I had my first experience with severe long-term depression at age 23 when a series of events converged simultaneously. I couldn't sleep, and my lack of appetite had me losing such a significant amount of weight that I feared I would end up in the hospital. I forced myself to eat and eventually gained back the weight, and later an appetite. Being on my own at this age in the late 1980s with limited knowledge of depression, I wouldn't realize what was happening to me until years later.
Learning of Abraham Lincoln's bouts with melancholy, I decided to live by his words: "Most people are about as happy as they make their minds up to be." That was the phrase I repeatedly turned to.
In my mid-30s, I began experiencing extremely painful and frightening chest pains every morning around 3 or 4. Waking me up, the squeezing of my heart and tightening of my chest would bring me to my knees on the floor.
Over the next three years, I would regularly see my doctor, who considered potential physical ailments only. A chest X-ray, a stress test, buying a new bed, and eating antacid tablets like candy were a few of the many things I tried, but nothing made a difference. Each night came the debilitating chest pains. I became more irritable, more afraid of the continuation and progression of what was occurring, less interested in things I had always enjoyed, unable to concentrate or make a decision, unrealistic in my anxiousness, and more and more depressed.
Eventually, I began a tailspin that further intensified these unidentified, uncontrollable, and fearful feelings. Now I was not only on the floor clutching my chest but hyperventilating, too. One day, I simply couldn't get out of bed or take a shower. My wife drove me to an emergency doctor appointment—this time with a new doctor.
Correct Diagnosis and Treatment
The doctor quickly diagnosed clinical depression and anxiety. Excessive anxiety had been driving me to my knees on a nightly basis. Fear of another anxiety attack was part of the cycle. The doctor prescribed medication, which took effect within minutes. Three years of suffering that could have been ended within minutes, thanks to a proper diagnosis.
Now eight years later, I diligently take my medication, learn about my challenges, and I am constantly cognizant of my feelings and symptoms. Thanks to this vigilance, I live as normal a life as possible, a life that otherwise would be nonfunctioning at best.
In Lincoln's time, an uplifting phrase might have seemed the only helpful option. But as I thankfully found out, many effective treatments are available today.