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Last Updated: Sunday, 19 February 2006, 00:20 GMT
Celebrity health - Gwyneth Lewis
Gwyneth Lewis (pic Tim Brett)
'I spent most of the day asleep'
In a series on celebrities and their health the BBC News website talks to Wales' first national poet, Gwyneth Lewis, about her battle with depression.

Ms Lewis, who wrote the inscription at the font of the Wales Millennium Centre, was inaugurated as the country's national poet last April.

She has written six books of poetry in English and Welsh and two non-fiction works.

Her first - 'Sunbathing in the Rain: A cheerful book on depression' - dealt with her battle with depression.

HOW DID YOU FIRST REALISE SOMETHING WAS WRONG?

I had been fending off feeling low for a while but one morning I got into the car to go to work, started crying and couldn't stop.

I came home, went to bed but then everything crashed.

My mood plummeted and I could no longer get up, talk or get dressed.

My husband started to call me 'Woman in a Dressing Gown' as I spent most of every day asleep.

That period of coming back to life was immensely exciting. One day I went out for a pint of milk and came back with a black sparking evening dress and a furry hat
Gwyneth Lewis

From being an efficient person who could write reports and get things done, I became a sort of zombie.

I found myself in this emotional desert, a person I didn't recognise.

It was very frightening. Looking back, of course, I could see the depression creeping up on me.

I remember noticing that my short-term memory was letting me down and making me do careless things.

HOW DID YOU GET DIAGNOSED?

I thought I should go to the doctor when I found myself screaming at my husband "I need drugs!"

I knew that positive thinking wasn't going to get me out of this mood.

Fortunately, my GP took the depression seriously and signed me off work.

He was very firm about needing to treat myself as if I were recovering from a major illness.

The diagnosis was no surprise, because I'd had a number of run-ins with depression in the past.

These had been relatively low-grade, but I'd been in therapy for a long time to help untangle some emotional knots in me.

The severity of this episode shocked me, however.

WHAT WAS YOUR REACTION TO THE DIAGNOSIS?

Dread and relief. I know fully how serious an enemy depression is.

We have it in our family and I knew that it has its own, absolute schedule.

I had been running away from low spirits for a long time and I'd finally come to the end of my resources.

So, giving up was the most positive thing to do in that situation, letting the depression have its own way with me.

I've often found that resisting it only makes it last longer.

WHAT WAS YOUR TREATMENT?

I was put on an SRRI (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitor) anti-depressant, which really helped me to get my emotional feet under me again.

I had been in therapy, and I continued to work at that, when I was able.

Millennium Centre
Her poem is written large on the millennium centre

Gradually I began to feel like myself. This only happened for maybe ten minutes a day at the beginning, but these became longer stretches.

I was off work for months. But because I felt guilty about being ill, I tried to go back too soon, with the result that I ended up even longer at home.

HOW DID YOU FEEL DURING TREATMENT?

Terrible. When you're depressed, you feel as though you've died emotionally.

You don't want to do anything that interested you before, you are a stranger to yourself. It's like living on the moon.

Little light, no colour, nowhere to go, except for your own lunar module. It's impossible to describe.

All your perceptions are distorted, as if you were seeing the world through a hall of mirrors.

Gradually, though, the rest and the anti-depressants did their work.

One milestone was cooking the first meal, which took me all day, but which was very satisfying.

That period of coming back to life was immensely exciting.

One day I went out for a pint of milk and came back with a black sparking evening dress and a furry hat.

HOW DO YOU FEEL NOW?

Very well. I'm fully alert in my own life, which isn't true when you're depressed.

Since suffering so much, I've changed my life that it's hardly recognisable.

I took redundancy from my job and went freelance as a writer.

This was an ambition I'd had for a long time, but hadn't dare act on.

Also, at the age of forty, I learned to sail. Life hasn't been easy, though.

My husband and I decided to go sailing round the world and had a very demanding voyage to North Africa, where he was diagnosed with cancer.

I nursed him through his chemotherapy without getting depressed myself.

WHAT IS YOUR MESSAGE TO OTHER PEOPLE WITH THE SAME CONDITION?

The most important thing is to find a GP who understands depression and who will take yours seriously.

There is no need to go through hell on your own, there are things that help. But run a mile from anybody who tells you to pull up your socks.

You may feel as though you're the only person to have fallen down a dark well, but you are not.

You won't always feel this way, it will pass. And the last thing is to remember that feeling depressed - clinically depressed, not just a little blue - is a disease and not a character failing.

It is also an indication that you may need to change how you do things, and that can be immensely valuable.




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