Too often, depression sufferers are stigmatised as weak and unstable individuals. The truth of the matter is that many depression sufferers are well-qualified individuals with responsible jobs. We spoke to three depression sufferers who are still successful in the working world. They told us about the courage and strength it takes to overcome the trauma of a depressive disorder.
Cor du Bruin, 52, is an Insurance Broker who has suffered from depression for 15 years. He is divorced and lives in Gauteng with his two children.
I first became depressed when I was 37 years old. At that stage, I was working as an Insurance Financial Advisor and was earning money on a commission basis. Although my business was going well, my marriage was falling apart and my ex-wife and I were in the process of getting a divorce. I sunk into a deep depression. The last thing on earth I wanted to be facing was a divorce case.
Thankfully, I won the divorce case and got custody of my son, then aged ten, and my daughter, aged six. However, the depression had already set in and I was starting to lose income every month as a result of my poor performance. Within the next 51/2 years, I experienced a total of 20 different traumas which really affected me. The traumas included the death of both my father and my mother, two very bad car accidents, the death of three of our household pets and the loss of all my money in the bank. I had lost almost everything except my house.
I began to sleep the whole day. I used to shake so much that I couldn’t hold a pen or write in front of other people. I experienced terrible anxiety and frequent suicidal thoughts. Finally, I went to see my local doctor who gave me a combination of medications to take. Unfortunately, I had a bad reaction to the pills. For a long time, I was very disillusioned with the medical health professionals I encountered. Over my 15 year period of depression, I have “fired” over 3 psychiatrists, 4 therapists and 9 GP’s!
It helped a lot to get in touch with the Depression and Anxiety Support Group who have a referral list of medical professionals that are in the “know” about anxiety and depression. The Support Group can be contacted on (011) 783-1474/6 from 8am to 8pm Monday to Saturday. I now have a very competent psychiatrist and psychologist to help me through my bad patches. It also helped to realise that I had to start working on myself again. I started to read a lot of books on depression and enrolled at RAU to study Christian counselling.
I feel that I am now coping and enjoying life again. My business has picked up and I have good relationships with my two children. I really enjoy reaching out to other sufferers and counselling them. I think one needs discipline to overcome depression. Often people live too much in the past, and they have to learn how to replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Time, self-knowledge, exercise and spirituality are all important in beating depression. I am now involved with the group and run my own support group in Southdale.
Mary is a 35-year old Senior Primary Teacher who has suffered sporadically from depression for the last 12 years. She lives in Witbank with her husband and two children.
In my youth, my dad always used to joke about my erratic temperament. However, overall I as a busy and confident youngster with an optimistic attitude to life. Then, in my early 20’s, a culmination of circumstances caused me to develop bad anxiety. I had bad reactions to medication I had to take for my allergies, was involved in a very threatening situation and was negatively affected by a close friend’s terrifying experience. I seemed to handle the traumas at the time, but in the long term, they took their toll on me. I developed panic attacks which then developed into severe agoraphobia. I was afraid to leave my house. At that stage I was dating my would-to-be husband who was very supportive of them. Luckily I found a self-help book on phobias and managed to work my way through it on my own. Soon, everything seemed to stabilise again and I got married.
Then, in 1990, I had to deal with another series of traumas. The traumatic birth of my first child coupled with the fact that our baby contracted a rare disease that could have been fatal, created a worrying scenario. As well as this, we moved and I found that I didn’t know anyone. Depression set in for months on end, but I hid if from my husband and my relatives. I wasn’t really sure what was happening to me. Eventually, I opened up to my husband who encouraged me to go and visit a local female GP. I was given some pills for a short period. The depression abated only to resurface three years later with the birth of my second baby.
The situations for my second bout of depression were very similar to those of my first. I experienced another traumatic birth and we moved to a different city where I didn’t know anyone. The future became very uncertain and this was the worst episode I had ever had. I remember going on a family holiday and feeling suicidal I was experiencing unbelievable anxiety and terrible insomnia. It was about this time that I realised the negative effect my mood was having on my children. This motivated me to go and visit a specialist in Pretoria who gave me medication and a short therapy course. It was the best thing I ever did. The depression lifted and I felt in control of my life again. I started working as a Senior Primary teacher at the beginning of 1997.
I find my work as a teacher very fulfilling and also help run a support group for depression and anxiety sufferers in Witbank. I have learnt through my experience that one shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help and support. I waited too long before I opened up to anyone about how I was feeling. At the same time, however, I am continually working on myself. You’ve got to be prepared to put the effort in to recover. I believe in a holistic approach to recovery – body, mind and spirit are all equally important in my eyes.
Feon, 52, is a practicing Chartered Accountant who has suffered with depression for the past eight years. He is divorced and lives in Boksburg with his one son.
If I look back, I would probably say that I’ve suffered from mild depression my whole life – kind of like the “Sunday afternoon blues”. However, I’ve always functioned pretty well and coped with everything that has come my way. In 1991, I was working as a group management accountant at a listed company, when my wife began to institute divorce proceedings against me. She started threatening that I would never see my children again, and this triggered off a major depression. My work suffered as a result, and I eventually went to se a therapist who told me that I seemed to be suffering from depression. I was very stubborn and denied it, but eventually I agreed to go and see a psychiatrist. The psychiatrist confirmed that I was clinically depressed and tried me on a variety of medications.
In May 1995 I found a medication that worked for me. Things have improved drastically since then. I have started up my own accounting practice from home which is going well. In retrospect, I feel that my experience of depression has been a very good growth experience. I’ve become a lot more aware of other people’s feelings. I’ve also learnt so much more about depression and can recognise it in others. As a result of this, I’ve been able to help a lot of people close to me who are suffering from depression. You can never really fight for somebody else, but you can be supportive and understanding in your approach.
I really don’t view depression as something to be ashamed of – to me its like somebody who has a problem with gall stones or kidney stones. I believe that depression is far more prevalent than most people realise