October 2000 should have been the happiest time of my life. I was 27 years old, I'd recently married a wonderful man, we'd bought our first house, and I'd landed a job I'd wanted for years as a mental health therapist. So why did I feel sad and unsatisfied with my life?
To find out, I began seeing a therapist, who diagnosed me with depression. Being a therapist myself, I was not surprised. I had had depression in high school and college, but those episodes were related to external stressors. This time, it was out of the blue during a period when I "should" have been happy. Despite my training in the mental health field and knowledge of the illness, I didn't truly know what depression was until I experienced it.
If winter weather triggers carbohydrate cravings, you're not alone. Many people snack more on carbohydrate-containing foods in winter, sometimes in an unconscious effort to boost their mood, says Judith Wurtman, PhD, a former scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-author of The Serotonin PowerDiet.
How can you tell if your seasonal carbohydrate cravings are in the normal range or a possible symptom of winter depression?
Depression is an illness that strikes millions of people, but most don't really understand it. Friends and family, especially my husband, wanted me to just "snap out of it." But no matter how hard I tried, I could not.
I consulted several therapists and began to see a psychiatrist for medication. Over the next three and a half years, I was prescribed at least a dozen different medications with multiple combinations. Nothing seemed to help. Suicidal thoughts began to creep in. I was forced to quit my job because the stress of working in the mental health field seemed to be exacerbating my own symptoms. I attempted to kill myself twice, and I was hospitalized seven times because I was unable to keep myself safe.
My doctors advised electroconvulsive therapy (ECT), which passes electricity through the brain in a painless procedure done under anesthesia and with a muscle relaxant. But even after several ECTs, I wasn't improving much. During this time my husband, family, and friends were frustrated with my lack of improvement, yet I think they began to understand my illness and see that it wasn't just a bad mood I could just get out of.
Finally, in April 2004, success! During my last hospitalization, my doctors completely overhauled my medications and I started ECTs again. Almost magically, it seemed, my depression began to lift. This may sound strange, but it felt as if the demon, which was my depression, decided to leave me.