Living in the Gray – You Might Have Depression and Not Know It
It’s the holidays. Everyone around me is buzzing with excitement and all I want to do is crawl into a hole and hide for the next 40 days. My anxiety is so high I can smell colors and taste sound.
I have been studying the field of psychology for almost a decade now. During that time I have watched the availability of information to the public grow and change. However, many mental disorders still remain a mystery to most people. The reason for that is we do a lot of educating about the “symptoms” of different disorders but we don’t do a good job of telling the story of what it’s like to actually live with a mental disorder. It’s time to share.
WebMD lists the symptoms of clinical depression as the following (paraphrased): fatigue, feelings of worthlessness or guilt, difficulty concentrating, difficulty remembering things, insomnia, irritability, restlessness, loss of interest in things once found enjoyable, unexplainable aches and pains, feelings of sadness, emptiness or hopelessness, persistent digestive problems, suicidal thoughts or attempts (https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/detecting-depression#1 ) The symptoms seem pretty straightforward and yet when I’m talking to others who suffer from depression, or reflecting on my own lifelong struggles with depression, I wouldn’t checked off all these boxes. Well, it depends on the day, really.
We have created a culture of making excuses. Working 40, 50, or even 60 hour work weeks is a norm for many people. Their jobs may be terrible and stressful. They may have children at home. They may have the constant overwhelming stress of living paycheck to paycheck. In other first world countries these problems are serious symptoms of a life that is out of balance and unhappy. But for Americans, we take it in stride. In order to achieve the American dream 50-70% of your day must be consumed by your job so you get the tasks done to get the paycheck to pay the bills. Your family needs the other 30% that is left over…often leaving one to make a choice between a good night’s rest or quality family/spouse/pet/self-time.
When you consider all of these factors it’s easy to explain away your symptoms. “I’m tired because the kids were up late” “things are really stressful at work right now” “I’ve got a lot going on in my personal life. Don’t get me wrong, these are legitimate reasons to feel the symptoms mentioned above. The problem comes when these excuses don’t go away. When work has been stressful for months or years. When the family drama goes in cycles and will never end. When kids grow up and the older they get the more attention they need from you. This is when any person can slowly, quietly, without ever noticing, slip into the world that is depression.
I wouldn’t tell you that I suffer from insomnia, but I do wake up at 3:00AM and have difficulty falling back to sleep. It’s like I’m in a loud, crowded room and I can’t get out. My brain is trying to process my day and weed out the unnecessary stuff but it can’t. Even though I am getting sleep, my quality of sleep is poor. I wouldn’t tell you that I feel sad and hopeless. The interesting part is I don’t feel anything. And you don’t really notice that you don’t feel anything until something happens that would normally make you happy or sad and instead you feel… nothing. The one emotion you have no problem feeling is anger. Yes, the anger monkeys come flying out of their castle faster than they ever have and for reasons that never bothered you before. It has been a long time since you laughed. I mean really laughed about something that was actually funny. You can’t remember the last time you looked forward to doing something you used to love to do like shopping, decorating, hanging out with friends or binge watching your favorite show. If we're being honest...you really can't remember anything. You lose things often, forget important dates, memories disappear. You’re getting up, going through the motions and counting down the hours until bedtime. You are a hamster on a wheel.
The world is the same and yet somehow different. The colors are not as bright. The sunshine is not as warm. The food is not as flavorful. You do not think about suicide per se. No, death is more like an exit sign above a door in your crowded room. You have no suicide plan but you often wonder what it’s like on the other side of that door. What would it be like living one day without all this rubbish?
But you say you’re not depressed because you’re still functioning…right? Who has the time or financial ability to be depressed? Depressed people lay around in bed all day. You don’t do that. You can’t do that. Bills have to be paid. That dream is waiting.
You talk to people but no one really listens. Share your struggle with someone and the conversation either A) becomes about them and their stories of a similar situation or B) they start naming off all of the “good” things in your life that you should be grateful for. How can you possibly be depressed when you have so much? Shame on you. Oh, here comes another emotion that’s easy to feel. Guilt. You make up your own reasons to feel guilty and people contribute to the garbage heap of thoughts. Now you feel guilty for feeling depressed.
It’s time to stop the bullshit. You need help. And that’s totally okay. Everyone needs help at some point in their life.
Do not feel guilty for being depressed. Depression is a medical condition and can be caused by a number of things. Sometimes situations that cause depression truly are temporary. Sometimes they have no end in sight. It doesn’t matter “what” is causing your depression. What matters is you are depressed. You need help. I am an advocate for pharmaceuticals because I know from my experience and of those around me that the right anti-depressant can help. Sometimes you will need to try a few different ones until you find the one that works for you. The process can take a while because antidepressants take up to six weeks to enter your system. They need to work on rewiring your brain. But they can work. I am also a huge advocate for therapy. I see therapy as a tool…someone you can talk to who will not judge you and has no motivation to help anyone but you.
The most important thing you need to know is you are not alone. It is not your fault. You cannot will away depression any more than you can will away a migraine, a muscle spasm, or anything else your body commits to. But you can get informed. You can stop beating yourself up for how you feel. You can stop buying into the guilt/shaming bullshit and create distance from the friend or family member that makes everything about them. You can get help. And I promise you, it can get better. Depression is treatable. It can be cured. If you have struggled with depression your whole life you can embrace that bitch. Know it is a part of you but it is not who you are. You can manage it. You can get the better of it.
This is not the end of your story. This is not all there is in life. There is hope.