How I Overcame My Dark Night Of The
Soul -- A Five Year Chronic Depression
by Bob Olson. OfSpirit.com Editor
My story began in 1989, at the age of 29, when I first recognized that I seemed to have more moodswings than most people. I went to a doctor and was diagnosed immediately. I was suffering from chronic depression, aka clinical depression. My official diagnosis was bipolar disorder, but my manias were so mild that my doctor was mostly concerned with the depression. My doctor put me on a medication and I assumed that was the end of it.
Being ignorant about how it all worked, and certainly a bit in denial, I assumed I was getting better, so I stayed on the medication for a year. My doctor finally noticed that the medication wasn't working when she realized I had become suicidal.
By this time, the end of the first year of treatment, I was constantly sad for no obvious reason; I was regularly lethargic; I had become socially isolated, even a bit socially phobic - I would no longer answer the phone or go to social gatherings; I was unable to concentrate; My moods would fluctuate from irritable to normal to sobbing uncontrollably; I felt empty inside, like nobody loved me; And my self-esteem and self-worth were at an all-time low.
Needless to say, my doctor began to try different medications - one at a time. Nothing worked.
By the middle of my second year of treatment, I had switched doctors for another opinion, still had all the above-mentioned symptoms, but now things had gotten worse. I was no longer able to work. I was sleeping an average of 18 hours a day. I had constant suicidal thoughts. And my body was physically deteriorating: my gums were bleeding, my hair became coarse and wiry, I had aches and pains all over, and I caught every virus and flu that came to town.
During the second, third and fourth years of treatment, my doctor continued to try over 15 medications, and combinations of medications. As if the depression wasn't enough, the medication side effects made it all worse. One made me gain twenty-four pounds in three weeks. One slurred my speech. One blurred my vision. One caused my hair to thin. One made me dizzy. One gave me stomach cramps. One made my teeth numb. One made my hands shake. One kept me up all night while. One made me even sleepier all day. And one made my muscles twitch so violently that I sometimes kicked and punched my wife, Melissa, while sleeping.
By the beginning of the fifth year of treatment, we ran out of medications to try. So my doctor decided to try electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) - shock treatments. My electroconvulsive therapy doctor said I should feel a difference in only a few shock treatments. When those didn't work, he suggested it might take seven or eight. By my fourteenth treatment, I was beginning to lose hope.
It had been six weeks of treatments, and I was still considering taking my life. I switched doctors again to get another opinion. The new doctor concurred with my past course of treatment but continued with a more vigorous form of ECT - shocking both sides of my brain instead of just one side.
After a total of 21 shock treatments, I was experiencing serious, although temporary memory loss. I got lost driving in areas in which I had grown up. I was forgetting the names of people I knew. I got lost taking a walk in my neighborhood. I forgot simple things like whether I put cream in my coffee or not. The final kicker was when Melissa found me standing behind her in the living room while she was vacuuming, in a zombie-like state, not knowing quite where I was or where I was going. Since my depression still showed no improvement at this point, my doctor, wife and I decided to stop the ECT.
This was a critical point in my life. With the constant thoughts of suicide pounding in my head, it was vital to remain hopeful. Yet I had run out of new treatments to try. So my doctor suggested I begin trying medications that had already failed me in the past. With no other choice, that's what I did.
The first medication I tried for a second time failed again. Then I gave another medication a second try. On the seventh day of taking that little pill, I woke up to a gorgeous, sunny day. For the first time in five years, I noticed the sound of the birds singing. I smelled the coffee brewing in the kitchen. And I bolted out of bed excited to be going to a wedding that day-an event that required a lot of socializing. Although Melissa had previously planned to go alone, I now went with her and we partied all day and night.
After five challenging years, the depression had lifted. Within two months, I was back to work again for the first time in four years, and so alert and focused that I was handling multi-million dollar cases as a private investigator for prestigious law firms. I was happy, sociable and optimistic. By finding one medication that balanced the chemical imbalance in my brain, my entire life changed from darkness to light.
I should also note that next month, September 17th, 2004, is my ten-year anniversary of being entirely free from my disorder!!! I take a little pill every day, and as a result, my life has been blessed for an entire decade.
So that is my story, or at least the condensed version of it. And while I know there are many people who have suffered more than me, I tell my story to inspire others to seek help and never give up in their struggle to find a treatment that works for them.
Now the part about how I overcame my dark night of the soul.
I should mention that there are volumes of books on depression, including one that I wrote, so it's difficult to condense everything that I feel needs to be said about depression into a one-hour chat. I'd actually need about a week. But I believe I have some insight that may be of value to you, however condensed these 11 bullet points may be…
1) ACCEPTANCE: In my battle with depression, it was vital that I accepted my mental illness. If I had rejected or denied it, I would not have prepared myself for the necessary actions required to overcome it. If I had ignored my symptoms for fear of being labeled mentally ill, I would never have experienced ten years of symptom-free living.
