A Friend’s Diagnosis

December 6, 2009 by
Filed under: Helpful Insights, Personal Development 

depression1We all have stories to share. Some people have good stories, others have bad ones, but all of them are stories that talk about a person’s life and what they have learned in the process. You may find yourself in the future (if you haven’t already) learning about a personal struggle a close friend of yours is going through. You may find yourself looking at your life in a different way after learning about your friends struggle. I thought it was important for me to share with my readers what a friend of mine told me she was going through for the past year. In actuality she was going through it for most of her life. She just didn’t know it. Her story made me reflect a little on my own life.

A Friend Confided In Me

Recently a friend of mine, Linda, opened up to me about an issue she’s been facing for a long time. She told me last year she was diagnosed with a condition called “double depression”. “I’ve never heard of double depression before.” I told her.  Linda confided in me that she never had heard of it either, but that once she was diagnosed with it she felt both scared and a little bit puzzled. She had never thought anything was mentally wrong with her until a couple of doctors diagnosed her with this condition (she had gotten a second opinion to be sure). When Linda told me this, I was puzzled.

I asked her that if she thought there was nothing wrong, why she went to a doctor. On top of that why choose to go to a psychiatrist of all kinds of doctors to go to. She told me her husband John, after a few years of marriage, had asked her to check with a psychiatrist just to make sure nothing was potentially wrong.  She continued to say that John noticed that she was, over the past year or two, becoming easily aggravated with things and that she appeared to not enjoy much of anything as much as she used to.

John and Linda had known each other for a long time. Having met in college, they were friends (dating other people at the time they met). They hung out in groups with their then significant others and then later on started dating. One thing led to another and they found themselves in love and decided to get married. I have known both John and Linda since college as well and they’ve always had a great relationship. Linda mentioned that their relationship was still strong, but John was just concerned and wanted to be sure. Well, Linda told me that she and John went to a regional teaching hospital that had a reputation for having a very good psychology department. John went with her the first time, she said because she was nervous and a little anxious about visiting a psychiatrist for the first time. She told me that through her teenage years, she had been going to a counselor for what she called bouts of “the blues” that looking back she thought was simply teenage mood swings. The only thing different was that her down moods were much more prevalent and prolonged than the times she felt she wasn’t down. The down moods would last at least a week to even three weeks without letting up

A Diagnosis I’ve Never Heard Of

“The doctor I met with wanted to know everything about the bouts of ‘the blues’ I would have.” Linda told me. “How long they would last, how long the period between being down and how low I would get in comparison to when I felt normal.” She then told me that the doctor had some suspicions but didn’t want to give any diagnosis until he was sure. After a series of more questioning, the doctor told Linda that he believed she suffered from what is called “Double Depression”. Linda asked why. What the doctor told her became like a lightening strike to her she said. During the examination, the doctor (and Linda) discovered that during the times when she felt OK and not down or depressed, she wasn’t exactly happy at all. She felt just “emotionally comfortable”. She never felt better than that. All her life, long as she could remember, she never felt any happier than that. In fact, it turned out she never experienced what it was like to be happy at all. John asked the doctor how that could be. So many times he had witnessed Linda being happy. He then mentioned as few examples where he saw Linda being happy. Always smiling and enjoying herself. Linda then confided in John that she never felt anything more than emotionally comfortable. At time it would simply be emotionally numb. She didn’t want people to be uncomfortable around her so she would always put on a smile and laugh some in order to be in the norm of the moment.  She thought everyone felt that way and that it was normal.

John and Linda decided to get a second opinion with another doctor at a different practice and discovered the second doctor and his office partner giving the same diagnosis of double depression. “This was such an eye opener to me.” Linda told me. “All my life I remember feeling emotionally OK as what I would be feeling whenever I wasn’t sad or depressed. When I was depressed, it would be like that for a couple of days or up to a week. When I was feeling OK it would be for a couple of days. I thought everyone felt that way and that it was simply ‘Yeah, life is hard so get over it and live on’ type of attitude everyone experienced.” All the times in Linda’s life when she wasn’t feeling OK she would just put on a content face and live day to day. When she was feeling OK was when she would put on a smile. To me this sounded strange at first but looking at it from her perspective I understood her reasoning. Growing up we all get accustomed to the apparent norms in life. The way others act around situations, the way people behave on a day to day basis and the way we ourselves fit into the entire life equation.

