THE BLOG
08/19/2014 08:22 am ET Updated Oct 19, 2014

Out of the Deepest Abyss: My Journey Understanding and Coping With Depression and Anxiety

Disclaimer: Any information provided is only marginal advice and not a substitution for professional advice. Please seek help from a qualified medical professional prior to taking any action such as changes in diet and/or medication. Use any information entirely at your own risk.

Like all Americans, I was heartbroken to hear about the suicide of Robin Williams. He suffered from depression and had substance abuse problems.

I hope that what I write about today will help others who also suffer from mental illness, as I do.

Depression is like being in the deepest abyss or cave, while above you, the light of the world goes on its merry way. Anxiety can range from a feeling of general nervousness to a full-blown panic attack. During a panic episode, you can feel like you are having a heart attack.

Here are some things I've personally discovered about depression and anxiety:

Seek professional help: Can't say that enough! If you don't like the idea of taking pills, there are licensed alternative health practitioners out there. Always check out their credentials and reputations.

We should not treat mental illness fundamentally any different from physical illness: There is a stigma that seems to go along with mental illness. Should we treat someone with depression any different than someone with cancer? Of course not. Both human beings need help, guidance and compassion.

This also applies to nearly any experience or feeling in life: Unless someone has been in your shoes, they can't really imagine what depression or anxiety feels like (empathy). The best they can do is show sympathy. The best I can do is use metaphor to describe my illness.

I've had both depression/anxiety since childhood: I recall feeling lethargic in the daytime, wanting to stay up late at night. On my first day of kindergarten, I had a panic attack while my mom tried to coax me on the school bus.

I also was having to fight off panic attacks while performing music in my twenties. This was going on when I was in the orchestra pit playing guitar or electric bass for a musical.

There may be a spiritual side: For me, the definitions below rings true that were given to me in an online chat "by chance." I don't necessarily think that "chemical imbalance" is actually describing the root causes of anxiety and depression, at least for me.

• Anxiety: Fear of the future. I've been told I am ahead of my time. I also think I can see the future of humanity on its present course and it's not a pretty picture. I'll fight until my last dying breath to alter this outcome of needless suffering and global devastation.

• Depression: Awareness of sorrow. After 9/11, the naturally empathetic me fell into a deep, profound, knock-a-dang-rhinoceros-on-its-ass depression for two or three years. Love of a spouse and new pets in our home saved me. The prescribed medications really did very little to help.

External factors can trigger or exacerbate bouts of depression: Lack of financial stability, malevolent governance, bad neighbors, etc., can also trigger or make depression worse.

How I coped with my mental illness is no different from anyone else: When I did not know I was suffering from depression/anxiety, I would use addictive behavior to feel better. Addictive behaviors can include self-medication, excessive shopping, being a workaholic, hyper-sexuality, exercising too much, etc.

We have jails and graveyards filled with poor souls who have gone undiagnosed, untreated and have harmed themselves and others.

When I was finally diagnosed, I tried a bunch of prescription medications. But every single med made me feel worse, and I felt like I lost my creativity. Thankfully, there are alternatives to the pharmaceuticals.

Depression symptoms are less severe at nighttime: My "insomnia" might in fact be I'm just happy to be feeling better and able to work.

Vegan diet and exercise have been a great help with my depression and anxiety: May of 2012, my wife and I switched 100 percent to a vegan, whole-grain, low-carbohydrate diet along with exercise. Not only has our overall health been excellent, my mental health symptoms are much less profound. I've not had a full-blown panic attack since and the depression is much less severe.

Before I was diagnosed, one of my addictive behaviors was over-use of cannabis: I have since learned what I should have done was controlled the amount and frequency of use to get the medicinal effect. Thankfully as an alternative medical therapy, cannabis is now legal in my state of Massachusetts. I'll consider this option when the system to distribute is in place.

Mental illness may be part of the creative process: Depression (awareness of sorrow) is part of my music when I play a jazz ballad on my guitar.

I'm not ashamed to share with the universe my mental illness: In doing so, I might help someone else to cope. But sharing might not be an option for everyone. Apparently, the Creator has placed me here on Earth to be an open book...

There's a lifetime of experience above to digest -- I have not suffered over half a century just to suffer alone. If you or someone you know is coping with mental illness, please reach out and get help. There are professionals waiting to guide you and a social media universe of wonderful souls to share your journey with.

This post first appeared here.