I am a victim of the mental disorder known as Clinical Depression. I know this today, but the road to learn exactly what was not right inside my brain was a long and winding path. This is my personal story.

As a child, I enjoyed some things about life, but as an intelligent child, I found I was easily bored and always looking for excitement - not risk-taking adventures, just excitement, fun, something more. I was an only child and turned to books where I could live the exciting life I wanted vicariously. I blamed a lot of my depressed feelings on the fact that I didn't have playmates living nearby or I didn't get along with my father - reasons outside myself.

I actually thought everyone felt exactly like I did. Never once did I think that I was not 'normal' in the way I felt. I recall telling friends I was 'looking for the bright lights and big city', but I hated big cities.

As I grew up, I found that jobs were boring. I liked the paychecks but the work wasn't challenging at all and didn't provide excitement. Weekends began a period of dread of the coming work week. Now, you might say I had the wrong job. But I was working closely with the Space Shuttle program, so how much more exciting work could one expect to have?

I was a good worker and didn't miss many days due to my depression, but occasionally I felt I had to have a 'down time day' where I would just lie in bed and read. Having a good job, I had the personal and vacation days as well as sick leave days to be able to do this on a limited basis. I didn't think it was abnormal and no one else mentioned they thought it was odd. I said it was 'a mental health day'. Little did I know how true that actually was!

Then the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded on launch with my favorite astronaut onboard. For some reason, I didn't experience the depression one would expect from this tragedy. Instead, I felt somewhat excited - something was going on, things were shaking, there was a big to-do. I did begin to realize, after the initial shock wore off, that feeling the way I did about this disaster was not exactly normal. I grieved, but I also found the excitement almost like a drug.

After several failed marriages, beginning to develop a drinking problem and having TMJ (a disorder where one grinds their teeth in sleep), I talked to my employer's Employee Assistance Program (EAP) counselor. I was frustrated with life and really didn't see a good reason to live life much longer.

The EAP counsel referred me to a psychologist who performed a battery of tests including the MPI Profile. This long test asks the same questions over and over in different words so that you can't skew the outcome. My results reflected clinical depression. My counsel did not refer me a psychiatrist, however. She began to teach me relaxation techniques, deep breathing and coping skills. This had no effect other than I became able to go to sleep more quickly. All my problems were still there and slowly growing as time passed. This is the normal progression of clinical depression

Eventually, I dropped the counselor and shortly after I met a friend who was clinically depressed. I didn't know this about her. I was talking to her about my feelings and she drew me a picture.

It looked like this:

Normal Depressed

I looked at this picture, pointed to the one on the right and said, 'That is ME!!' Normal people have emotional ups and downs, but they are about equal in extreme. They become very happy over a joyous occasion, and very hurt or depressed over a death of a friend or loved one. Depressed people go toward the low extreme a lot and seldom or never reach these joyous peaks of a 'normal' person.

This prompted me to call a psychiatrist and ask for an evaluation. He obtained my medical records from the psychologist so I didn't have to go through a battery of testing again. Upon meeting the first time, he assured me he could truly help me with my problem and explained about brain chemistry.

Depression and many other mental illnesses are caused by imbalanced chemicals in the brain. By correcting this imbalance through medication, the imbalance can be corrected. I learned that just like diabetes, this is a disorder that has to be managed on a daily basis. If I neglect my medication, I will go back to active clinical depression. It's a disease and I have to accept it and manage it as such.

The very first medication he placed me on was effective within two week as far as my mood stabilizing and improving. For the first time, I understood what 'happy' felt like! However, there were side effects such as lack of sex drive and weight gain. I discussed this with him and he changed to an equally effective drug that worked very well with no side effects. I'm taking that medication today, after years and years. I simply couldn't go back to my old depressed lifestyle.

Do I never get depressed? No, there are bad days for people, no matter what, including me. But now, my bad days are offset by good days in a more or less equal equation. If I have a bad day, I know tomorrow will be better - or the day after. My energy level is higher because I enjoy life more now.

Looking back, I know why my marriages failed. I was hard to live with, never wanted to go out and do anything because I knew I would be disappointed. I no longer need to escape by using alcohol, even socially. Alcohol doesn't mix well with antidepressant medications, so it is good for me to avoid it entirely.

I've changed careers, moved, had some true joys and some true heartaches. I like life today and accept life on life's terms. I still love a good mystery novel, but I don't live vicariously through it. I just enjoy it to relax at night before bed. People like me better. I'm not saying everyone likes me, but more people interact well with me today and I am able to maintain and nurture friendships based on fair expectations.

I've shared the picture I drew for you with many people over the years since I learned about my depression. Several people have gone to counseling and have learned they have this same disorder. Others found they had another problem. Yet others said the 'normal' picture was their life.

If you look at that picture, and like me, point to the 'depressed' picture and you too say, 'That is ME', I can't encourage your strongly enough to seek professional help. Your life will be better for it! You will never regret finding the right help for your problem!