Keep On Running?

June 11, 2012 at 1:52 pm | Posted in depression | 4 Comments
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I was interested to read in The Guardian last week that exercise does not cure depression, although I very much enjoyed Simon Hattenstone’s enthusiastic dismissal of this theory.

I suffered from crippling depression in my final year at university. What triggered it, I cannot tell you: the shock at being back in England, perhaps, or the idea that it was time to work out what I was going to do with my life; certainly, discovering that the man I loved was in love with someone else did not help.

Initially, I retreated entirely behind that metaphorical black dog, smiling madly at everyone I met in the hope that I would start to believe that there was something worth smiling about. I thought of days in the way which Will does in About A Boy. Somehow, breaking them down into those precise ‘units of time’ satisfied the control freak in me. I thought that if I could control exactly what I did with those units of time, then I could also control exactly how I would feel at every moment of the day. Put simply, I believed that if I could reason with my sadness, then I could make it go away.

Eventually, I allowed my parents to take
me to an extremely unsympathetic GP in Leamington. He prescribed me fluoxetine, which somehow, when my scientist boyfriend told me it was Prozac, made me feel so ashamed. I had been taught by everyone I knew – my parents, my aunts, my teachers – that I led such a privileged life, and was so bright, that there was simply no reason for me to be depressed. ‘Snap out of it’ was a phrase heard frequently, and my deputy head brought up the ‘starving children’ and ‘broken limb’ comparisons on many an occasion. How some people are permitted into the teaching profession, I’ll never know.

But here’s the interesting thing: I don’t think either Prozac or exercise helped. I had become a total convert to the gym when living in Berlin the previous year, and would feel tremendous guilt if I didn’t go one day. But the problem was, whenever I left my flat, there was always the risk that I would burst spontaneously into tears. It would happen anywhere: the supermarket, a lecture, and yes, even at the gym. Perhaps exercise itself did help: it was trying to become stable enough to do any which was so challenging.

And Prozac: did that sort me out? Well, I suppose being permanently high was a solution of sorts: I wrote the best essays I had ever written, you couldn’t shut me up in my final year oral, and I think I left all of my written exams early, because I simply couldn’t sit still. Being completely manic at 5am was pretty interesting, and I was definitely instrumental in getting my friends in to the library: it was either revision or listening to my incessant chatter.

So I still have no idea what cures, or at least alleviates the symptoms of, depression. To date, both anti-depressants I have tried have only resulted in making me constantly manic. Worse still, Citalopram made me feel paranoid all day long, and as if tiny creatures were crawling all over me. When I told my GP this, she said that I should persevere. That day, I stopped taking them. That was eighteen months ago, and I’ve been more or less fine since then. And I think that on this occasion, my friends, ‘fine’ is a word with which I can live to describe my mood.

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