Depression By Dr. Kimberly Kerley
I know that many of you suffer with depression in addition to your chronic illness. It can be very difficult to explain to someone who has never suffered with depression what it really is and what your experience is like. I decided to search the internet to see if I could find a good resource for you to give your loved ones and couldn’t find what I was looking for. So, I decided to write my own explanation and share it with you in this addition of the Good News. I hope that this is something that you can share with people in your life to begin to help them have a deeper understanding of your experience. Educating others can be an empowering experience and being better understood can lead to greater support. It is incredibly important to have support while trying to manage depression even though the temptation is to push people away.
I want you to know that I have depression and I would like you to read this to help you understand a little bit more about what my experience is like. As you read this, I ask that you have an open, nonjudgmental mind as these are vulnerable feelings to share and suffering with depression makes me feel like I am weak. The reality is that depression affects me in more ways than you might think.
Depression is an illness not simply an emotion, like feeling sad or down. The symptoms extend far beyond that. Just because you have been sad or down before doesn’t mean that you have been depressed and can relate to my experience. Remember back to a time when you thought “I’m never going to get this right,” “This is never going to get better,” or “I’m so stupid.” Now imagine those thoughts coming up over and over no matter what you tell yourself or how you try to distract yourself. Imagine the relentless thoughts tell you “why bother,” “who cares,” “I’m worthless” and a host of other hopeless statements and put downs. You might be able to ignore the thoughts for a little while, but they are relentless. My thoughts can get really dark and I even think about suicide sometimes because I cannot imagine it ever ending.*? I can’t imagine life getting better. Some compare it to having an angel and a devil in their head. The devil comes up with numerous (inaccurate) examples of how these negative thoughts are correct. It is loud and it never shuts up. It lies. It drowns out any hope and positivity the angel could offer but I try to listen to the angel anyway. Knowing something intellectually doesn’t change how I feel. Fighting this battle is exhausting. The thoughts are distracting and it is difficult to concentrate. The fake face that I have to put on in most situations is draining. Picture being on a job interview and the attention you give your self presentation. You tune into your body language and the look on your face. You censor everything that comes out of your mouth, trying to appear friendly and happy. Sometimes I have to do this all day. I am left with little energy or motivation. Things that used to bring me joy no longer make me happy. They aren’t worth the excessive amount of effort that it takes to force myself to engage in these activities. I give them up. I withdraw. It takes all of my energy to just get through the bare minimum requirements of the day.
I don’t even recognize myself sometimes. My appetite is not the same. My sleep patterns are not the same. Some days I don’t even look the same because hygiene takes so much effort. I feel like I have no control. It feels like it is never going to end and that is scary. I feel so alone even when I’m not. I think “no one can help me.” This is why I haven’t talked to you sooner or reached out to you for help. Whether it is accurate or not, the thoughts tell me that you won’t be able to help me anyway, so why bother.
There is no “cure” for depression. Treatment for depression is more complicated than anything that starts with “just.” “Just be positive.” “Just don’t think that way.” “Just be happy.” Trust me, if it were this easy no one would be depressed. Depression is caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain. My brain functions differently than someone without depression. The chemical make up of my brain triggers the negative, relentless thoughts. Basically, I am trying to fight my own brain chemistry. Medication can help, but it is not a cure. I’ve learned that depression is not my fault and I hope that you now understand that too.
I know that you care about me and that is why I have asked you to read this, but honestly, sometimes your difficulty understanding me hurts.*? So, let me help you help me. Please don’t ask me why I am depressed. Most of the time I don’t even know why I feel this way. It can happen even when I have many blessings in my life. It doesn’t mean that I am not grateful. Feeling this way when I have wonderful things in my life makes me feel guilty and even worse. So, telling me that “things could be worse” is also not helpful. Ask me what I need rather than guess or withdraw. I know that you can’t fix it. Listening goes a long way. Be patient. Don’t give up one me. I assure you that I am doing the best I can with the tools that I have everyday. I do have good days. I hope that you will enjoy them with me and not judge why I can’t be like this more often. If I could, I would. I know that I may have hurt you too. Please forgive me for being irritable, short, negative, and pushing you away sometimes. I welcome any questions that you have about my experience of depression.
I hope this may be the start to you feeling better understood and initiate a conversation with more specifics about how depression uniquely impacts you. The good news is that conversations like this can help you feel less alone, gain support, and bring people closer together. There is a link at epictogether.org** so that you can print this or send it to a friend.
About Dr. Kim: Dr. Kimberly Kerley, Psy.D, is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in the State of Illinois. She has been practicing in a group practice setting for over 16 years. Dr. Kerley is currently seeing clients at Perakis, Resis, Woods, and Associates (PRA Behavioral), a multidisciplinary group practice in Schaumburg, IL. Dr. Kerley’s theoretic approach incorporates cognitive behavioral, insight oriented and solution focused techniques while tailoring to the individual needs of each client. She focuses on assisting clients to build upon their strengths, develop unused resources and learn new skills to decrease symptoms, increase their effectiveness in managing their everyday lives and/or improve their quality of life. Dr. Kerley’s treatment approach is interactive, supportive and respectful to the individual and is presented in the spirit of collaboration. Dr. Kerley works with adults and adolescents. Her treatment areas of focus include Depression, Bipolar and other Mood Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, Stress Management, Relaxation Skills Training, Self-Esteem Issues, Assertiveness Training, Relationship Issues, Personal Exploration and Development, and Chronic Illness. Dr. Kerley is very invested in supporting those who are chronic illness warriors and their loved ones. She strives to change lives effectively and positively through her direct and invaluable advice through her “Good News” column in The EPIC Foundation newsletter. The EPIC Foundation is beyond proud to have Dr. Kim Kerley as a part of our team! Together, we are EPIC!