Gene’s depression began when he was a child and suffered severe panic attacks. He experienced cycles of feeling worthless and hopeless until age 35, when his doctor identified his depression at his annual physical exam. Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with dysthymia.At first, his wife Patrice didn’t know how to support him, struggling with infertility issues of her own. Now brought together by their adopted child, they talk about their experience with depression.
How did you react to Gene's depression?
At first, when he was having a hard time I didn't really know how to support him. So, it was good that he got outside help. In the beginning, he never told me about his suicidal feelings until he started feeling better. He showed his depression by not being attentive, listening to his music, being very self-absorbed. When it was just the two of us, I could just let him do what he needed to do. We had very busy jobs and had a lot of separate time. We weren't really together, we coexisted. Now when I think back, it bothers me. Once we adopted Patrick, we talked a lot more, and we came together as a family.
What issues come up for you?
Before I really understood his condition, we had a lot difficulty. I remember one time, he had me go with him to the psychiatrist. But, I felt attacked. We were going through so many problems with infertility that I couldn't deal with his depression. We went through five or six years of infertility issues in which I had six miscarriages.
Now that we have adopted Patrick, things are a lot better. But if Gene's medication isn't working, he has a hard time getting past it. And if Gene isn't up to a household task, he often throws it on me, and I have to step back in.
What advice do you have?
It's a challenge and a struggle to deal with someone depressed, but there are so many resources and medications available. This happens to many people to different degrees. It's manageable. No one should have to suffer and live without treatment.
How did you discover that you had depression?
I can remember as far back as kindergarten that I had difficulties. I couldn’t stand to be away from my mother. If I had to go somewhere, I would get very depressed and feel hopeless that I had to do something different. From the third to the seventh grade, I had serious panic attacks. I would cry and curl up in a corner and say I was sick. I said I had a stomachache and had to go home. But my mother was very strict and she would say that there was nothing wrong with me and I had to go back to school. It compounded my depression.
In my teenage years I still had problems, especially with girlfriends. I became too possessive and insecure in relationships. I went to a therapist who brought up the fact that there seemed to be depression in my family. I continued to have low esteem, and overall felt this doom and gloom about the world. I went through dark stages of despair. I partied and drank until my late twenties, when I got married. I finally got caught drunk driving. I went to the alcohol treatment program, learned about what alcohol does to you, and stopped getting drunk.
At age 35, I hit another low point in my life. My wife and I were going through infertility problems. I went to a primary care physician for a physical and told him how bad I felt. My doctor wrote an antidepressant prescription, but I had a real bad reaction to it. I started crying a lot. The doctor was confused by my adverse reaction and referred me to a psychiatrist, who I‘ve been seeing for ten years.
What treatment have you received?
At first the psychiatrist and I talked about my relationship with my mother, my father, my family, relatives, etc. We went through the whole gamut. He diagnosed me with dysthymia, a mild underlying chronic depression. He tried many different medications over time. At first I was waiting for this miracle cure to happen and it didn’t. But, the medication has changed my negative perceptions.
What are your symptoms?
I go through dark cycles, three to four days where I feel tired, sluggish and down, even on the medication. When I get down nothing matters. I am ‘anti’ everything when I’m down. When I go into the depths of my depression, there is no creativity and nothing that motivates me. I feel hopeless when I start something and I can’t finish it. I can’t control that part of my depression. I have to let it ride. If I really run or push too hard, it triggers a similar response.
I went through psychosomatic periods, where I imagined that I was going to die. I thought it was the end, I would always think the worse, the most negative. At times I was obsessive and got on the computer and traded all these stocks. I’ve also had suicidal thoughts.
What treatment issues have you had?
The medications are tricky; right now I’m doing the best that I’ve got to work with. I find when I have to change a medication it takes up to five weeks to take effect. But if the medication doesn’t work, I have to start all over all, so that can be a three-month period of being depressed.
What stigma issues have come up?
There are not too many people I discuss my depression with. I’ve had people at work say that an issue is my fault because of my condition and that I should see my doctor. I’ve had friends be incredulous when I tell them I have depression. They say there is nothing wrong with me and they can’t believe it. I try not to let it affect me.
Medications work fairly well. I need understanding and reassurance that my family is there if I need them. The worst thing to do is to treat me like I’m sick, that only compounds the problem and makes it worse than I feel already. Support groups are helpful if you get into a compatible group