As I heard Linda telling me all this, I found myself appreciating my own life a little more. I knew how it felt to be happy. I never felt just OK or emotionally numb when I was “feeling my best”. Linda on the other hand never experienced that all her life.

Linda then asked, “Have you noticed if I seemed more relaxed or a little different the past 6 months?” I had to admit that my girlfriend and I had commented on more that one occasion on how Linda seemed to have changed recently. She seemed to be enjoying things more and have even become a little more outgoing than we were use to seeing. All good things we thought. “The person who has seen the most change was John. He seems to be much happier in our relationship. Not that he wasn’t happy before.” Linda mentioned. “It’s just that John was concerned there was more to it and he wanted to be sure.”

“So what causes double-depression?” I asked and Linda said that the doctors aren’t quite sure what causes it. What they do know is that many people have made great improvements with the use of some medications. “I was nervous at first. Not knowing what the medications would be doing to me.” Linda said.  The only experience she had with these types of situations was what she saw in many movies and television shows (shows where people in psychiatric wards of clinics and hospitals acted all strange while being on medications for mental conditions). The doctor told her that many times the reason for depression is a chemical imbalance that may exist in the body and that certain medications may help the body better regulate itself. With that said she said she decided to give it a try with the medication and have the doctors keep tabs on her with periodic check up to see how things are going. Many of the medications that help the body regulate the chemicals it naturally produces can and will most likely take a few weeks for a person to notice any difference.

After a month of starting the new medication, she noticed a little bit of a change. The one who noticed the most was her husband John. She wasn’t as snappy at him or others, and she seemed to be enjoying her time more was what John told her. As time went on (weeks/then months) her whole family noticed the change. A change for the better she said. She was calmer and not as quick to pre-judge people or give a snappy opinionated sounding remark on something she didn’t agree with. “There was one other thing,” Linda told me, “I started to feel a strange feeling. I never felt this feeling before and so it was making me a little nervous and at times scared. The funny thing I came to realize is that the feeling I was now feeling was happiness.” Linda had never really experienced the emotion of happiness in her life. “It was such an alien feeling to me. I was more than comfortable. I felt as though I was enjoying the day more. The time I was having just walking from one point to another. After work, I’d be walking to my car a few blocks away and I remember feeling good. Almost too good I thought. That is what got me scared a little. Meeting with my doctor, and discussing it with my husband, is when I realized the emotion was happiness.” Linda told me. “I found myself looking out the window of the building I work in or sitting at home looking at pictures I had on my wall of family and friends and thinking ‘I really am grateful to have such a loving family and many good friends.’ ”

An Interesting Epiphany Came My Way

As I was hearing all this, it made me wonder how many other people out there take happiness for granted. Hearing Linda tell me all this made me look a little bit at myself. Have I ever fully appreciated the friends and family that I have? Have I ever appreciated the life that I was leading? Linda was already in her early thirties and it wasn’t until then that she, for the first time in her life, experienced the feeling of happiness. Once she did, it made her truly appreciate the things she had. How fascinating that it was this new experience in joy that opened up a new world for her.  I couldn’t even being to imagine how it would be to not be able to know what happiness was. Linda then said, “One of the reasons I’m letting you know about what I was going through is because you’re one of my close friends and we’ve known each other a long time. Also, since having this new experience, I wanted to share with friends and family how important our lives are and how grateful I am for sharing my life with them. After experiencing happiness for the first time in my life, I found that life was meant to be enjoyed. No longer was I emotionally numb and just moving through life doing what I needed to do at work and at home. Now I was actually seeing the joys and opportunities life gives us everyday.”

Wow, that message was a strong one for me. I know that life is too short and meant to be enjoyed everyday, but I did not and could not place myself into the experience that Linda was feeling now since her initial diagnosis and treatment. I guess we all really can appreciate the joys and opportunities we have in life as long as we think about how it would be without them. How it would be without a family. How it would be without friends. How it would without the ability to drive, or the ability to walk, or the ability to see or hear. These are things many of us take for granted. But every so often, it’s good to stop for a moment and reflect a little on the things we have and how our life might be different if we didn’t have them. Linda’s experience helped me to start periodically reflect on this. I now set up a little bit of time every couple of days or so (like after work or in the morning) to reflect on the things I have and the people in my life.

Have you ever reflected on the things in your life that you were grateful to have? Have you ever truly appreciated your family? Have you ever really appreciated your friends? What are some of your thoughts on the above story. Do you have any stories in your life that caused you to reflect?

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