I see a red door and I want it painted black.
No colors anymore, I want them to turn black.
I see the girls walk by in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes.

What is Major Depressive Disorder?

Major depressive disorder is a mental health condition marked by a variety of symptoms like:

  • Depressed or irritable mood
  • Loss of interest in usual activities
  • Changes in sleep and eating patterns
  • Excessive feelings of worthlessness or guilt
  • Feeling slow or foggy
  • Suicidal ideation or attempts

Major depressive disorder is one of the most common mental health conditions, which means it’s also one of the leading causes of disability in the United States. Fortunately, depression is treatable through a variety of means and people recover from it every day.

What depression feels like for me

Those lyrics above, from the Rolling Stones’ Paint it Black, perfectly sum up the experience of depression for me. Depression sucks the color out of everything. It’s a place where hope is non-existent and it’s actually painful and disorienting to see bright colors and events. In the midst of depression, every interaction with others feels like someone is scraping nails on a chalkboard. I experience people, noises, and colors as extreme irritation. Depression for me as also been accompanied by complete exhaustion, like someone has poured lead into my bone marrow. It can be hard to complete even the easiest of tasks.

How I manage depression

Managing depression has been a lifelong journey. There have been people and events along the way that I have been helpful and there have also been bumps in the road. The first person I went to for counseling was able to provide me with some solid information about what was happening with me and how I could manage it better.

A whole-body experience

One of the big early shifts for me was understanding that, although depression was caused by brain chemistry, it was not just something happening in my brain. Instead, it was a whole-body experience. That focused my thinking on the aspects of health that I could control, like getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and practicing meditation.

Influenced by the environment

One of my next big  shifts happened when I discovered that, although there is a genetic predisposition for depression, those genes don’t always express themselves. They can be turned on by stressful situations and turned off by de-stressing. This was another reminder about why meditation was so important.

Around that same time, I was introduced to tai chi and qigong by my martial arts instructor. These whole-body wellness practices gave me an additional way to approach wellness. They also extended my meditation practice, as they can both be a kind of movement meditation.

Wellness Planning

Another turning point for me was discovering the Wellness Recovery Action Plan® (WRAP®), a wellness tool that helps me be intentional about my health. WRAP® allows me to be proactive and identify the subtle signs of depression creeping in. Instead of waiting for things to unravel, I now feel better able to take action. I’ve learned that high stress often precedes depression and it is important to manage stress as well as watch for signs of depression. I use acupuncture and essential oils on a regular basis to manage stress and, in doing so, manage depression.

Along the way, I’ve learned that no one wellness tool works all the time. Being vigilant about my overall health and wellness is one of the best things that I can do to be well.

Joann Calabrese

I've been with the Network as a volunteer and contractor since 2009 and as the full-time Recovery Education Manager since February 2016. I have a bachelor's degree in Social Work and a Master's degree in Organizational Leadership. I have many years of experience in program coordination, training, group facilitation, mentoring, and mindfulness practice, and I write a mindfulness blog at www.mindfulnessgardengames.com. I'm most passionate about sharing recovery and wellness tools with others. My go-to wellness tools are hanging out with my dog Luna, gardening, meditation, tai chi, and qi gong.

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