I have been writing this post in my head for a over week now. I thought the title could be misconceptions about depression because that's kind of where I'm coming from, but that's a terrible title for a post on a blog like mine.
Especially after Robin William's suicide I noticed a lot of people speaking up about depression - and that is such a good thing. We need the vocabulary to communicate with each other what is going on - and the freedom to do so without stigma.
Before I go any further I want to be clear that I'm no expert on depression, causes, treatment or whatever. I know that my experiences with depression have been far from exhaustive. I'm only describing my own personal experience because I know I feel better when I write honestly about my experiences and I feel better reading other women's experiences with depression because then I remember that what I'm experiencing is pretty common and that makes me feel that much less alone.
I don't feel sad
I feel like it's a common misconception that depression = sadness. People who do not suffer from depression sometimes say "oh I'm so depressed" when what they really mean is that they are feeling sad or having a bad day. When I am having a bad day/week/month/year I may or may not be aware of feeling sad. It's more like I just don't feel anything at all. I once read that people who suffer from depression have this chemical imbalance in their brain that keeps them from being able to experience pleasure. I get that. I totally get that. I remeber standing on a beach with my family, watching them smiling and laughing and thinking "this is great - I should be loving this" but I didn't feel anything, except for maybe stressed out. That is what makes me sad. I don't suffer from depression because I am sad, rather it is because I suffer from depression and am often unable to enjoy the things that used to bring me pleasure that makes me sometimes feel sad. I try not to think of my depression as emotional, or spiritual or mental either. I think of it as physical - chemical imbalances in my brain. Thinking about it this way puts me in a position to try to do what I can to be less stressed out, better rested or whatever.
I do feel exhausted
When I am having a bad day/week etc. I feel exhausted. All Of The Time. Getting out of bed is harder because I feel like I have lead in my bones and soup in my veins. Making up my mind is harder because I get "brain fog". Eating is harder because it requires making up my mind, so I often find myself skipping meals simply because I couldn't decide what to eat. Sleeping is harder, I just lay there awake, unable to fall asleep. Going to the store is miserable because I struggle to maintain my train of thought, especially if I have my five
distractions children with me. Yesterday I stood at the meat counter for ten minutes trying to decide which package of ground beef to buy for spaghetti. I am pretty sure the guy behind the counter thought I had lost my mind. Making decisions and following through is called "executive function" and it is also something to do with brain function. When I am having a bad day my executive function is really weak. Also my social anxiety really amps up. When I'm having a bad day being anywhere with a lot of people really stresses me out and I find myself mentally running back home as soon as possible. I'm already kinda awkward and shy but when my depression is bad my shyness turns into full blown social anxiety. By the end of the day my body aches, especially my joints, I'm overwhelmed and stressed out because all day long every little thing that I usually do easily has been hard. I want to be alone, with a book or maybe a movie. Or I want to take a bath and go to bed because I am totally mentally, emotionally and physically out of fight.
The first thing to go when I'm having a few bad days in a row is my sense of perspective. There are days when I my entire existence seems like a failure, because, oh I don't know, my kids ate white bread instead homemade freshly ground wheat. But a lot of the times I settle into the thought that I'm fine. Really, I'm not that bad. Which usually means I'm not as depressed (sad/hopeless/suicidal) as I have been in the past, so I'm going to ignore what is going on with me right now and pretend everything is fine, because really, it's not that bad. Wrong. When I find myself telling myself "it's not that bad" it's a warning flag for me that my perspective has probably started to drift. I remeber vividly the first time I did the depression self-assessment and actually had it scored. I was blown away by how high I scored - because I felt like I was in a pretty mild state of depression and it made me stop and think. Maybe it's not as bad as it has been or could be, but for the sake of all the people who have to live with me, I should take this seriously. I feel like this is the worst part about depression, like the numbing agent a mosquito uses before it bites - loosing perspective is the first part of depression that means I can get into a pretty serious funk without even realizing it. I can look back at seasons and think what was going on here?!! and it was because I'd lost my perspective.
I can't just "snap out of it"
I think that one of the most common misconceptions about depression is that there is some element of choice. Like if I somehow just kept my chin up and counted my blessings I would snap back to normal. But I can not choose if I am depressed or not, any more than I can choose to catch the flu or suffer from allergies. I can not will myself out of this or choose not to be like this. This is how life is for me, and a lot of people like me. Some days are just a little (sometimes a lot) harder than usual. I can however choose how I respond and what I will do to make my symptoms better or worse. I can try to eat well, get outside and keep up with social activities or I can go into a depressive death spiral and withdraw (hide) live off of coffee, potato chips & ice cream and Netflix. Change is really hard, really slow and painfully difficult because I easily loose my momentum. I get some inertia going and then stall out. It's insanely frustrating. I wish I could just "snap out of it" but I can't.
I don't have any kind of magic bullet for curing my depression. I notice I do better when I am eating fresh fruits and especially raw veggies, when I get some exercise, get out of the house, and have a little time with friends. It helps. Making plans and having goals are good for me too, something to look forward to and work towards. Sticking with my small group of friends has been really really good for me. Speaking up, and letting my closest people, especially my husband, know when I'm struggling is important too. It's important to be honest, even though it's hard.