2) LABELS: One of the first, and most important, things I learned is that "depression" is just a label doctors use to categorize your symptoms. It is not who you are. It is not a reflection of your character. It is not indicative of your intelligence, talents or abilities. It is a label for your doctor to use in treating a chemical imbalance in your brain… period.
3) BELIEF: Before I was ready to really take action toward seeking a treatment that would work for me, I needed to believe that finding such a treatment was possible. All I had to do was look at the millions of people who have overcome their clinical depression or bipolar disorder. Since there was no reason that I couldn't do what millions of other people have already done, I was on my way to getting better. This is one reason I now tell my story to others.
4) EDUCATION: We cannot sit idly by and wait for our doctors to fix our depression. Our doctors need our assistance. We must work as a team. The road to helping our doctors help us is through educating ourselves on our brain disorder. We do this by reading books, websites and magazine articles on our illness, attending lectures offered by support groups and hospitals, and talking to our doctors and other experts in the field. Learning about your illness is extremely important if you want to take charge of your wellness efforts and be empowered doing it.
5) DISCOVERY: Once we have learned about our illness, we are better equipped to recognize the symptoms that are associated with it. By learning about my mental illness, I found out that my depression was a biological brain disorder, not a psychological disorder. In other words, my chemical imbalance had psychological side effects, but I was not crazy, nuts or loopy. All I needed to do was balance those brain chemicals and the symptoms would disappear. That, too, was empowering to learn.
I also learned what signs and symptoms to look for in order to determine if my medication was working or not. I had suffered with periodic depression since I was in third grade, so it was difficult for me to know what I was supposed to feel like if the medication was working. Books and magazine articles helped me to monitor the success or failure of my treatments in this way.
6) ACTION: In order to get better, you must also take action toward overcoming your brain disorder. Such action includes: getting diagnosed by a medical doctor, going to your doctor appointments, taking your medication or other treatment, and not working against yourself by abusing alcohol or drugs or even eating unhealthy foods. This may all seem obvious, but it is surprising how many people don't show up for their doctor appointments, won't take their medication, or drink a daily dose of wine or beer (a depressant) and wonder why they aren't getting better.
7) UNDERSTANDING: By educating myself about my disorder, I was also better able to understand my depression and, therefore, not feel badly about myself for having it. Since my symptoms and symptomatic behavior disabled me from working for four years, caused me to be irritable and unsociable at times, and often led me to do or say things I later regretted, it was important that I understood where these behaviors were coming from so that my already-low energy did not drop even lower by beating myself up over these things. Understanding your disorder allows both you and your caregivers to be more understanding and patient with yourself.
8) SELF-IMAGE: You must maintain a self-image of yourself as being healthy. Do not get caught up in the trap of identifying with your illness. You are not your illness. Do not allow yourself to use your illness as an excuse for anything. Do not introduce yourself to people as having depression or bipolar disorder. The moment you begin to see yourself as an unhealthy person, or benefit in any way from being unhealthy, is the moment that you will start working against yourself, your doctors and your supporters.
9) HOPE: The single most important lifeline that kept me going during my five-year battle with depression was hope. Whether it was a glimmer of hope or an explosion of hope, the thought of a better future that was free of depression was what got me through another day. I used to daydream and write about the future I desired. I guess that was my early practice of setting an intention. But it was also my education, once again, that gave me hope of a brighter tomorrow because I learned that my brain disorder was treatable.
10) SUPPORT: Much of my hope came from my wife, Melissa. I am forever grateful to her for helping to save my life. My wife's selfless sacrifice, alone, turned my five-year struggle into a true love story. But I had friends and doctors who supported me, too. The point being that it is important to surround yourself with supporters who are positive, understanding and empowering. Your supporters can be your spouse, relative, friend, doctor, nurse, and support group at a local hospital.
One of the things I realized once I started telling people about my depression was that there were a lot more people around me than I realized who were going through a similar experience. Because of the stigma of mental illness, many people are afraid to be open about their disorder. But the truth is that once you are open about it, people will suddenly feel safe in telling you about their depression or bipolar disorder, and now you can be supportive of one another.
For all you supporters with us tonight, I bow in respect to your angelic efforts.
11) PERSISTENCE: A final and vital point tonight. I expect everyone knows the power of persistence since it has been written about in thousands of books. For me, if I had given up when a medication made me gain 24 pounds in 3 weeks, or when I had run out of medications to try, or after 21 shock treatments had failed to work, I would not be with you tonight. All I can say is don't give up until you win your battle. I believe that everyone can beat their depression and bipolar disorder. Success could be around the next corner. If you just don't give up in your efforts to find a treatment that works for you, you will share my story of mental health and happiness. God bless.
The Battle: The 3-Step Lifesaving Formula to Conquer Depression and
by Bob Olson With Melissa Olson
This article resulted from a chat seminar
Bob Olson was invited to do on James Van Praagh's website. Bob gave
answers to several questions after his presentation (above), which you can
read by clicking
here. For more information about James Van Praagh's chat seminars,
articles by Bob Olson, visit www.ofspirit.com/bobolson.htm