Introduction to reactive depression
“Depression” was not a word in my vocabulary growing up. I was a pretty happy kid, did well in school, and had a loving family. It wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties that the ugly specter of depression entered my world.
Looking back, it’s clear my depression didn’t come out of nowhere. It was a reaction to some major blows life had dealt me in quick succession. My dad passed away unexpectedly. My long-term boyfriend dumped me just weeks later. I lost my job due to company downsizing.
In hindsight, I was ripe for a situational depressive episode given the traumatic events. But at the time, I was completely blindsided when the symptoms began creeping in.
What is Reactive Depression Anyway?
I’d never heard the term “reactive depression” before. But basically, it refers to depressive episodes triggered by external stressors, like grief from losing a loved one. The difficult life event kicks the depression into gear when we don’t have adequate coping skills to handle the challenge.
For me, it was that triple whammy of death, heartbreak, and job loss that sent me into a downward spiral. The depression seemed to appear from nowhere, but in reality, it grew out of my uncontrolled response to crisis and trauma.
How I Knew It Was More Than Typical Sadness
At first, I thought my sadness and despair were normal reactions to Dad’s death. The grief was staggering during those initial weeks. But eventually, I could tell the depression had become more than grief or garden-variety sadness. Some of the symptoms I began noticing:
- I couldn’t stop crying, sometimes out of nowhere
- I was sleeping too much or too little
- My appetite was non-existent
- I withdrew socially from friends and family
- I felt constantly fatigued yet restless
- Suicidal thoughts entered my mind now and then
When everyday activities like grocery shopping or showing up for dinner dates with friends seemed exhausting, I realized I was depressed beyond normal bereavement. I knew I needed help.
Coping Strategies That Helped Me Turn a Corner
As scary as that time was, I learned valuable lessons about coping with situational depression that continue to help me today. Here are some strategies that worked:
- Counseling with a therapist trained in grief and emotional crisis. She normalized my feelings and helped me healthily process loss.
- Antidepressant medication was prescribed by my doctor, which took the edge off my symptoms so I could function.
- Reconnect with friends who check in on me and know the signs if I’m spiraling again.
- Letting myself cry or journal to release bottled-up sadness rather than suppressing it.
- Exercising regularly again – even just short walks to boost my mood through endorphins.
- Saying no to unnecessary obligations that exhausted my mental bandwidth.
- Planning pleasant distractions like movies or day trips gave me things to look forward to.
- Focusing on self-care basics – regular meals, proper sleep, spending time outdoors.
- Joining a grief support group to share experiences with others going through loss.
- Rediscovering purpose by volunteering at a local animal shelter – caring for the dogs there gave me motivation.
- There Were Still Hard Days After the Crisis Passed
Getting back on my feet took sustained effort over many months. I still had periods of backsliding where the darkness crept in again. When this happened, I’d draw on my coping toolkit to turn things around – calling a friend, allowing myself a cry session, and scheduling an appointment with my therapist for a tune-up session.
While I couldn’t instantly fix the grief or heartbreak, my goal was to get through each day and honor my feelings while also nurturing my health. Remarkably, the sun did come out again – it just took perseverance, self-compassion, and help.
What My Experience Taught Me
Looking back now eight years later, I’m incredibly grateful I made it through that harrowing reactive depression. Today, I have the wisdom that comes from confronting your demons and learning you can survive.
I want anyone struggling with situational depression to know this: What you’re feeling is real, but temporary. With time, self-care, and support, you can heal and feel joy again. Be patient and gentle with yourself. Persist through the darkness, and keep hope alive.
My wish is that we all gain awareness about reactive depression. It can arise in any life, especially after trauma. But there are so many ways to dispel the shadows if we just keep walking one step at a time.