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Depression

Depression: getting better

Whether they had had one episode of depression or many, people talked about getting better. While it can seem that depression will never end, people do tend to get better in time (see 'Hope, advice & wisdom for people with depression'), and often with help, e.g. medication and/or talking therapies. Although recovery usually happens slowly, aspects of recovery can seem very striking. People described coming out of depression in vivid and optimistic ways. One man said, “It's the most wonderful feeling...The sun seems to shine better, the colours of nature are much sharper”. Another man said it was about “feeling that there are so many brilliant things available in the world”. One woman said, “I just woke up in the morning and I just knew that inside myself I felt different... I began to feel human”.

Getting better means different things to different people, and people aim for different kinds of getting better. For one man who had emerged from his depression after 15 years, recovering was about 'learning about the world' including how to socialise with others. For another, it was about “joining the rest of the human race and establishing relationships”. Yet another man saw it as about living a more genuine life and not identifying so much with other depressed people “and their distorted ways of thinking and feeling”. Others talked about gaining strength and better connecting with people. A woman (who had depression lasting months) looked at her recovery as 'going back to my normal life' of friends, family and interests. Recovery often meant looking forward to the challenge of life and having fun, instead of dreading life.

 

Having depression and recovering has made her more empathic with people, more understanding, and...

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Age at interview: 60
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 27
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It sounds odd but it's had a very positive effect. It really has. I mean I hope that I understand other people. I mean, yes, you do still write off people don't you as, "He's a miserable so and so". Then you start thinking about it and talking about it to somebody and you think, somebody might else jog your memory that there are other sides to people. And it has had that..... And I, I really feel, well sort of complimented really, that there are people who think, "Thank goodness I can talk to you, cause you understand". It's not a lot to give to people but I'm really complimented that they feel that, they feel that. And that really makes me feel good about myself, not in any, or have I got any sort of....., But just, it makes you feel good inside that perhaps you have helped somebody.

And I think it has had that effect and that also on my son. It's [pause] I think, he probably feels something more for me, perhaps if he'd lived, been brought up in an ordinary, you know 2 parent family. I mean I feel that we have a great closeness, I mean he does too, you know it's not something you talk about really. But, I always feel wherever he goes in the world he, it's the only relationship in my life that I've felt confident about, it doesn't matter if he goes to America or somewhere, he would feel the same way about me. And the fact that he's got a girlfriend, he's you know, so keen to you know [pause] want to be with, and that's not changed him towards me at all. In fact, its sort of, its made him grow up at lot actually, yes. And that's a good thing.

 

When she comes out of depression, she socialises again and is able to pick up her interests,...

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Age at interview: 55
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 53
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Just going back into my normal life where, you know, I see my friends, I, you know, I'm happy with my children, I just, you know, I take up all my interests again. I've got a lot of interests, I just start living life again properly. And this last time I've... I've changed a lot because I've left tea-, I left teaching about, it's a year and... a year and a half ago, in the summer of 2002. And then, and then for the next year, and then, then I was depressed up to Christmas and then.... no, it must have been, [pause] and then I was working on, when I was well again I was working on a very interesting project which I'd become involved in, an equestrian musical which was based in Switzerland, which we were hoping to bring to England. And it's, it's a beautiful production with, a musical with fifteen horses in it and I'd, I'd got involved in it and gone along to write... I do a bit of journalistic writing and we, we did, we weren't able to do it, you know, because it was too difficult, but we tried, we tried for the finance...

 

Feels she has been in recovery from a long period of depression, and now feels less isolated and...

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 24
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I feel as if I have been in actually.... in recovery for a few months now, or perhaps longer since May, June time. June time say, but I hadn't actually realised I'd been in recovery. I had to go to a recovery conference to kind of realise I was in recovery [laugh]. It means that life is changing. It is not changed. It's a constant thing, its always changing. It changes every day and I notice things that I didn't, that I haven't noticed for years. 

I can listen to music and appreciate it in a different way.... it can move me now. Something on the TV can move me now, and I have, I feel things and things affect me. I was so cut off. I'd put up, you know, sorry to use the really bland expression of putting up a brick wall, a very good brick wall, but I really had built up a very good high brick wall and nothing came in or out. And I didn't feel much at all about anything. I just functioned for a long time.

Some people who recover can feel so well that they believe they will never get depression again. This belief can contribute to anguish if they do get depressed again. One woman said, “I was just absolutely despairing because each time I've come out of it I've thought, I'll never go through it again”. Other people worry that they are going too high in their recovery, and fear they may be heading for mania and a subsequent crash into depression. Certainly, a number of people expressed fear of having further episodes of depression. One man was worried that each episode of depression was “worse than the last”, and one woman feared that her post-natal depression would return at menopause due to hormonal changes. Another woman realised that she could ride through the bad times, which were not the same thing as depression returning.

 
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Fears further depression, and compares depression recovery with being in remission from cancer....

