Living with Depression by Ken David Stewart
I have had to live with major depressive disorder for most of my adult life. I would estimate that this disease has consumed about forty percent of my productive years.
A few of the symptoms of depression are much more disabling than others. One of the most frustrating symptoms in my life is the severe and chronic fatigue that is commonly found in persons with this disorder. The chronic fatigue may be significantly prevalent for weeks and even months. Sometimes, I find that the fatigue and heaviness appears to go into remission for part of the year.
Why this happens, I am not sure. I am just extremely grateful to get these short seasons of relief. I tend to perk up a bit when the summer season comes along. This could indicate that I also have seasonal affective disorder.
The chronic fatigue that often accompanies depression may cause financial distress. Unless you have good group insurance benefits at work, you may find that your household income can be significantly depleted for parts of the year. When this occurs, worry and fear will usually appear.
I should state at this point that all chronic fatigue may not be attributable to the disease of depression. I have often found that a severe lack of energy may ensue after I have a serious viral or bacterial infection. When my cold and flu symptoms dissipate I have often found that my debilitating fatigue will continue for weeks or even months after. It is quite likely that I suffer from another illness known as CFS or chronic fatigue syndrome.
Chronic fatigue will almost always negatively impact one’s relationships with other people. Especially if they have a significant other. The depressive’s spouse finds that her husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend chooses not to go out with them or do much of anything, especially if the activity involves other people and socializing. The partner that is unaffected by major depressive disorder may find that they are spending an inordinate amount of their time alone, or are doing many extra curricular or social activities by themselves.
It’s not always that a person suffering with depression does not want to attend the occasional social function. Sometimes they wish they could go to an activity with their partner, but simply don’t have the energy to do it. Even if they occasionally feel that they may be able to ‘push themselves’ to go out, they may be worried that they will bring other people down. Who really wants to hang out with a depressed individual anyway?
When I am in my worst phases of depression I feel that I don’t have the energy to carry on a conversation with anyone. When the depressive thinks about going out for social or group or church event, all they can think about is how much of their already depleted energy it might take to shave, shower, brush their teeth, select and put on clean clothes, etc. The contemplated energy consumption may seem overwhelming to the depressed person. If the depressed individual owns a car they may ask their partner to drive as they believe that they may be too fatigued to operate a vehicle safely. Worry and guilt are two emotions that a person with depression will frequently encounter.
For the past two weeks I have been feeling relatively well. For most people there should be nothing special about this. For a person suffers from major depression disorder one good day is a day to be celebrated.
When I experience one or more happy days strung together, I started to get uncomfortable. I struggle the feeling of happiness in my life. It seems to be such a rare phenomenom for me. I’m so used to feeling depressed, without hope and having very little faith that my life will ever get any better. I was on my default setting when I was feeling exhausted and plagued by physical and emotional pain. I’ve have often thought that this was just my lot in life. I believe that this is why I am probably happier than the average person when I ocassionally experience a good day.
I went through a very rough winter season that seems to have started in November of 2016. I suffer from what my doctor termed a mild case of COPD. This illness appears in a mild form when I don’t have an upper respiratory infection. When I catch a bad cold or flu, everything changes for me. I’ve become so ill that I barely have the strength to get out of bed.
During my episodes of severe COPD in the past, I’ve been able to continue with my fiction writing, but not my substitute teaching. This time, however, even my writing was a ‘no go’. Not only did my body feel shut down, so did my mind. I couldn’t seem to string together two cohesive thoughts. I have been writing fiction novels and plays, oft and on, for several years now.
Although I am technically retired, I work part-time as a substitute teacher. I enjoy subbing very much and take as many assignments as much as my health and energy and energy levels allow. Presently, I’m on holidays and have been enjoying the last two weeks immensely.
I’ve experienced long periods in my life where I cannot feel joy in anything that I do. This affects every area of my life as why would I want to pursue activities that no longer give me any pleasure? This is what is known in the psychiatric literature as a condition termed adhedonia or the inability to feel pleasure in the ordinary experiences and activities of daily living. This is a very painful place to be.
Feeling somewhat better in December 2016, I returned to my work as a substitute teacher. The Christmas holiday season actually went relatively well for me and that is highly unusual. This was probably due to the fact that I had quality time to spend with my wife and my goddaughter. I will never forget the night all three of us watched Christmas videos. Most of them were very funny and I ended up doing something I haven’t done years. I laughed out loud.
“You have a very nice home, Roger. It’s a little cluttered and could use some cleaning, but, then again, this house is quite small,” Glenda said. “I noticed that you have four bookshelves and possibly a couple of hundred books.”
“Actually, I have a lot more book than that. My eyesight is not as good as it used to be so I now purchase all my books in the Kindle format. That way I can adjust the fonts and the brightness levels so that reading the text is comfortable for me,” Roger explained.
