On Depression

As a software engineer who suffers from depression, I present a few strategies for coping

Over the years I’ve read many articles on depression. I actively seek them out, because I suffer from chronic, or unipolar, depression.

I usually admit this to very few people, but I’m in a no-nonsense mood, so it’s all hearts on sleeves tonight. I don’t suffer with the manic highs that a bipolar depressive would have to endure, just the crippling lows that leave me feeling like I’m walking through sludge, and sometimes want to give up and drown in it. But I’m not the sort to just take things lying down, I endeavour to take the battle to my enemies. Treatment is trial and error, here’s some of the things I’ve tried:

Revelation

This definitely helped, incontrovertibly the most important step I took. For years I kept things secreted away within my own mind, but not any more. The actual physical act of telling someone, even if they aren’t going to be providing further comfort to you, is a liberating experience. A few years ago I came clean to a few friends, and it was this that led to me talking to a doctor friend of mine, who prescribed the course of medication I subsequently began.

Medication

I have tried many homeopathic remedies over the years, too many to detail, and none have worked. As for clinically prescribed substances, I have just come off a course of 20mg citalopram tablets, one per day, taken for a period of seven months. It initially took a fortnight to adjust to the medication, during which time my mood oscillated dramatically (I particularly recall a single morning of even deeper gloom as my system sought to adjust) and my flatulence and belching increased. These issues settled down after two weeks, but throughout the seven months my sexual potency was markedly reduced (the same drug is also used to treat premature ejaculation).

Typically my bouts of depression hit hardest first thing in the morning, and on the citalopram I still felt that the melancholy was there underneath, but it had been significantly muffled. I liken the feeling to wearing oven gloves when handling hot dishes; I could still feel the heat, but it was at a level with which I could cope. After 6 months I began a weaning down period, to see if the depression was still simmering, and after a few weeks of reduced dosage (down from one tablet per day to one every two days) I found all depressive feelings had ceased. To continue the oven glove metaphor, the medication had protected my hands until the dish had cooled, and I was able to return to glovelessness.

As a disclaimer I will say there are alternative substances, this is the only one I tried and it worked for me, and I wouldn’t hesitate to take it again. Should I ever feel the need to begin another course of medication I would like to explore alternatives first, purely to find one without the sexual blunting.

Exercise

I do a few activities purely for my physical fitness, but I’ve always held out hope that these would also contribute to mood elevation as a bonus. I have jogged and cycled, played football, tennis and golf, and lifted weights…but no, other than improving stamina, burning fat and building muscle none of these have resulted in mood stabilisation. I exercise purely for fitness and enjoyment, but overall any mood alterations are tiny and temporary.

Having said this, earlier this year I partook in paintballing for the first time, and I woke up the following morning with a startlingly substantial mood enhancement, which felt utterly remarkable as I was in the midst of the gloomy period prior to beginning the course of medication detailed above. The boost lasted for a couple of days, disappearing completely by the middle of the week following the Saturday afternoon’s paintballing session. I put the improvement down to a solid few hours of constant pumping adrenaline, generated by the conflict and risk nature of a war game. My advice for people looking to exercise to elevate mood is to hunt around for your sport of choice, as in my experience it is clear that not all activities will activate and affect your physiology in the same way. To be honest I haven’t been paintballing since, so I have been unable to repeat the experiment.

Your mileage may vary

Ultimately we all have to find our own way through life. Likewise when combating depression you have to experiment with and tailor your treatment. If you are a sufferer I urge you to be hungry for all advice, but to not necessarily heed it. With any remedy your mileage may vary, so if you try something and it doesn’t work then don’t be afraid to look for other answers, or to garnish the treatment in ways that work for you. The only baselines that should be adopted by all sufferers are a healthy diet and adequate nutrition, quality sleep, and enjoyable distractions from the daily grind.