Some Common Symptoms: Feelings of hopelessness and despair, changes in activity and energy levels and low self-worth, “cloudiness” in thought process and complaints of cognitive impairment, changes in sleep patterns – whether it be sleeping too much…too little…or dysregulated sleep patterns, changes in appetite – whether it be overeating or having no interest in food at all, loss of interest in hobbies and passions that one once found enjoyable, suicidal ideations, a numbness to emotions; it is believed that these types of symptoms must persist for at least two weeks for it to be considered depressive disorder – but bouts of depression can often last weeks and even years, with many sufferers dipping in and out of depressive states.
Donnie was an only child, born in Brazil, whose parents immigrated when he was only 5 years old to Nashville, Tennessee. He grew up speaking three languages, Spanish, English, and French – which he picked up from hearing his parents speak around the house. His parents were in their early 40’s when they had him, and both enjoyed very successful careers as orthopedics, previously in Brazil. However, they chose to come to the US, initially, to give Donnie more opportunities and to open an orthopedic clinic in Nashville, mostly catering to underserved communities.
Donnie’s parents noticed early on that he was a quiet child. He didn’t immerse himself in many of the activities that other kids in their community found exciting such as sports and video games. His parents chalked up this behavior to Donnie being a little different than the other kids in terms of where he was born, the languages he spoke, even how he looked a little different given his South American roots. Donnie reluctantly participated when his parents strongly encouraged it, more than anything to appease them. He never seemed to look forward to anything social like birthday parties or concerts his parents would take him to, and even more heart-breaking, despite how he was showered with it, he never seemed to show love and emotion back to his family. Nonetheless, they adored him, and hoped things would eventually turn around.
Donnie’s parents noticed when he was a teen that, despite his apparent above-average intelligence, his grades were amongst the bottom of his class. He complained, about having difficulty concentrating and absorbing even the simplest of concepts in each subject – so it wasn’t like the problems he was experiencing were related to his lack of motivation for any one particular topic. He was having trouble sleeping at night and his parents would find him on the sofa watching TV at 2am, because he couldn’t fall asleep. He would tell them his mind was spinning and he could ‘t stop thinking, so he was using the TV as a distraction. He also hated getting up in the morning and would get in trouble at school for falling asleep in class – which seemed like a result of his insomnia from night time. They also noticed Donnie was eating only half of what was on his plate for dinner, and was losing weight rapidly.
Donnie’s parents tried to talk to him about getting involved in some clubs or sports, but he was always complaining when he got involved in activities, that it felt like a chore more than something enjoyable. Being doctors themselves, his parents decided to go that route to look for answers. They took Donnie to get tested for autoimmune diseases because friends and colleagues kept mentioning that maybe Donnie had Lupus, or to even get tested for indicators of chronic fatigue. Frustratingly, all the tests he took came back negative, which stumped almost everyone.
Donnie became more and more withdrawn as High School went on. He would come home from school and his sleep patterns changed drastically once again, where he would sleep all afternoon, after complaining he didn’t feel well. He made comments to his parents like – “I’m no good,” and “unlike many of my friends who are great in sports, I’m worthless to the school and even to you.”
Donnie’s dad had a friend who was an integrative psychiatrist and suggested that Donnie come for a visit to see him…that the physical complications he was feeling may have been emotion-related – and could be linked to something like depression. Donnie’s parents were floored by the suggestion. Their thought was: “We’ve given our son everything, he is smart, handsome, what could he possibly depressed about?”
What the dad’s friend explained was that there didn’t have to be something specific they had “done to him” that “caused” Donnie to be depressed, but that rather that the depression could be organic in nature, could be related to the stress of adjusting to a new community and surroundings at such a young age, or any other stressor in his life they might not even know about. His parents felt better at that explanation. Despite being doctors themselves, they still looked at depression as though it was something they may exclusively have put on their child, and that was the last feeling they wanted to have, after having moved to Tennesse to provide for an even better life for him.
After meeting with this doctor, it was determined that Donnie was, in fact, dealing with depression. Apparently, not only had the fact that he “looked” a little different than the other kids in his community been a source of prolonged stress, but Donnie revealed that he obsessed about the ways he could better fit in and never really felt comfortable talking about it. He thought if he told his parents going all the way back to elementary school, that he didn’t feel “good enough” in certain sports or activities compared to others, they might not want to stay in Tennessee. He was afraid of putting “that guilt” on his parents, so he held in his feelings, and obsessed over them. Then, when it came time to do activities, he was already so emotionally strung out from these thoughts, he didn’t have the energy to even try to participate.
This psychiatrist recommended a number of STARR Practices to “re-center” Donnie’s central nervous system. He began by teaching him various integrative breathing practices and even took him through Cognitive Behavioral Training sessions, to help him “replace” some of these negative thoughts he’d been having since childhood. Progress certainly came over time, but through practice and meeting with this doctor regularly, Donnie is now feeling much better. He’s enjoying life as a civil engineer, still in Tennessee, though he has a place of his own. He still “falls back” and gets overwhelmed every so often. However, he’s able to better notice the signs now, and do more of these practices which he knows provide a good baseline for him to feel the best he can, given his circumstances.
Learn STARR Exercises that can help those of us with Depression: