Hello Darkness My Old Friend

 

Karen Krizanovich says having depression taught her not to give up

Depression made me a happier woman

September 17 2011 12:01AM

As the number of women suffering from depression soars, Karen Krizanovich describes how she fought the illness and changed her life for the better

Photo: Amit Lennon Makeup: Tara Templeton

My mother had always warned me that depression ran in the family. She fought it with the powers of femininity: for my mother, lipstick was depression’s worst enemy. If you bathed, fixed your hair, put on make-up and took an interest in your clothes, depression could not get you. At 88, she still exercises for 90 minutes a day and uses no medication. I am the daughter of supergirl. Two years ago I called her and asked her if I could have her permission to kill myself. She said: “Sure. But you have to wait until we die first.” That’s how I started to ask for help.

According to the latest international study, women are twice as likely to be depressed than their counterparts 40 years ago, with one in seven afflicted at some stage in their lives. Rates of depression in women between 16 and 42 (the childbearing years) are twice as high as for men. The findings — by Professor Hans-Ulrich Wittchen from the Dresden University of Technology — are shocking but not surprising. While some experts say that men probably suffer as badly from depression but don’t report it — I find that easy to believe — women talk about it. I did.

What happened to make me depressed? Standard-issue stuff, really. I’d got married for the second time and I was in love. My husband was a genius. My writing, broadcasting and voiceover work had been going very well — I even got to be the voice of a green M&M, that’s how wonderful my life was. I had very little to complain about.

Then, I’m not sure what happened. I slowly tumbled off a high metaphorical cliff. I’d become pregnant and it felt wrong. My husband and I argued about it. Finally, when I’d got past the first trimester and we were both happy about being parents, I noticed that I wasn’t gaining weight. It turned out that the little spark inside me had died weeks before and no one at the clinic wanted to break the bad news. Not knowing what to do, we went home that night and mourned. The same night, I cramped so badly that I screamed and tore at my clothes. We didn’t know what was happening. After four hours of hoping that the pain would pass, my husband called an ambulance. The remains of that tiny life were on their way out. I spent the next few days in hospital.

After that, the marriage started hitting the rocks. My husband didn’t want to go to counselling with me: you can’t force anyone to go. Over the next month I lost all my steady work. I was stunned. I was still emotional when the editor at Word magazine e-mailed me to say they were letting me go. I called him and cried: “Ijust miscarried! How can you do this?” — as if it were some delightful decision he had to make.

After that I gave up. My writing and broadcasting life was finished. I tried to get excited about other things — becoming a personal trainer, getting an MBA in film finance — but nothing felt worthwhile. I would sit, smoke and play solitaire for days. I wouldn’t go out or see friends. My husband, bless him, didn’t know how to help. When he told me that I was depressed, I told him to go to hell. We divorced. It was messy.

While the marital flat was being sold, the seventh day in a row that I planned to kill myself was also the day I’d made an appointment to see my NHS doctor. He listened to me. He took my plea of self-destruction seriously and sent me to a therapy session the same day. (I can’t really remember the therapy but I went anyway.) His office would call when I missed an appointment. That doctor was the turning point to climbing out of the pit. He suggested I try antidepressants. I hated them. They either made me sick or made me feel that everything was all right. I don’t want to feel that everything’s all right. It’s not.

Like an emotional gymnasium, fighting depression became my hobby. I road-tested all the depression advice I could find — from the internet, friends, bus stops, self-help books, anywhere. Some of it was obvious: your body needs sleep, good food and water and it needs to be washed and groomed. When you are depressed, having a body is like having a pet — but that’s where you start. You have to care for yourself. I followed my mum’s advice and wore lipstick (men, this is optional). I got out of the house, exercised and saw people even when I didn’t feel like it — especially when I didn’t feel like it. I may have worried that I was bad company, but good friends understand. Mine did.

Saying that depression gave me essential life tools that I didn’t have before isn’t going to make me popular. Anyone who has suffered severe or chronic depression will snarl and tell me that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Maybe they are right.

But I do feel that depression somehow made me a better woman — a happier one even. It has forced me to find and implement life tools that have made my post-depression life better. I use those tools every day to beat back the bad feelings that I pretended I didn’t have.

The instant I feel depression coming on, I stop it. I allow myself five minutes of wallowing, then I get up and do something. Perhaps the most important thing that I learnt was not to ruminate. Do not overthink. Get up. Get out. Force yourself.

What depression taught me is that I have a duty to myself, to those I love and to the world not give up. I also have a duty to forgive myself. Life has no meaning unless we give it meaning — and that’s what I try to do every single waking minute. Depression can make you more compassionate, less callow. It can show us how to be more realistic and how to look for good things even when there seem to be none. Depression can force you to find value in yourself and to hang on to it. It can give you a new purpose. Or it can kill you.

You choose.

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