Sunday, January 10, 2010
Depression and Turning 40
I cannot blog about life after 40 without discussing depression. My impetus to start blogging about life after 40 is that one of my closest friends and her husband disclosed to me how hard it was to turn 40 and how depressing it was. They are a very attractive couple, with successful careers, and a beautiful daughter. They are well-traveled, have active social lives, and are affluent. At the time we had this discussion, I was 38. It surprised me that if highly successful people could be depressed about entering middle age, then everyone must get sad about it.
It has been widely discussed and written about that many people get depressed at reaching middle age. If you Google "middle age depression" you get over 4 million results. Many people are dissatisfied about their lives at the time they hit forty. It is often a time of reflection of "where I am in my life and what have I achieved." Also, this is a time where many of our parents are getting sick and starting to die so we wind up confronting our mortality head on.
Ultimately, I created this blog to be a "cheerleader" for life after 40. I want to reach out and share stories, thoughts, and ideas that there is much to look forward to. Forty is not mid-life but a one-third life for those who live healthy and full lives.
I had my own bout with depression when I was 31 years old. I didn't know what I was going through was depression, I just thought I was losing my mind. My sister had just passed away of a prescription drug overdose (another topic I will cover later) which triggered my depression. I could not work. I wound up canceling every meeting and speaking engagement. I took one week off work after my sister died, but had to come back since I had commitments, meetings, and employees who depended on me. Subsequently, 4 months later, I had to shut down my business and lay off 26 employees including close friends and my older brother. At the time, I couldn't sleep, and when I did, I couldn't wake up. I wanted to hide and was so ashamed that I didn't feel that I could face the world. I felt like a big disappointment and a failure.
I finally started seeing a therapist 3 months after shutting down the company, at the recommendation of a fellow board member of the National Association of Women Business Owners. I attended a board meeting and told the team I was resigning since I did not feel well or capable enough to fulfill my duties as an active board member. My colleague, who was a VP at a commercial bank, had also gone through the passing of her sister, and thought I should contact her therapist. I refused to go on anti-depressants and the therapist prescribed exercise, St. John's Wort, and Omega 3 supplements like flax seed oil. My aversion to prescription anti-depressants was probably due to my sister dying from prescription painkillers. I was anti-prescription anything at this time. To not bore you further and make a long story short, I somehow got through it. With the help of my family and close friends, I made it through. I started sleeping normally, waking up when I was supposed to and eventually got a job (within a year), had a child (within 2 years), and got married (within 6 years).
It is now 9 years later. I slowly started appreciating life again and became stronger emotionally. Early on, I took time off work and did some traveling with friends. I made regular plans to look forward to something. Kept up with the exercise, and at times when depression tries to sneak in, I buy some St. John's Wort, flax seed oil, and make a travel plan or see a concert. I somehow re-built my life and career again. I explored my identity and interests outside of work, took up painting and writing (at the encouragement of the therapist). Two friends even enrolled with me for screenwriting and memoir writing classes. I re-calibrated and re-balanced. At some point, I started feeling whole again.
I believe humans can get through anything. But we need each other. I was lucky enough to have friends and family who rallied around me and forced me to wake up and get out. Do me a favor, if someone asks you" how are you?" Really tell them the truth. If you are not doing well, say so. And when you ask someone, "How are you?" Really look into their eyes and see if they mean it. One person caring can mean the world to someone who is depressed. Many of us caring might even help someone to get out of it and look forward to living again. It worked for me.
Dr Xavier Amador: Benefits of Depression and Anxiety to Humans "They cause us to connect. When we are sad, people reach out to us and we feel the desire to be held, cared for, loved. Anxiety often has the same effect. And when we come together we can then pursue common causes such as the search for food, creating shelter, defense against predators -- our genes survive and are passed on to the next generation."