Depression is a sneaky little bitch. Pardon my language, but that is the best phrase I can think of to describe it. When you are depressed, the narrative that depression plays in your head is so convincing that you are the reason for all of your problems that the lines between reality and the depression become completely blurred. The depression can’t figure out if you feel this way because of depression or are you just sad? To make matters worse, the longer that the depression narrative plays, the worse the depressive episode gets and the harder it is to get out of.
Sometimes the way you are feeling it is not because of depression, sometimes life just kind of sucks and you are sad. But how do you determine if life or depression is to blame? If it isn’t just life and it is depression, the sooner you can identify it, the less time it can steal from you. The only way to learn if what you are feeling is a result of depression is to become keenly aware of your personal symptoms.
Symptoms of depression can be unique to each person but generally fall into the same categories.
- Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. A bleak outlook—nothing will ever get better and there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation.
- Loss of interest in daily activities. No interest in former hobbies, pastimes, social activities, or sex. You’ve lost your ability to feel joy and pleasure.
- Appetite or weight changes. Significant weight loss or weight gain—a change of more than 5% of body weight in a month.
- Sleep changes. Either insomnia, especially waking in the early hours of the morning, or oversleeping (also known as hypersomnia).
- Anger or irritability. Feeling agitated, restless, or even violent. Your tolerance level is low, your temper short, and everything and everyone gets on your nerves.
- Loss of energy. Feeling fatigued, sluggish, and physically drained. Your whole body may feel heavy, and even small tasks are exhausting or take longer to complete.
- Self-loathing. Strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt. You harshly criticize yourself for perceived faults and mistakes.
- Reckless behavior. You engage in escapist behavior such as substance abuse, compulsive gambling, reckless driving, or dangerous sports.
- Concentration problems. Trouble focusing, making decisions, or remembering things.
- Unexplained aches and pains. An increase in physical complaints such as headaches, back pain, aching muscles, and stomach pain.
Many of the symptoms described can be attributed to normal lows of life, but the severity and length of the symptoms is what indicates that someone is suffering from depression versus general sadness. If someone is feeling a combination of the symptoms listed above for 2-3 weeks or longer, it is recommended to seek medical consultation as it can be an indication of depression. For someone who suffers from reoccurring depression, becoming familiar with your indicative symptoms can help identify and prevent an episode of depression before it becomes too serious. Unfortunately, it takes suffering through a few episodes of depression to learn your personal symptoms or signs. See what I mean about depression being a sneaky little bitch? You have to suffer through it a few times before you can really learn to fight back.
I recently made a change in my medication to finally wean myself off an old drug, Effexor (the story of the actual withdrawal process is one I will share another time) and this change in medication has led me to that crossroad of thinking “is this depression or am I just sad?” After a week or two of “this is just life and I am sad” I took an inventory of my symptoms and realized this wasn’t life, this was that sneaky bitch (depression) rearing her ugly head again.
The first symptom that I notice is a lack of concentration. Knocking out projects at work becomes tedious and I can’t seem to get anything done. This symptom doesn’t raise many red flags, because who doesn’t have a hard time concentrating from time to time? Next I notice that I have an extreme loss of interest in doing anything social. I bail out of every social event with any excuse I can think of just so I can spend my time in solitary confinement on my couch. This past weekend I stayed on my couch, weeping at the drop of a hat and feeling an extreme sense of loneliness. My head was telling me this was all my fault. I wasn’t worthy of having people love me which was why I was so lonely. Realistically, I know this is not true, but depression is so convincing that I believe it to be true and the message becomes so convincing that it causes me to ignore the huge red flag that my depression was coming back.
For some reason, it is the change to my morning routine that finally caught my attention and made me start realizing that the depression was back. When I am depressed getting out of bed in the morning is a monumental feat. This isn’t your typical lazy mornings, this is feelings of immense exhaustion and hopelessness of the morning. Now when this first starts happening I beat myself up for being so damn lazy. I think “you are 30 years old, grow up and get out of bed on time”. My whole day starts off on a negative thought and it tends to go downhill from there. The self-loathing narrative churns in my head all day and by the time I get home at night I am so exhausted from trying to fight back against the depression script running in my head that I have no energy to take care of normal activities like cooking dinner, doing laundry or cleaning the house. The exhaustion then leads to heading off to bed where I toss and turn all night and start the entire cycle over the next morning. Today I noticed that I was going on day 8 of the cycle and it was this fact that finally let me see that red flag flying and realized that the depression was coming back.
My first thought was how angry I was to be depressed now. At this time of year, when you just want to have a warm and happy time celebrating with friends and family, I don’t want depression to ruin it. And let’s be honest, that idyllic happy time with family that we all wish for is usually a mess of uncomfortable situations and never lives up to the dream that a Publix holiday commercial portrays (if you don’t know what I am referring to, YouTube one of their commercials and I guarantee you will cry). Adding depression to an already stressful time of the year is just dreadful and makes me want to curl up in a ball and sleep right through the holidays.
So what did I do? I called my Mother. Having a Mom who also suffers from depression means that she truly understands what I am going through and just having someone say “I understand how you feel” makes all the difference in the world. My next call was to my doctor so we can re-examine my medication and find the next solution. Then I came back here. Sharing my experiences and my thoughts allows me to accept myself and there is something about putting my reality out into the world that feels like a relief. I am grateful for those of you who listen, even more grateful for those of you who reach out with your words of encouragement and I hope that sharing my experience can help someone hear that “I understand how you feel”.