I’ve referenced depression a number of times on the blog and elsewhere: it’s not a secret that I’ve been suffering from depression for a long time. Of course, while I say it’s not a secret, some might still be surprised to hear it: at first glance, I might not come off as particularly depressed. There are a few reasons for this: first, I’m usually what’s considered a functional depressive (more on that in a second). Second, not everyone has the same understanding or idea of what to expect from depression. I don’t really blame anyone for that: there is very little general education about mental health issues, and how mental health issues present can vary greatly from person to person. Hence, this blog post: a little peek into my head, and how things manifest for me.
Depressed vs Depression
Take this with a grain of salt: these are my own interpretations and distinctions. If some of it resonates with you, I hope it’s useful. If it doesn’t, that’s okay, too: it doesn’t need to jive with your own feelings/experiences for both of our experiences to be valid.
There are lots of reasons you can get depressed: having a stressful time at work, getting broken up with, not getting that promotion, a death of a friend or family, you name it. These are totally valid reasons to get depressed, and it’s normal and healthy to feel that way. It usually passes on its own, either through time or through help (temporary medication or therapy, talking with a friend, various coping mechanisms).
Depression (more specifically, chronic depression) is when it doesn’t pass on its own, and may not even have a particular triggering event. It often is related to a chemical imbalance in the brain, which is why medication is often suggested. I’m not going to get into the medical side of things here: there are plenty of articles that explain all that better than I can.
The thing about chronic depression — and this is my own feeling about it, to be clear — is that it’s a lifelong affliction. Like alcoholism, once you’re sensitized to it, it’s always there. The best you can do is to be vigilant about it. There will never be a point where you’ll get up and say “I don’t have depression anymore.” Instead, it’s “Well, I’ve not had a depressive relapse, and I feel like I have a good handle on things right now.” Also like alcoholism, where others might be able to have the occasional drink, you don’t have that luxury. If you get depressed, the likelihood is that you won’t naturally come out of it.
I mentioned this earlier, but I wanted to give it more time and attention. There are a variety of ways that depression can manifest, some more severe than others. A lot of common perception of depression is the idea of someone wrapped into a blanket, sleeping all day, unable to smile, crying all the time, unable to function in society. That perception isn’t wrong, but is also only one way it can manifest. Mental health issues can come out in a wide range of ways, depending partially on severity, and also on the personality and nature of the person experiencing them.
Personally, I’m usually what is considered a functional depressive. This is usually identified as a low grade depression, where you’re still able to largely function in society: you get up, you go to work, you pay your bills, you even sometimes see friends, and can generally come off as someone who isn’t depressed.
Except you are depressed. You’re doing what you need to survive, but not to thrive. It takes all of your energy just to function, leaving little room for enjoying your life or thinking about the future. You’re unhappy, but you march on — maybe you figure it’s just how life is, and that everyone feels that way. (Guess what? Not true!)
Traits of My Depression
So, how does my own depression manifest? Physically, it comes through as low energy. Going and being social takes a lot of energy (I’m also an introvert, so this was already true, but consider it the difference between a sip and a gulp — I drain much faster now, and it takes me longer to recover). The idea of physical activity just seems exhausting. I’m prone to oversleeping. That said, I still go out, I still do things, and I (usually) don’t spend ALL day in bed.
Mentally, there’s a lot more going on. There’s a low-grade anxiety around crowds (even of friends), fears of letting others down, and generally avoidance of taking on additional burdens (which combined with the fear of letting others down leads to waves of guilt and frustration because you’re reluctant to say no). I don’t enjoy things as much as I used to, and find it hard to commit to doing something. I tend to be a bit more distracted, find it harder to focus on a specific task. I also at times feel more irritable and agitated than usual (I’m usually pretty laid back, but when dealing with a depressive episode, I’m a bit more prone to ranting, and feeling more acutely what I perceive as injustices or unfairness against myself or others).
I find it hard to build and feel deeper connections with others. I still care about people, though, and crave those deeper connections and conversations, which all leads to a feeling of desperation and awkwardness that makes it harder to get those connections. The result is that I’ve been consumed with immense feelings of loneliness and isolation. I’m going to let you in on a secret: at pretty much any time of any day, chances are good that I’ve got a dull ache in my chest, like that feeling right before you break down in tears.
I feel like an alien most of the time, like I don’t really fit in or belong. (In fairness, that might not be the depression, but I figure it’s probably worth mentioning.) I feel like I’m mediocre, that I’m nothing special, and generally ambivalent (leaning negative) about my own wellbeing, success, and happiness. And I lock a lot of how I’m feeling up inside because I assume no one wants to hear it.
Upsides and Suggestions
As much as the depression can suck, there are upsides: I’m still generally functional, which is more than can be said for many! I’m more self-aware than most, and have worked hard to learn to identify when my brain is lying to me and to challenge the more severe depressive thoughts. I may not love myself, but I don’t hate myself either. I don’t physically self-harm (I can’t in good conscience say I don’t mentally self-harm: my oversleeping is an avoidance tool to avoid having to deal with my life, and I have severe difficulty bringing myself to do things for myself to improve my life, like making doctor’s appointments, exercising, practicing more healthy behavior, et cetera). I can still see good traits in myself. Things could be a lot worse, and I’m genuinely grateful that they aren’t.
I also wanted to give some concrete suggestions at the end of this for folks who might have read all this and said “Uh, now what?” In short: you’re under no obligation to deal with my shit, and I have no expectation for you to do so. I’m not looking for pity, and I don’t expect you to behave any different around me.
- If you feel like talking, or reaching out, even if it may be awkward at first, do it. It can be inane, random, day to day rambling, or sharing deeper thoughts, or whatever. Going into a conversation because you want to share something with someone else, disarmed and unguarded, is both a huge sign of trust and also (personally) very endearing. Those of you that already do this: Thank You. I’m sometimes lousy at responding right away, and don’t always convey how much it means to me when you reach out, but seriously, it means a LOT.
- I don’t mean this in a creepy way, but help me break down my physical barriers. I’ve spent the last few years with very little physical contact, and when you go that long, you forget how to initiate it. Don’t force yourself or anything, but if you feel like giving me a hug, give me a hug.
- And if you really want to be amazing, reach out to others, too. So many people are lonely and depressed and suffering silently, you may not realize just how much the simple act of connecting with them and reminding them that you care can mean. Remind the people who you care about and value that you care about and value them.
- Initiate hangouts, especially smaller ones. I’ve never been a huge fan of crowds, and even less so when I’m working through a depressive episode. I’ve been terrible at bringing myself to reach out and set up times to hang out. Please don’t wait for me to set something up if you actually want to hang out (I’m usually pretty good about reciprocating and initiating, but again, for right now, it’d mean a lot).
This whole post was hard to write. It feels inherently selfish to be talking about all this, but after a lot of thought, I decided it was important to write down and post this. Hopefully it gives some more perspective on another view of depression, and also some insight into what’s going on in my own head.