Hiding in the dark - Henlow man on what it’s like to live with depression

Henlow's Paul Harris Paul, who has battled with anxiety and depression since September 2015. Picture

Henlow's Paul Harris Paul, who has battled with anxiety and depression since September 2015. Picture: Courtesy of Paul Harris - Credit: Archant

Henlow’s Paul Harris talks to the Comet about what it means to live with depression to mark World Mental Health Day.

Depression is a word people use widely and often incorrectly. Something may happen that causes you to feel down or sad for a couple of hours or days - this is not depression.

Clinical depression (to give it its medical name), generally lasts for longer periods of time, I'm talking weeks, months, and sometimes years.

So what does depression look or feel like? It is different for everyone, but there are some key indicators; mentally you feel lost and hopeless; for me I constantly battle a feeling of not being good enough, of failing and being a burden.

Physically you can feel constantly tired, lose interest in things; have aches and pains, lose your appetite and sleep badly. People with depression often struggle with anxiety as well.

For me, a really bad day means zero motivation, zero self confidence and heaps of self loathing. The main contributing factor has been hitting brick walls while trying to forge a new path in life because of a mental breakdown at work. Those brick walls have a way of denting my confidence and no matter how many times I pick myself up and go again, I reach the point where I just want to give up and I hit rock bottom. I have had what I call little victories; however depression has a way of smothering these into insignificance.

Rock bottom for me means that I shut myself in the house, close the curtains and blinds and find comfort in the darkness; sometimes I go to bed and stay there until I feel I can get up; sometimes I just sit on the sofa, in the dark, and watch TV, I don't care about food and everything feels like too much effort. I don't want to see the outside world - I just want to block it all out.

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In general, my mood varies from day to day, and sometimes hour by hour; I can be feeling ok and then it can drop in seconds, with little or no warning, and the smallest thing can set my mood tumbling. When that happens I have to stop, let it pass, and try to build back up again.

What causes depression and why can it be so had to drag yourself out of it? Why is it not as simple as 'pulling yourself together'?

There are several causes, including stress and trauma, poor diet, sedentary behaviour, obesity and gut health to name just a few.

Some of the causes stem from poor lifestyle decisions, unfortunately our favourite go-to 'pick-me-ups' such as alcohol, caffeine and sugar can have a massive negative effect on our mood. Research shows how important exercise and good nutrition is in fighting depression.

With psychological trauma, exercise and a good diet can help (I have seen the benefits myself), however, in these instances, more is needed in the form of therapies such as counselling.

Anti-depressants are one of the NHS's go to treatments, but there is still a lot of debate about their effectiveness. The main concerns are over side-effects, of which there are many.

I was on sertraline and, while it helped in the short term, long-term use caused me to suffer with night terrors - I would have nightmares in which I would be in a situation that caused massive anxiety to the point where the dream me would become paralysed. When I woke up I would feel anxious, tired and I had to drag myself out of bed.

Anti-depressants can be highly addictive, some say more so than heroin. I struggled to come off the sertraline and I am now taking a mix of natural remedies including 5HTP, vitamin B complex, vitamin C, zinc and magnesium and have seen a marked difference in my mood, best of all the night terrors have gone.

I am by no means an expert in all this, I am just writing from my experience. If you are struggling, ask for help, go to your GP or a qualified health professional. Together you can try and figure out the root cause of the depression and put a plan in place to combat it - it may be as simple as making a few lifestyle changes.

Paul, who has battled with anxiety and depression since September 2015, blogs about his experiences - visit andbreatheblog.com to find out more.

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