Middle-aged adults share their experiences with depression

Updated 2 years ago on October 17, 2022

John Moe, 53, St. Paul, Minnesota

"It took the form of contained rage."

Writer and radio journalist John Moe was in his 30s when he finally realized he had suffered from depression since childhood, he says. "I thought depression was just crying a lot and lying in bed. I could always get out of bed."

Instead, he felt "a kind of built-in hopelessness that I just took for reality. Moe responded to this fear with jokes or, often, anger. This reaction continued into adulthood: "It took the form of restrained rage, like road rage. I never got out of the car or even honked my horn. But it was just a madness that possessed me.

As the pressures of marriage, parenthood, and career increased, his depression (and anger) increased. He began to withdraw from friends and other close relationships. "My friend would call me and say, 'Hey, do you want to go get a beer and watch the game?' And I'd say no, because I thought, ' Well, I'm not going to be a good friend to him. I'll let him down . "

Moe's wife finally encouraged him to seek help, and a psychiatrist diagnosed him with textbook depression. And with the diagnosis came relief, he says. "It wasn't a character flaw. It wasn't a weakness. I thought, ' Oh, I have a disease. It's what I have, not what I am."

Since then, he has been taking a variety of antidepressants, many of which help temporarily - his psychiatrist periodically adjusts the prescription - and he sees a psychotherapist regularly.

But what helped the most? Talking about it and helping others. Moe has devoted his career to dispelling harmful misconceptions about depression and getting rid of the shame of it-the shame that he believes contributed to his brother's suicide in 2007. "He thought [depression] was his fault. ... So I thought: if more people talked about it as a normal thing, then maybe he would talk about it more and get help. ... If we don't talk about it, people die."

In 2016, he began hosting the popular podcast The Hilarious World of Depression, in which he interviewed comedians, including Patton Oswalt and Mike Birbiglia, about their depression; in 2020, he wrote a book of the same name about his experiences (read our excerpt). His current podcast, similar to " Fun World," is called Depresh Mode With John Moe. His motto? "No shame, no stigma, and more laughs than you'd expect from a podcast about mental health."

How he copes: In addition to talking as much as he can about the reality of depression, Mo says, "I try to move my body. I just got back from a four-mile walk with the dogs, which I try to do five times a week or so. Most of my work involves listening to audio recordings, interviews. So I just put my headphones on and go for a long walk with the dogs, and while I'm walking I do my work."

Maria Olsen, 58, Fairhaven, Md.

"It felt like my being, my soul and my consciousness were hovering overhead, watching me perform all the actions."

When you think of the cautionary phrase "Depression makes no difference," Maria Olsen comes to mind. Successful and intelligent, with two loving children, she may be the last person one would expect to struggle with this disorder. But Olsen, a civil rights attorney, has dealt with depression at various points in her life. She experienced her first serious depressive episode in her 20s, after a "heartbreaking" miscarriage. The depression eventually passed, thanks to a combination of talk therapy and a new outlook on life. In 1992, Olsen was appointed to a position in the U.S. Department of Justice during the Clinton administration, becoming the highest-ranking political appointee of Asian Americans.

Years later, her father's stunning revelation plunged her into a deep depression. "Suddenly I became silent and hardly spoke for a year - and I'm an eloquent extrovert," Olsen says. "My son would cry and say, 'Mommy, please talk! I just couldn't get a word out." There were days when her husband would leave for work and the children for school, and she would sit and stare off into the distance until it was time to pick them up. "My body was there," she recalled, "but it felt like my being, my soul and my consciousness were hovering overhead, watching me perform all the actions. I was a ghost of myself."

When her children entered their teens "and started pushing me away," Olsen felt a new sense of despondency descending on her and began resorting to alcohol in search of relief. By 2012, at age 49, she was drinking two bottles of wine a day. My husband started finding bottles and said: "If you don't go to AA, I'm going to have to ask you to quit."

She began attending meetings and spent time in rehab. She also worked hard to get rid of her depression using a combination of talk therapy, yoga, meditation, and journaling. She worked with a dialectical behavioral therapist (DBT is a type of cognitive behavioral therapy that teaches patients to manage their emotions, tolerate stress and improve relationships) and tried various 12-step programs.

The medication part of the equation was complicated. It took several months before Olsen found one medication that helped: Zoloft. She got better and stopped taking the drug for two years, but earlier this year, experiencing her partner's cancer diagnosis, she resumed taking Zoloft and returned to talk therapy.

How she copes: She has incorporated meditation into her daily life. "Because I'm a busy trial lawyer, that doesn't mean setting aside an hour out of my day, sitting in a lotus pose, humming or being silent," Olsen explains. "For me, it means taking deep, cleansing breaths to refocus myself throughout the day. I use the traffic light as a cue to take deep, cleansing breaths. I often do a 15-second meditation: inhale for a count of four, hold my breath for a count of four, exhale for a count of four. It forces me to be fully present. I can't concentrate on the breath and worry about the future or worry about the past at the same time.

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