Living With Depression: Allen's Success Story
Depression can be an isolating illness, but there are things you can do to feel better. Find out how one man successfully manages his depression and lives a full and happy life.
Allen Doederlein was diagnosed with major depressive disorder when he was 21. After four years of depression symptoms, the diagnosis helped explain his persistent feelings of hopelessness, agitation, and anxiety, as well as his sleep difficulties.
Doederlein, who now works as the executive director for external affairs at the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance in Chicago, was in denial that he was depressed for many years.
"I think I might have been diagnosed sooner, but I found it difficult to be completely honest with psychiatrists and even with myself in the first several years I was in need of help," he says. "I believed I could 'shake it off’ or ‘snap out of it.’"
When Doederlein was finally diagnosed, he was fortunate to have a supportive and understanding family. Other family members had been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, so Doederlein's family had some experience with dealing with a depression diagnosis.
Living With Depression
Doederlein is coping with depression through a combination of medication, talk therapy, and lifestyle changes, but living with this disorder is not without its challenges.
Over the years, Doederlein has learned to rely on the following strategies to help manage his depression:
- Medication. Doederlein takes antidepressant medications, which are among the most common depression treatments. "I see my psychiatrist at least once a year to deal with medication management," he says.
- Talk therapy. When Doederlein is experiencing trouble with depression, he participates in talk therapy, which can help people understand what triggers their depression and learn new ways to deal with it. "I may see a doctor or therapist for talk therapy as [often] as once a week," he says.
- Support. "My family and friends have been especially important in helping me avoid isolation, which is one of my tendencies when I am experiencing a depressive episode," says Doederlein. He says that when he shows signs of feeling isolated, his support network will urge him to get out of the house just to take a walk, get coffee, or go to the grocery store. "Those small things, believe it or not, are the first steps to taking action and feeling better," says Doederlein.
- Structure. Doederlein says that having structured plans to get out and be with people helps him manage his depression by avoiding isolation and inactivity. He schedules regular coffee dates, attends weight-loss meetings, takes classes, and signs up to volunteer so that he has an obligation to deal with others.
- Exercise. Body movement is one of the best medicines for depression, according to Doederlein. "It doesn't have to be a trip to the gym or even a brisk walk," he says. "Just a walk around the block can start the positive changes." At one low period when he was struggling with depression, Doederlein and a friend at work began taking their meetings outside. "[That] really helped me — my mood improved after a little activity and a little sunshine."
- Communication. One new-technology trick Doederlein has developed to keep him from becoming isolated is "forced" text messaging. "When I find that I am down and wanting to avoid the world, I force myself to send a couple of texts," he says. Just simple texts like "Hey, how are you?" or "I miss you" elicit responses to remind Doederlein that others care for him. "The texts of ‘hello’ often morph into making plans to get together," he says, "and then the much more positive momentum of togetherness and activity begin."
- Wellness plan. "A wellness plan provides a kind of 'roadmap' for regular sleep, a decent diet, tracking moods, and dealing with external factors that may trigger depressive episodes," says Doederlein.
On Living With Depression
Doederlein wants people to understand that depression is an illness, and it does not define who a person is.
"I, like many people who live with a mood disorder such as depression, am one of the most joyous, happy people you could find," he says. "I have an illness that can blur or distort my feelings, but ultimately, when I am well, I am full of happiness."
Doederlein's advice for others with depression is to learn to accept that you have an illness, and then strive to take steps to help you manage it.
"You have to watch certain things, like getting enough sleep and avoiding situations that you know will create undue stress," he says. "But with the right balance of medication, talk therapy, peer support, and a wellness plan, most people with depression can feel very well and lead normal, productive, happy lives.”
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