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Depression hurts. Whether it’s the blanket-over-the-head isolation or the irritable negativity, it hurts you and the ones you’re with. Just because you’ve gotten through your working life and retired doesn’t mean you’re through with the threat of depression. Here are some hints on what to do if depression strikes.
Depression isn’t through with us
While research tells us that older people are the happiest cohort in the population overall, that doesn’t mean there aren’t pitfalls that can bring on depression. Retiring means changes in the things you do, the way you see yourself, and much more. In addition, people you know will begin to pass on, putting the spotlight on the issue of mortality.
The way we take these things depends on a lot of things, but there are ways to make it all worse. Alcohol has long been touted as a painkiller, but it’s a depressant on your nervous system. If you are depressed already, alcohol only makes it worse. Those with a history of depression should be very careful with drinking.
Am I depressed?
Every low mood is not depression. To meet the medical standard you would need to be experiencing a collection of symptoms for two weeks or more. Symptoms include:
–Sad or numb feelings, crying, most of the day, most days of the two weeks.
–Sleep disturbances, either not sleeping much, sleeping way more than usual, sleeping days and being up nights.
–Appetite disturbances, eating more or less than usual.
–Staying away from other people.
–Not enjoying things you usually enjoy.
–Letting things slide you never let slide, particularly bathing, grooming, getting dressed each day.
–Irritability and impatience, especially with yourself.
–Anxiety, feeling you can’t do things any more or can’t go out in public.
–Poor concentration, feeling like you can’t think.
You don’t have to have all of these to be depressed. But if you find yourself checking off a few of them and it’s been a couple of weeks, it’s time to see your doctor.
Your doctor can check you out for physical reasons for feeling depressed, as depression can be a symptom of other physical problems too. If you’ve ever had a sick dog or cat who withdrew to sleep, quit eating, and stayed in a dark place alone, you know how that works. If there is an underlying physical condition, best to find out what it is.
You will also have a screening for depression as an illness. Your doctor will discuss treatment options with you. You don’t have to take medication, but it helps many. It depends on whether you and your doctor agree you need it. If your depression comes from life events and you don’t have a history, you may try going without. But remember, depression can kill. If medication is indicated, it’s in your interest to try.
Be sure to consult your drug plan’s formulary. Some of the newer medications are pricey to say the least. Many older varieties come in generic form and work just fine for most people. That said, it could take a couple of tries to get the right one for you.
Therapy for depression
Therapy works wonders on depression and helps you fight off recurrences too. In particular, cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) teaches you to self-monitor for signs that you are getting in trouble, identify skills you can use to control the negative behavior and turn back to the positive. Depression tends to creep in insidiously, getting a start with some mental habit of negativity. CBT puts you in control. Your doctor can refer you to a provider.
If you happen not to feel comfortable with a particular therapist, don’t give up. It’s a mismatch, it happens, and you can get another therapist. At a clinic, the clinical director can reassign your case. If your provider is on her own, she may suggest someone else. Don’t be shy thinking you will hurt the therapist’s feelings. This is your recovery and you need to be in a relationship you trust.
Your part in recovery
First of all, follow through with what your doctor and therapist want you to do. That means take medication as prescribed, sleep, eat, and do your homework. No matter how silly or futile it seems, just do it. Building up a routine again will help.
Take baby steps. For the first few days, do your prescribed routine and slowly add things back to improve your appearance. Just getting clean and dressed helps you feel human again. Trust me. While waiting for the medication, you can be doing these things to build yourself up.
After a couple of weeks pick something to push on and work at it. I had a gift to make when I took a dive. It took me three weeks to work up the nerve to get near the sewing machine and try to make that silly thing. The gift came out just fine. It was also the hardest thing I had to do in years. Imagine how good it felt to send that gift off!
Don’t forget to add back exercise and social contacts. Those two items have proven effective countermeasures against depression. Try to get some people time in, and some time to get the blood moving again. If you can go outdoors when you get moving, so much the better. Sunlight makes a difference too.
While recovering, you may find these helpful reading: Loneliness: 10 Ways To Beat It; When Disability Retires You
Make sure you remember the skills you learned in therapy so that you catch depression early if it tries to come back. Gradually add back your normal activities as tolerated. Stay involved in things that you enjoy, that stimulate you. Be as social as is comfortable for you. Get outside every so often for some sunlight and fresh air. Try not to leave too much downtime in your day if you tend to brood. Instead, be sure to find something to be grateful for each day.
Getting yourself back from depression takes time and work but it is possible. Depression is an illness, not a judgment from God. You deserve to recover and have a happy retirement.
Have you encountered depression in your life? If so, what can you add to help others?