Danquah, Vesel, Aguirre and Hawkins eventually used medication and therapy; equally important, they all made lifestyle changes. "I support medication, and I would go on it again if I needed to," says Danquah. But she was able to stop taking antidepressants two years ago and credits her continued health to the support of friends, regular exercise, a good diet and maintaining her spiritual health.
"I would take an hour before therapy and think about what I was going to say," she recalls. "After therapy, I would walk in the park or go to a museum—someplace where I could just be in my thoughts. I always went on Thursdays. That became my tranquil day. And then gradually that tranquility spilled over into Wednesday and then into my whole life—until my whole life became a search for tranquility."
Hawkins's discovery of a renewed religious faith was a major factor in her recovery. Her belief gave her a sense of her own power. That, combined with finding a doctor she could trust and the right medications, gave her insight into a lifelong pattern of negative thinking. "I realized that I was going to have problems all my life, and what mattered was how I dealt with them." Over the years, she has painstakingly worked at training herself to think more positively. "Medicine can help," she says, "but if my way of thinking doesn't change, I'm still going to be in the same situation."
Vesel still sees the same psychiatrist who first diagnosed her. Exercise also plays a role in her well-being—in her case, it's modern dance. "No matter how bad I feel, I go in there and know that for an hour and a half my mind is off myself."
As these women describe their lives, it's clear that change was hard work. But all four have opened their lives to joy. Danquah, who once couldn't be bothered to strap on her Rollerblades and go to the park, is in the middle of relocating herself and her daughter to Africa, where she has taken a teaching post at the University of Ghana. "I started by painting my living room yellow so it would get more light," Danquah says, "and I have plants all around me. My plants are a reflection of me." She laughs. "I don't reside here. I live here. There is life going on here."
Signs of low-grade depression
- You feel sad, dissatisfied or pessimistic most of the time, although you still have days when you feel normal.
- Your appetite changes.
- You're tired most of the time.
- You have insomnia or you're sleeping too much.
- You're harder on yourself than you should be.
- You're not working at your peak, and you're having trouble concentrating.
- Simple decisions somehow take forever.
- You feel that every day is more or less a struggle.
If you have at least two symptoms—especially the first one—see your doctor for a checkup, and if you're physically healthy, ask for a referral to a mental-health professional. If you have five or more symptoms and are also experiencing anxiety, feelings of helplessness and loss of interest in sex, your depression may be more serious. Seek medical help immediately.