How would you know if someone close to you was depressed? Could you mistake their symptoms for lack of motivation, whinging or even laziness? Would you wish, or even tell them, they should just over it?
Depression is a serious life threatening illness and it can seem as if there’s no way out, yet mother of three, Denielle (pictured), experienced severe depression and has came out the other end, with the help of treatment.
She now often tells her story in the hope of helping others going through what she went through, as she knows more than most what can happen if people don’t seek help.
Denielle’s own father committed suicide due to his depression and she too nearly went the same way before accepting her own illness.
National mental health charity SANE Australia has just brought out a new DVD in which everyday Australians like Denielle, who happen to have lived with depression, tell their stories…
Sitting in the back garden of her house, which is in the midst of being renovated, with building materials strewn every which way, her clothes splattered in paint and the sound of occasional banging in the background, Denielle says she wants people to understand depression is not a choice.
“I think if somebody broke their arm, other people wouldn’t expect them to paint a house…they would give them leeway and they would make allowances,” says the 35-year-old.
“But with depression, you don’t turn purple when you go depressed, so people don’t know and they expect you to (keep going).”
Today if you past Denielle on the street, you’ll have no idea of the struggle she’s been through, and this is the message she wants to get across – depression effects people from all walks of life and is not just limited to extreme situations.
Because of this, and the mask she wore, many of Denielle’s friends didn’t believe she had a problem.
“Lots of my friends would say, ‘just harden up a bit, you’ve just got to toughen up a bit more, just get out of bed, you have to keep pushing yourself’,” she says shaking her head.
“And I think they just didn’t understand, that it’s not for me wanting to… I just couldn’t do those things sometimes and it wasn’t a cop out or an excuse, it was just part of having a mental illness.”
However, Denielle too held this perception before she got help and upon diagnosis, thinking depression was only for weak people. Her father had believed this and hence was unable to accept his illness, and she too carried this message even though she saw its out come in his death.
It was only after her own suicide attempt and hospitalisation that she faced up to the truth, with her mother taking her back to the doctor.
“She just came in and said, ‘I’m not going to loose another loved one to depression,’” she says.
Denille then committed to her recovery, which involved seeing a doctor, taking anti-depressants for three years and visits to a psychologist. She says she was lucky and struck gold with her practitioners, but recommends if you don’t find the right ones straight away, to keep looking.
With her mother she also started a self-help group for people with depression and their carers, as there wasn’t one in her area. Through her psychologist, Denielle began to learn coping strategies she could use to deal with her emotions, along with talking over things that had happened in her past.
“It was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders and I was actually able to breathe,” she says hinting with her eyes the enormous relief that must have been.
One of the coping strategies suggested was for Denielle to get a dog, not only for companionship, but so she could get some exercise and develop a routine by walking it everyday day.
She bought a Blue Heeler Jack Russell X she named Jasmine, which she’s now had for 11 years and has been there through both the good and the bad times.
Today Denielle has a lightness about her, an inner strength which radiates through her honesty, even as she talks about such a difficult topic.
With her three children’s cubby house behind her and Jasmine playing at her knee, she says, she doesn’t regret having depression as it has taught her to appreciate life.
“I think I’m more grateful now, having gone through depression, for the little joys in life,” she says.
Her depression also prepared her for the heartbreaking moments, she says.
Despite being told she couldn’t have children, Deneille fell pregnant and was overjoyed, however, her and husband later lost their daughter at birth.
She says if she hadn’t of gone through what she did with her depression, she probably wouldn’t have been able to cope with the loss of her baby.
“Losing our daughter was certainly the hardest thing I’ve ever been through and I think I probably will,” she says.
However, Denielle was still able to take some joy out of such a hard time.
“There were all these beautiful gifts that she gave us and I think I was actually able to see those gifts, whereas maybe before I wouldn’t have been able to,” she says.
Denielle now visits her psychologist every six months to a year for maintenance. She still has moments of feeling overwhelmed, but takes stock and applies what she has learnt.
Deneille shares her story because she doesn’t want people to feel weak, isolated or like a failure, as she did when she was first diagnosed. She wants people to know they can live a happy and fulfilling life, through the ups and the downs.
“It can be a chapter in your life, but it doesn’t have to be what defines you,” she says.
She then leans over and whispers in Jasmine ear, “you’ve helped me a lot, yes you have.”
If you need immediate support or assistance please contact Lifeline on 13 11 14
For infomation, advice and referral about mental illness and suicide prevention
About Chloe Booker
Chloe is a young journalist and a recent volunteer for SANE Australia where she met Denielle. Chloe is now working as a journalist for a newspaper in regional NSW.
SANE Australia is a national charity helping all Australians affected by mental illness to lead a better life.