“You certainly are a well read man.”
“For sure. I’ve been that way since I was a kid. I also like listening to audiobooks when my eyes need a break.”
“You are right though. This house is a bit too small, but it was even more cramped when my wife was still alive. We accumulated a lot of stuff over the years. I still haven’t given away much of Beatrice’s belongings. I get too emotional when I’m around her stuff.”
“I’m sorry to hear that your wife passed away. How long has it been now?”
“Over a year.”
“Are you over your grief now?” Glenda asked moving a little closer to the front of the couch. Roger was a little uncomfortable with how Glenda made him feel. He wished that less of her skin was exposed. As much as he hated to admit it to himself, Roger did find this strange young woman in his house to be somewhat attractive. It couldn’t be a sexual attraction. That was ludicrous. After all, Roger was sixty-five years old and this girl was only twenty-two. He was not a dirty old man. Roger had not even been sexually active with Beatrice during her last few years as she was too exhausted from her cancer treatments to have sexual relations with him. There was something else going on.
“Are you still grieving, Roger?” Glenda asked.
“Yes, it’s getting better with time, but at certain times of the day I still get very sad and will start weeping. Sometimes an old song that we both loved will be playing on the internet radio. That will have the same effect upon me. Beatrice and I had a very happy marriage. I can’t say that we did a lot of exciting things together. We didn’t do much travelling as we didn’t have much money. Beatrice was not healthy enough to work so we mostly relied upon my income. As we both liked our creature comforts and I have several hobbies we ran up a lot of debt. I had to take out a second mortgage on this house. This caused a great deal of stress in our lives, but we both enjoyed each other’s company in a quiet sort of way.”
The young woman’s hair appeared to be blonde with red streaks running through it. It appeared to be brittle and tangled and probably hadn’t been shampooed for several days. Her black mascara was now smeared as the result of her tears. Roger noticed that the girl had several piercings, one through her left eyebrow and two round piercings in her nose.
As it was rather warm in Roger’s house, the young female took off her dirty grey hooded sweatshirt. Underneath she was wearing a black mid riff tee-shirt with Black Flag printed on it. Roger noticed that she also had a belly button piercing. She starting pulling off her black boots revealing two different colored striped socks.
I should introduce myself. My name is Roger Fontaine. Would you like a cup of coffee or some hot chocolate?” Roger asked his guest. He thought that the girl could be attractive if she didn’t look so dishevelled and improved her personal hygiene.
“Oh, that would be awesome sir. I would actually prefer a hot chocolate if it’s not too much trouble.”
“That’s not a problem. By the way, what’s your name?”
“My real name is Glenda Jackson, but my street name is Streak. I also use a few aliases when I need to.”
“I’m pleased to meet you Glenda. Oh, by the way you don’t need to call me ‘sir’. Just Roger will be fine.”
Roger had now been retired for five years. He had been a high school English teacher for twenty-seven years. He was now receiving a CPP pension, a retired teachers pension and was about to start receiving Old Age Security Benefits.
Roger only returned to drinking alcohol for one year after his wife’s passing. After the one year was over Roger returned to his old Alcoholics Anonymous group and was welcomed back with open arms.
When he turned sixty-five Roger realized that he had to get back on his feet. One year of indulging in self-pity and substance abuse was enough. As he gradually accumulated more sobriety his once brilliant mind had started to function again and he became very introspective. He began thinking about what he was going to do with the rest of his life.
After all, Roger was only in his mid sixties. He realized that he could have twenty more years in store for himself.
Roger had kept physically fit before his drinking got out of control. He got back in the habit of going for a forty-five -minute bike ride each day. He also worked out at Shapes, his local gym at least three times per week. When he started going back to Shapes he started with performing a resistance training circuit. Within a few months Roger was looking significantly better. By means of his weight training program Roger was starting to regain most of his youthful muscle definition. He was still approximately seventy pounds over according to his doctor’s Body Mass Index chart.
A good part of the problem was that Roger could not get himself motivated to learn how to cook healthy meals. While Beatrice was alive she did the majority of the cooking. The only type of cooking that Roger enjoyed was barbequing using an old circular shaped charcoal barbeque. He was afraid of using the newer gas powered grills. Roger would barbeque hot dogs, hamburgers and steak practically every day during the summer. Occasionally he would even barbeque outside during the winter months.
After Beatrice died Roger had to learn to fend for himself. He realized that he would have to eat something so he started to think of all the meals he could prepare for himself without having to cook. One morning Roger sat down and made a list of all the meals that he could make on his own. The list that Roger came up with included toast, various types of sandwiches, dry breakfast cereals, large bars of cheese, pizza pops, raw fruits and vegetables, pepperoni sticks, hot dogs, raw fruits and vegetables. Spam and assorted canned foods.