This is for Linda -- too long to fit into the comment box...
I have struggled a bit with depression myself, going back to the time I was a teenager. I don't think my depression was anywhere near as extreme as many have to deal with (but it's always so hard to compare -- as you say, it's not tangible, and sometimes you wonder whether you're just being melodramatic). Anyway, back when I was a teenager, that was when I started writing. Writing became a "psychology of survival" for me (a term once used by a friend, which seemed very apt). I wrote a lot of poetry back then, it made my dark, melancholy feelings more tangible, and, perversely, beautiful.
Later, as I began to mature in my coping skills, I distanced myself from writing because I associated it with my depression, and I wanted to get myself out of my head and back into the “real world.” I spent about a year on antidepressants (Paxil/peroxitine), before deciding to cut myself off of them (much to the consternation of my doctor, whom I hadn’t consulted in this decision). The antidepressants worked wonders initially, but I disliked the side effects, which I described at the time as making “looking through my brain feel like trying to see without my glasses” -- they seemed to blur the edges and made me feel slightly stupid. Trying to write a simple essay for school seemed an impossible feat.
However, there was certainly something to the logic behind them, and that’s when I learned to think of my depression not as some dark romantic poetry, but as a simple imbalance of chemicals in my brain. I began to learn how to manipulate my chemistry through things like exercise (endorphins = new chemical to add to the mix), and through keeping a close eye on diet (sugar = impending crashes, caffeine (in moderation) = medicine). I also saw an acupuncturist on a couple occasions, and this worked a small wonder towards revamping my waning energy level, or my “chi” as they called it (aka “get-up-and-go”).
Then I learned to manage what was left through a lot of introspection and learning to understand my psychology (beyond my chemistry), and this I still do. I take note of things which consistently trip off the downward spiral (such as weekends with too much free time and no plans or structure, too much time alone, or allowing myself to become overly tired or hungry), and I make a point to structure my life so that I don’t run into those obstacles -- I keep a very busy life these days, so that free time is something I covet instead of fearing. Free days I structure around exercise -- I’ve learned that part of my depression comes from not having enough channels to release my abundance of mental and physical energy. So I’ve taken up taekwon do, and I avoid the after-work slump by going to my taekwon do classes every evening whether I’m in the mood or not (it’s amazing how difficult it is to feel depressed when you’re walloping the hell out of a bag). I identify things which I know will result in making me feel good (like friends who can make me laugh), and I keep these in the back of my mind as “medicine” to take if I should feel a tinge of depression coming on. I have learned that it’s much easier to manage it preventatively than it is to pull myself out of a pit of despair once I’m in there, so I try really hard to not let myself ever get there.
I remember a conversation I once had in college (which is when it was at its worst) – the guy I was talking to was several years older than me, and I remember talking to him about my depression and asking plaintively whether this would ever go away. And he told me: No. But you will learn to cope with it. And as you do, you will find yourself getting better and better at coping with it. And after a while, you won’t even remember that you’re “coping” anymore.
This is where I’m at now. I sometimes think that my depression is a thing of the past -- just a little melodramatic episode indulged by a less mature self -- but then I’ll relax my “structure” ever so slightly -- I’ll leave myself a long weekend with nothing to do -- and suddenly it will come swooping in with astonishing speed. My chemistry does not change, and yet, I rarely feel a victim to it anymore.
And now I am able to return to writing…which I love like an old friend.
I hope that some of this might be helpful to you – feel free to drop me an email if you want to talk further – though I also know that everyone’s depression is very personal, and what works for one person may not do anything for another. But the trick, I think, is to have faith in yourself and your own resilience and to KNOW that you will get past it -- and don’t, DO NOT allow yourself to get attached to it (this may sound absurd, but it is so true) – and, lastly, think in terms of moving forward through it, not backwards to a time you knew from before.
And of course, miserable beast that it is while you’re in it, you will know yourself so much more deeply once you’re through it. Having to battle with depression made me very much the person I am, and for that I can hardly hate it.