Feeling low, depression, big words that are used for many different ailments and unfortunately have very negative images. In this article, I will be talking about something that everyone meets at some stage in life. The way we handle that meeting is different for each person. For some, it is ‘Hello, nice to meet you, goodbye’. For others, it’s ‘Hi! Let’s have a cup of tea and a slice of cake, but then we part ways, never to
see each other again’. And for the third group, it’s a longer visit that can have a lasting impact on their
lives. A bit like a bad friendship that you know you should cut off but keeps coming back like a bad penny.
People experience depression for various reasons that are not always understood, even by themselves. But I don’t think there is anyone who can say in all honesty that they have never experienced some form of it in their lives.
I am not qualified to give advice on treatment, but I will explain what worked on a personal level. will be talking about the ‘dark cloud’. That’s how I define it. It’s a sunny day that is marred by the arrival of dark clouds. The reason I use this analogy is that it often arrives exactly like that.
You are having a good day, when for reasons unknown a dark cloud comes over you and all you feel like doing is curling into a ball under your blanket and disappearing.
This feeling sometimes comes after experiencing a traumatic event or when entering a new stage in your life cycle. Many women first encounter this dark cloud when they experience hormonal changes, such as the onset of their menstrual cycle or before or after childbirth or when pre-menopausal, and so on. It shocks you the first time you experience this feeling.
You cannot remember ever feeling so low.
My experience was particularly awful. I remember being in my car and having to park at the side of the road and just cry. I can’t remember the reason why, but I do remember the feeling of being so low. Luckily for me, I had the right support and was able to get through it with a lot of help and understanding.
Unfortunately, this was not the first or last time I met my dark cloud; it has come to haunt me a few more times since then. It usually shows up at times when I feel run down, or when I am experiencing hardship. How I cope depends on how I feel. Sometimes I push myself to go against the grain and force myself to get out; other times I don’t have the energy to fight the feeling and it takes enormous effort to get out of bed.
Baruch Hashem I have a very good back-up team, but even this is not always enough, and in such times I have suspected that my serotonin levels may be low.
My practitioner has prescribed serotonin supplements, which have worked for me (this will not be suitable for everyone; it is important to get individual medical advice). Vitamin D supplements can be helpful in the winter months when the sunshine is not strong.
One of the hardest things for me is speaking about this cloud. In the frum world, we look down on depression, even though almost every person comes into contact with it at some point in life.
We look at it in terms of people who can’t cope. But did you know that most people who experience depression are high-performing individuals? In truth, if you met me, you would never know I have suffered from depression. I am vivacious and extremely capable, yet when I get into this space it feels like the way people define me is not true.
I have lost friendships because of this; not because people are mean, but because I don’t always socialise and have become wary of forming friendships where I am expected to take part. This of course makes it harder to recover, as loneliness ensues and it becomes a vicious cycle.
So how can one change this story and find a way through the fog?
The most important thing to know is that you are not alone and that almost everyone goes through it at some stage. After that you need to talk to your medical practitioner to define exactly what you are suffering from. They can guide you to the right help. There are many forms of therapy that can make a real difference. Going for therapy is not a stigma; it is a game changer, especially when you get the correct practitioner.
The most important part of recovery is getting the right help. Talking therapies are good for some people, but not for all.
Your practitioner will guide you to getting the correct help. Note that if one person doesn’t work for you, there are others who will.
Explain to your family what you are feeling and tell them that you still love them but you are in need of space; you will be surprised at how understanding children will be. Find a friend you can confide in; they need to be understanding and trustworthy. Try to make a point of going outside. People don’t realise the importance of this.
Even if you sit in your garden or on your front steps, the air and daylight make a big difference.
Exercise is also helpful. If you feel able to do this, build it up gradually. Try to include food that improves your serotonin levels naturally, such as nuts, poultry and cheese and include more oily fish. Cut down on sugary foods, such as sodas, alcohol and junk foods.
I think the most important part is that you don’t think you are crazy. You are one of the majority, not the minority. You will see better times ahead.
During the long winter evenings, what one thing helps you keep yourself feeling uplifted?
I love reading, and when the long evenings come in I have a pile of books I try to go through.
Henny, from Brooklyn, New York, is a mother of seven who runs a successful business and teaches in her not-so-spare time.