Over the last week or so, several friends have posted about depression. They have commented that the seasonal blues are coming on because of the gray weather. They have been brutally honest about lifelong or situational struggles.
This has been a difficult post to write because so many members of my own family, immediate and distant, have fought depression (and its ugly sister, anxiety) with varying degrees of success. There is such a fine line between honest discussion and oversharing/privacy concerns.
So let’s start with the basics. Depression sucks. It is a time-waster, an energy vampire, a heavy and laden weight. It is different for each individual, and thus difficult to define. Is it sadness? Is it fatigue? When many people think of depression, they imagine someone curled in a ball, crying their eyes out. They picture tears, sobbing, or a look of sadness. Perhaps they picture grief.
I once heard someone described as “always so happy go lucky” – who had just committed suicide. No one paid attention to the dark moods that came over him. “He could be moody sometimes.” Obviously, there is a serious disconnect between understanding when someone is feeling the blues and when they are clinically and deeply depressed.
What I am noticing more and more is that depression does not look like what we think it would look like. It isn’t always a person curled in a ball, hiding out. It isn’t always someone who looks sad. And we can feel deep depression and not recognize it in ourselves, because it doesn’t always look or feel sad.
It can feel anxious, without necessarily being an anxiety disorder. It can feel flat and emotionally dead. It can feel like the world is gray and dark. Sometimes it can feel sad, or grieving – without necessarily having a cause for the grief.
I did a very quick Google search for “What does depression look like” to get a fuller picture of others’ experiences. Google Images was especially helpful, with darkly amusing comics, happy faces with sad eyes (especially Robin Williams’), and charts that explain some of the more common symptoms or types of depression.
I think it is important for us to know what depression feels like, for our own benefit. And to know/understand what it might look like, so we can help loved ones. I have debated with myself at length about what to share, how much to share, and where to direct others to go. I don’t feel like I know enough to say, “This is good information,” or “This is utter bunk.” There is a very real risk in giving the wrong information and I would always suggest that someone dealing with depression would seek professional health.
But there is a deep thirst for knowledge, both from those who are fighting back the gray, clammy, cloud of depression, and from those who seek to understand the fight.
There is a desire to know – What is this thing, how can I help, how can we win?
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, these are the signs that it might be depression, not just feeling “down” or “blue”:
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
- Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Overeating, or appetite loss
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
- Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.
Appetite – too hungry or never hungry. For me, I’ve felt like everything tasted like cardboard. Yum.
Sleep – can’t sleep, can’t get enough sleep. Constant wakefulness is one symptom I’ve seen in others. I have dealt with lifelong sleep issues where I cannot stay asleep, and it gets worse when I have fought depression.
Aches, pains, digestion issues that resist treatment or diagnosis. Headaches, stomach pains…
Most of these are not sadness.
I call it “The Gray” because that’s how my world has seemed when I’ve dealt with it. Mostly my issue has been hormonal, but not always. I have noticed symptoms of anxiety that come along with depression, which is very common. The two are like the ugliest sisters you could imagine. One gray and somnolent, one spiky and frantic. No wonder no one wants to be with those two.
The thing is, depression can be fought. It is treatable. Medication works wonders for many people. Diet, exercise, yoga, meditation and even alternative therapies like acupuncture may help others. Statistically, most people are best helped through talk therapy and medication together, to handle both the physical and emotional roots of the disorder. It takes energy to fight, and energy is one thing depression robs us of – there is an ugly irony in that. This is why it is so important to seek help.
Choices for treatment are very personal, and everyone’s situation will be a little bit different. The important thing is for us to understand what the “gray” looks like – we need to recognize it in ourselves, and in our loved ones. We need to ask the hard questions – not just, “are you ok?”, but really let the people around us know that we see them. We can look up from our phones and our navel-gazing long enough to really see people. We can recognize when they appear different. We can recognize that they seem to be carrying a heavier weight.
There has been a lot of talk in recent years about coming right out and asking someone if they feel suicidal, so the conversation is beginning to open up about the truly hard topics.
I have not talked nor written a lot about my own depression for the same reason most people don’t – it is intensely private, and sometimes frightening. So, yes, I get it. If we talked about it, we might have to deal with it. And treat it. And get down to the nitty gritty business of admitting that we, or someone we love, needs help. And that is work.
But it’s worth it. And there is hope.
It’s time we talk about the gray. And it’s time we are honest about it.