fall asleep and never wake up again. But sleep was not to be thought of. Only sometimes, for half an hour at the most, I slept. And then I dreamed about my life before the depression. Waking up was a horror. I thought I would feel this way for the rest of my life. And if I should ever get better, I would blame myself forever for having wasted so much of my life senselessly.

Lydia with a bee on her finger

Lydia with a honey bee on her finger during a tandem stage in 2019

A visit to a day clinic brought the first improvements in my symptoms

At the next appointment with the psychiatrist I was again sitting in front of her like a heap of misery. I asked her for medicine, if she could prescribe me some. She was very hesitant, but then prescribed me Sertraline, 25 mg. At first I had some side effects. My heart sometimes seemed to want to jump out of my chest. I thought one day I would have a heart attack and that would be the end of it. After two weeks I went back. I still felt just as miserable. She increased the dose to 50mg. Then she advised me to be admitted to the clinic. This idea was an absolute horror for me. But since my family was also pressuring me about this, I agreed.

Wheat field with blue sky

"For me it makes a huge difference if I "only" look at nature or if I feel the slope of a mountain or the water of a river."

The next day my sister accompanied me to the clinic. We had to sit in the emergency room for 8 hours. Then I came to some doctor. He asked me a few questions and diagnosed me with severe depression. But since I did not express suicidal thoughts, he estimated that an inpatient stay was not necessary. A day clinic would be the right thing for me. I was so relieved that I briefly awoke from my lethargy and for a short time I felt a little better and could even eat something.

A few days later we went to the open day, to the day clinic. There I sat. A short time ago I was sitting in a group of future "happiness teachers" and now I was sitting in a group of people with depression experience. That was surreal. Everyone told their story briefly. I realized that most had been struggling with their depression for years and z.T. Went to clinics several times. Oh man, that scared me insanely. At the end of the info session it turned out that the waiting time to get a place can take several months. Well, for me that was then done. My sister did not let up. She dragged me behind her and inquired what other possibilities there were. One of the staff gave us the address of a psychotherapist who had just opened her new practice, and thus the chances would be good to get an appointment quickly.

My sister supported me in other ways

When we were at home, she called and a week later I had an appointment. That was my salvation. The psychiatrist was the first to really understand what was going on with me. I told her my story and told her again and again that I had to go to work, I couldn’t stay at home any longer. My bad conscience about this was meanwhile oversized and pulled me down more and more. The psychiatrist looked at me sympathetically and said: "Until you come in here with a smile, I won’t write you up as healthy".

For the first time in a long time I felt a kind of relief. So she took away my guilt a little bit. She also increased the dose of Sertraline. I was a bit insecure. But she said I could take up to 150mg without hesitation. Since the side effects had subsided and I didn’t care anyway, I agreed. So that I could finally sleep, she prescribed me still medicine. Another antidepressant. Well, always in with it, I thought.

The sleeping problems improved

It was around the beginning of November, I think. I had the first symptoms in June. So I dutifully took my pills and indeed, I could sleep again. I was still very bad. But I have had light moments when I thought I needed to go to the gym again. Because I knew that exercise is supposed to help against depression. So I packed my sports bag, put it in the corner and went to bed again. This in turn made me feel guilty. "Shit… didn’t make it again."

Making appointments gave me some structure

I often had to think about what I had learned in the happiness course. There was the metaphor of the rider and the elephant. The rider is the mind and the elephant is the subconscious mind. And when the elephant doesn’t want to go, there’s not much the rider can do. Unless he gets going and convinces the elephant by repeated actions until it penetrated through his thick skin. So one day I actually got up and went to the gym. In the meantime I had also ordered a CD with meditations especially against depression. This one could also be listened to on the side. So now I was standing on the stepper, listening to the CD, and all I could think was, what am I doing here, what am I supposed to be doing here?. I had the feeling that everyone was staring at me and could see what was wrong with me. But it also did me a little bit of good to do something other than wandering back and forth between bed, sofa and toilet again. Before I went home, I made an appointment with the trainer, because my sense of duty made me go when I had an appointment. When I was at home, I was a little bit proud that I had managed to go to sports. But on the whole I still felt miserable. Only my family noticed an improvement. When we talked on the phone I probably sounded better already. Due to the time pressure I had organized for myself concerning sports, I managed again to go to sports twice a week.

My new psychotherapist found me an old creative passion

I also went to psychotherapy now. I was also lucky in finding a therapist. I quickly found one near me. This one had also just opened his practice, so I got an appointment right away. Ca. Two weeks before Christmas I sat with him. I think it was the fourth session. I still felt very bad, although I was much more active by now. In the conversation he asked me if I could do something creative. I could not think of anything. I had started playing the guitar a few years ago. But that was not to be thought of. Listening to music or even playing myself was not possible. On the way home I continued to think. What could I do creatively.

Then I remembered that I used to be passionate about knitting. Strangely enough, I was in the mood for this right away. The next day I went out and bought some wool and started knitting socks. This work required all my concentration. Knitting socks is quite difficult. I could finally stop brooding and for the first time in a long time I felt something like fun.

All in all it went now rapidly upwards

My zest for life gradually returned. The fear and guilt gradually fell away from me. And on Christmas Eve I sat happily under the Christmas tree with my family. Everyone felt a great relief that I was out of the deep valley. In January I went back to my doctor. She wrote me off sick for another 6 weeks. Then we could think about whether I should start working again according to the Hamburg model.

I enjoyed this time to the fullest. I was so overjoyed to be back. Every day I felt like a small miracle. By now I know that every depression is followed by a very active phase where I’m a bit over it. But it was a wonderful time that I will never forget. I started to play the guitar again and realized that I had not forgotten anything. That gave me even more boost.

I was also able to repeat the further training I spoke of in the beginning. And finally the knot also burst with me and I began to unfold my potential little by little. I became more and more open and brave. Because you can really train such skills. I’m sure this sounds unlikely to many, but I’ve experienced it first hand. Now I no longer compare myself with the other participants. I did what my inner voice told me to do and looked at my way and not the way of others.

Short and sweet. I did a lot of things that I didn’t think were possible before, things that I always thought, oh I can’t do that, oh I can’t do that because of the shift work or, or, or.

So z.B. I became aware of the MUT-TOUR while researching the topic of depression. My heart did a leap. Great project, I thought. I really want to be there. Two years ago, I went along for the ride for the first time. It was an unforgettable adventure and I enjoyed it immensely. (In the MUT barrel blog I published a small article about my stage experience )

I found a new way of dealing with challenges

It was also relatively easy for me to get started with my work. The situation there was still the same. Today, however, I am better able to deal with challenges and seek help when things get difficult.

With the dose of the tablets I went down gradually. I had already slowly stopped taking the medication after two weeks. I could sleep like a log again. I was a little worried that without the tablets I might slip again. But thank God that did not happen. There are days when I don’t feel so well. Also the whole thing with Corona unsettled me a lot in the beginning and scared me a lot, so I also had a lot of negative thoughts in my head again and such a pressing feeling on my chest. Meanwhile I can accept it quite well and try not to fight against it. On days like this, I listen more to the CD I was talking about, do yoga or go for a walk. I also pay a lot of attention to the media I consume. So z. B. I hardly watch news, crime stories or anything like that anymore. It all pulls me down too much. I prefer to occupy myself with the beautiful things in life. This helps me to stay in balance.

I am well aware that I was very lucky to overcome my depression so quickly. Also that the medicines worked so well with me. I know that many have to struggle with it for years and also with many the medicines do not work. But maybe my story will give some people a little hope and courage after all.

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