The year the world turned 2000, I was 46 and midlife was upon me.
And I was experiencing depression.
A few people were stockpiling water and supplies, zealous about the potential devastation in the world. Others were impatiently awaiting spectacular fireworks on New Years Eve, toasting one another gaily with Dom Perignon. (Or perhaps a less pricey variety of the same beverage).
I made sure I had three months’ supply of Lexapro— just in case the first group was on to something.
Perimenopause was governing my world. I managed at work. But my husband couldn’t do anything right, and my mood could turn melancholy or dark. Lexapro was a godsend for all that.
I was happy in my marriage, delighted to be parenting our child. I had a career I loved.
Was this perimenopause, depression or both?
The obvious things, like hot flashes, were signs my body was going through change. No doubt about it. But there were other things in my life that I recognized as triggers. My mother, although still alive, had emotionally vanished due to a prescription drug addiction. A long-time kindred spirit suddenly abandoned our friendship. My practice could be exhausting, and I didn’t know how to say “no.” I was involved in way too many volunteer activities — all of them meaningful, but they took their toll.
And what in the heck was happening to my body? Yikes.
Midlife women lead the statistics on depression, with one in eight experiencing symptoms. That’s a little over 12% of midlife women. Doctors will say that menopause doesn’t cause depression, but it can certainly lead you into darker thoughts than you’ve ever had.
What happens when the supposed transition deteriorates into depression, or the two become entangled in a destructive way? Midlife Caucasian women, especially those that don’t live in metropolitan areas, are committing suicide far more than their counterparts.
Whether or not there is a hormonal issue is important, because of treatment options. But what’s happening to midlife women needs our attention.
Women talk but not necessarily about depression…
Women talk to each other. Yet telling someone who cares about you that you’ve thought about crashing into a pylon? Sharing with a girlfriend that you crawl back in bed and sleep until mid-afternoon? Believing, maybe hearing yourself say, “The only reason I don’t get in my car and drive away is my kids?”
That’s depression. And many will not admit it.
In a study that I conducted in 2014, the major reason why 1500 women wouldn’t seek treatment for depression? “Being seen as weak.” A recent email from a woman revealing her depression called it the “D” word. Yet depression is no different than other diseases, with tangible changes in brain function.
The problem is that you can’t see those changes without special testing. You don’t have a rash, or a broken bone. You may not even look much different than you always do to others, unless your symptoms are severe.
Depression is not a weakness of character. Quite the opposite. When you experience it, it requires strength to cope with it.
What do midlife women do to cope with depression?
I asked a few women to talk with me about their midlife depression. What was helping them begin to feel vital again? There’s nothing new or startling here — simply six common sense remedies.
Journaling— Taking the time to express and honor how you feel or what you’re thinking can be incredibly helpful, and often is a key to getting better. It can hurt more when you first start, so prepare yourself. There’s something about seeing your life in black and white that’s difficult. But hang in there, and it can help you travel through your experiences, instead of getting stuck.
Exercise— Everyone said that moving was vital. Any kind. Go bowling. Park your car in the farthest parking space. Get a yoga video. Just move.
Medication— Meds aren’t going to be for everyone. Sometimes the side effects are terrible. Yet they also can be transformative. They don’t do the work for you — they can provide enough fresh mental energy for you to make desired changes. Don’t forget the possibility of an hormonal impact, have them checked, and consider both traditional and holistic treatments.
Relationships— Connection with others, engaging with the people in your world is so important. There’s really nothing to replace giving to and receiving care from others. Relaxing, laughing, sharing. All is healing.
Therapy— I’ve received outstanding therapy. And I’ve received really crummy therapy. The difference was in the relationship. I wasn’t paying attention (with the crummy one) to whether or not I really felt understood — I was just going because I needed help. And then I got used to it. Assessing the relationship — feeling like the clinician’s attention is completely on you and your progress, is vital.
Getting objective and knowledgeable feedback is very different from talking with friends or family, who can’t help but have their own agenda. A good therapist can help you confront whatever it is that’s depressing you — your own view of the world or yourself, your relationships, or some trauma that has never been revealed.
Finding Purpose — This is huge. To know how you’re making a difference — why you want to get up and face whatever is in your life — is monumental. Sometimes you have to work to discover it.
Meditation can be very helpful in clearing your mind. And it only takes a few minutes a day.
It can lead you to that purpose that will fulfill you, and keep you engaged with joy.
If someone has been hanging in there with you for years, and loving you well, click here for “Marriage Is Not For Chickens,” the new gift book by Dr. Margaret!
You can hear more about depression and many other topics by listening to Dr. Margaret’s new podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford.
Photo by pedrosimoes7