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Age at interview: 45
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 45
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I mean I don't know if this would be helpful for people who access the web-site and are having their first depression or people like me who have been depressed, because also in a situation like me, this I think is important to say and I forgot....when you come out of a depression is the fear of having another one. You know, because again, I keep asking myself whether this is a cycle thing, you know like there is a time of cycle that you are getting again and again and another one. And when you come out of one, you just despise, you know you're terrified of getting another one, and when you have another one, having had one before, the only consolation is that you know you're going to come out. But this doesn't make the pain any easier, you know it's still very painful...

It doesn't make it any easier having had previous experiences, it's always horrible.... But the fear of having one again, it must be almost like people who have cancer, and then they have this remission periods you know, that, yeah it's a remission thing that scares you the most, so sometimes, even when I feel a bit down, not necessarily [laughing] is going to develop into depression, I worry about you know, and I say, "Oh my gosh you know", and I want to feel happy again as soon as I can. So I'm sure it's not going to develop in to the more serious long term depression.

 
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While she constantly thinks about depression, she can now see she has bad days, but they do not...

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Age at interview: 43
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 37
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What's happened with that fear of the depression coming back?

Well as the time between the depression now grows, in does get easier. I... I still think about depression most days, it's still there in my thoughts, but I - I'm more able now to - to see that I do have moods, perhaps slightly more than other people, but because there's a dip, that doesn't mean the depression is going to come back. And I'm able just to go, go with it, and through experience I know that I do come out the other side, but it has been tough lesson and I suppose it had left me quite hyper-vigilant in terms of my thoughts and feelings.

Bad days don't necessarily mean depression?

No, no. Yes, yes. So I may have a stressful day at work, but I can cope with it now.
 

People talked about making very good recoveries from depression, but it was also clear that recoveries can be partial, at least at first (e.g. concentration may still be poor, or people may still feel depressed). Getting better can be a matter of struggling and taking one day at a time. People emphasised that you need time to recuperate from depression - recovery can't be rushed, and it may take months, years or even decades to recover. This point is important because some people been depressed for as long as they could remember, and/or put themselves under too much pressure to get better. For instance, one man wanted to get better quickly because he felt such a burden on his partner.

 

Antidepressant medication helped him to feel better, but he did not initially recover fully. ...

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Age at interview: 33
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 24
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But my mood, started lifting. I did start feeling better, more energetic, less tired, more able to concentrate and more able to function. One of the, one of the most striking things that struck me the first time I took antidepressants and the second time is all of a sudden you realise how much colour is, there is in the world. 

But I think when I was depressed my, my perception of colour had really diminished. In fact I was sort of progressively seeing, you know, everything in a monochrome world and all of a sudden you know, you take antidepressants and you think, "Wow, aren't trees green", you know. Or, "Wow, apples they are red and they are sort of yellowie." 

And you sort of start noticing colours and things like that, which was great. But the pills weren't strong enough and although I felt much better, I didn't, I didn't stop feeling depressed and that was shortly before, before Christmas....

 

Still struggling with recovery, he finds it difficult to live with his symptoms day-to-day, and...

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Age at interview: 35
Sex: Male
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I mean, as I say I find living at the moment, what I would call living of course... Quite tricky at the moment, really as I've already, you know, I said now before because [clears throat]. I mean, I have to take it, as I say, day to day really now. Day and night time too of course, but mostly in the daytime because of how I'm feeling or.... Or not knowing how I'm going to feel, that's the trouble. You know I often think, oh, what am I doing, and although it sounds rather dark, sort of wh- what am I doing in the world? You know and what is the purpose, what is the point of, say this, what is exactly going on, but you know, in some ways we all have to know that. What are we here for? And what are we doing? And what are we getting out of it? And so on, but th- you know then in living like what are we getting out of... like from it? 

But, [sighs] I feel that you know as I've already said that, you know, with my depression and anxiety and the ME as well, or possible ME until I've seen, hopefully, a specialist or some.... which as I say I'm waiting for. I think. It's sort of knowing what to do about it really because, it certainly doesn't make living easy with all these symptoms and feeling sort of off as I sort of call it you see. And sort of, knowing how to sort of go on you know every day can seem rather samey as I've already said, you know, it's another day and then, sort of a night, and so on.

 
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Feels under pressure to get better because he feels a burden on his partner and friends, yet...

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Age at interview: 45
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 45
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And I think also, this was discussed in the Depression Group which I found very interesting, I think having depression and living with someone who is not depressed at the time you are, or someone who has never had depression, I think we feel very, I mean we put on ourselves this pressure of getting better, because it must be a burden on the other person.... and a burden to friends. 

Actually, my partner has played a key role in my recovery - he was very supportive during my depression periods - I do not know how I would have coped without him. It must be very hard dealing on a daily basis with someone you love with depression! Many times he has forced me to do things and helped me out of the house in times when I did not feel like doing anything. I believe having a loving and caring partner has helped me get over the most horrible periods of my depression. However, having said all that - not even your partner can rescue you from your own depression! It must be very frustrating for them. I really do not know which is the hardest position to be in - the person suffering with depression, or being with someone suffering from depression.

Even the people who had been depressed 'forever' talked about recovery. It was clear that recovery could happen at any age or stage of depression. One man said it took him until his 60s before he had achieved a sense of wellbeing and a firm belief he could recover. A woman who recovered in mid-life said, “I always say life began at 40”. Another woman described her recovery as a “fairly tortuous journey”. She had regrets about “life wasted”, yet she was glad to feel so well at the age of 44. Sometimes people talked as if they had an “old self”. One woman looked back at her achievements after getting better and said “the old me... could never have done that”.

 

She had felt 'stupid' and 'weak' and that her life was over, but her recent recovery has begun to...

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Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 32
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But I've never, never been ashamed of myself. As a wee girl as I said I have realised and I just thought I was weak because I was always told I was stupid, an idiot. She's an idiot, she can't do anything, she's stupid, she's this and she's that. And that is the change in my life. I thought my life was completely finished. I've missed out. But now I feel as if I've got something to offer and meet all sorts on a night out. My pal phoned last night and she said to me, "Would you like to go away for a wee weekend", and I went, "Oh I don't know about that". I said, "Oh I don't know" she said, "Well", no nay think about it, she says alright, "No, wait a couple of months down the line". So now when I come off the phone I went, this was me worrying again, about what she would think about me if I was away with her like..... so I don't know. Maybe I will give it a I try.

 

Feels better at the age of 69 than he has ever felt before, and recalls life was grey from...

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Age at interview: 69
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 39
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The most important thing in my mind at the moment is how much better I am than I've been in my whole life. It seems amazing at the age of sixty nine that I should be... feel as if I'm more healthy than I've been in the whole of the rest of my life. But I can remember back to when I was about four years old, and even then I was supposed to be a weak little boy, at least in the eyes of my mother. And from then onwards I was ill, I'd look after myself, life seemed to be kind of grey a lot of the time and I felt cold and I felt lonely a lot. 

When I was in secondary school I got, I was playing football and I got pneumonia, and as a result of that I got tuberculosis. And at that time you couldn't cure that easily, there weren't any drugs for it, so I had to stay in bed for about six months and I was a very active child. So I took that very badly, but as a result of the illness I became very interested in ways that I could get more healthy. Then when I got back to school after the illness I wasn't allowed to play games for some years actually, and that made me even keener to find other ways of getting stronger. Then I got very interested in organic food and whole foods, I used to bake my own bread... when I was about thirteen years old and this kind of thing. But it didn't seem to have a very obvious effect on my health.

Some people with long-term or multiple episodes of depression initially did not realise they could recover. For one woman, the idea of getting better “never occurred” to her until, after 9 years of depression, she went to a conference on recovery! Seeking out and meeting people in recovery can be inspirational. People with a “recovery attitude” tried to remain hopeful and believed in getting better (see 'Hope, advice & wisdom').

 

Has met someone else with depression who has gone further towards recovery and the experience has...

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Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 37
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I've recently met somebody through work, who has suffered from depression in her life, and is further along the road to recovery than I am, and that has been quite inspirational, because I can see that you can come.... you can come out of it okay. She was in hospital, she's been through an awful lot, she didn't have the benefit of therapy like I'd had, but she's, she's not just surviving, she is enjoying her life. 

And I think that's been really helpful for me to meet somebody who - I'm at a point now where I can talk openly about it. If I'd have met her two years ago there's no way I would have said, "Yeah, I also have depression", and I think it's helped her and it's helped me.

People with multiple episodes or long-term depression need to find their own way out of depression, using a selection of strategies that suited them e.g. medication, therapy, self-help techniques, support groups, holistic therapies. One man said, “There's lots of vicious circles in depression, and once you understand it, you can find the weak points in the vicious cycles and try to tackle those”. By discovering the things that contribute to their depressions, people were attempting to make more lasting recoveries (see 'Gaining insights about depression' and 'Hope, advice & wisdom for people with depression').

 

Through therapy has discovered why she is unhappy, including feeling at fault for things that go...

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Age at interview: 40
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 37
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I think the difference now is that now I understand why I'm unhappy. I wouldn't say I'm blissfully happy up against that, but I think I know what I do that makes me unhappy. 

I haven't got to the point of being able to turn it around yet, fully, but I do know that there are certain things ingrained, about how I live, about how I conduct myself, that are very detrimental to me being a happy person. And there are things that keep me in a place of being depressed, and that's what the therapy really helps with it.... in helping me understand how I perpetuate the depression..... 

I think for me it's about blaming myself for most things, thinking that I'm a bad person, and I can expend huge amounts of energy on the mental processes that go into making me responsible for everything that goes wrong in the world. And that's really very tiring, but I'm really very good at it.

Last reviewed September 2017.
Last updated April 2015.

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