<bt>"Hell" is how 30-year-old Jan describes what was happening to her before her breakdown in February.
"I think many people who suffer from depression or manic depression would agree, depression robs you of your ability to view life as anything but hard and painful," said Jan, who lives in Leesburg. "It took a major breakdown for me to finally get help."
Jan, who was diagnosed with bipolar two, or manic depression, went on short-term disability until she could return to work in June. At about the same time, she joined a support group sponsored by the Sterling/ Reston Chapter of the Depression and Related Affective Disorders Association (DRADA), which formed in May.
"I love the fact that there's a place for people [who] have affective disorders or depression to talk about what they are going through," Jan said. "That's the worst part, not being able to talk about it. You feel so alone."
Traci, a Loudoun County resident, who participates in the group, agreed. "It gives me a sounding board, and it's almost like you know you're not alone. It's a terrible feeling to feel you're the only one going through this."
TRACI started the Sterling/ Reston Chapter of DRADA after attending a one-day leadership training session on leading and facilitating meetings for the support group. The training session was sponsored by Johns Hopkins Medical Center, which founded DRADA 20 years ago.
"I started the meetings because I knew I needed support, and it was a way to give something back," said Traci, who facilitates the twice-monthly meetings, which last two hours.
Traci makes sure the meetings move along and that each of the 10 to 20 members who show up has a chance to talk. Members use first names only when they sit in the discussion circle, since the meetings are kept anonymous.
"The purpose of the meetings is to allow people to share their experiences, to vent their frustrations and to ask questions," Traci said. "They need to be able to talk about it, get feedback from other members on how to deal with similar situations."
The members can learn about different coping mechanisms and lifestyle adjustments, Jan said. "It also helps me to help other people. I'm in a very good place right now," she said. "I'm back at my job, and I'm productive, and I feel good about myself, so I can help others know that 'Yes, I've been down that hell. I know what you're going through, but it won't last forever.'"
Members can empathize with one another since they may have been in similar situations. Family members and friends may be limited to showing sympathy not having gone through the situation, Traci said.
Alan, who lives in Annandale, said the meetings give him a sense of community, "connecting with other people who have depressive-related disorders."
"I can always have a place to go," Alan said. "People can understand what I'm talking about." He occasionally attends the Sterling/ Reston chapter meetings and leads the Springfield chapter meetings.
MEMBERS of the support group range in age from 16 to middle age, with the majority of the members in their 30s, Traci said. "It's an open-door policy. Some people will be regular members. Some people will come once and never come back," she said. "For me, it's been a lifeline. I'm grateful for the group."
The members are diagnosed or self-diagnosed with depression or an affective disorder, which is a mood disorder and a form of depression. Affective disorders include seasonal affective disorder, unipolar depression, bipolar or manic-depressive illness, major depression and rapid cycling of quick mood changes.
Depression and affective disorders are a sign of an imbalance of brain chemicals called neurotransmitters, according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA). The illness can be genetically passed or triggered by high levels of stress or traumatic life changes. It can be brought on by another illness, altered health habits, substance abuse and hormonal changes, DBSA said.
Symptoms of depression can include a persistent sad mood, a change in appetite or weight, difficulty sleeping or oversleeping, energy loss, feelings of worthlessness or inappropriate guilt, difficulty thinking or concentrating, and recurrent thoughts of death or suicide, according to DRADA.
Bipolar disorder includes episodes of depression and episodes of mania. The mania episodes involve an abnormally and persistently elevated mood or irritability accompanied by three additional symptoms. The symptoms can include an overly inflated self-esteem, decreased need for sleep, increased talkativeness, racing thoughts, distractibility, goal-directed activity done to excess such as spending money, physical agitation and excessive involvement in risky behaviors or activities, as stated by DRADA.
DRADA is a nonprofit support group that does not charge dues or fees.