I’ve been wanting to write this post for awhile. I planned to write it shortly after the one on anxiety, but just about that time I learned of the death of Robin Williams. Not wanting to look like I was comparing myself to Mr. Williams, or add to the already numerous articles about depression, I decided to wait a bit. I want to be very, very clear, what I am describing is my personal experience with depression. I am not in anyway comparing myself to anyone. Nor should you take my experiences as gospel for what other people feel. It’s very much an individual thing. Here’s what it feels like to me:
- My blood feels like it was replaced with cement. It’s hard to move, hard to even get up out of a chair. Activities that I do every day suddenly seem overwhelming.
- Likewise, my brain feels like it is coated in molasses. The synapses feel like they just aren’t firing like they should – like everything has to pass through goo to work. My thoughts are slowed down. It’s an effort to think. I even talk slower.
Here is something important – I don’t feel sad. Because the symptoms mimic sadness, I think it is something that is misunderstood about depression. Mostly, I’m apathetic. Sadness and emotions? They take too much work. When I am depressed, I don’t have the energy for emotions.
You see, I think “Depression” needs a new definition. Thinking about depression as sadness is the wrong way to look at it. Here’s a better way: imagine there is a pipeline that pumps happiness, joie de vivre, energy and motivation into you. Everything you do during the day uses a bit of that energy, but it is okay, there is more coming in all the time. Now, imagine that someone has “depressed” a button or a plunger that stoppers that pipeline. All you are left with is a tiny, tiny pool of energy at the pit of your stomach. Your instinct is to protect that pool since every single thing that you need to do draws from that pool: from getting out of bed, to getting dressed to eating food. It all sucks that energy away. It feels like if enough energy is sucked away, you won’t have enough to breathe, or even keep your heart beating. To make things worse, you have absolutely no idea when the depression will go away and the energy will return.
The thing about sadness is that it eventually goes away. The body can only sustain true grief for so long before it turns into other things – anger, frustration, even gallows humor. Depression is different, there is no way of knowing when it will end. It feels like it is coming from the outside – as though someone else is inflicting this – and you don’t know why. It’s heartbreaking. It is also so frustrating to know that something that was so easy a few days ago, suddenly seems so hard.
I’ll give you an example – I’m sort of a foodie. I love great food and I enjoy eating. I’m also a planner, so I have preplanned out what meals I have available for the week. It’s not so strict as to be a daily plan, but it’s a list of what’s ready to make in the fridge. Recently I had a morning where I woke up depressed. I won’t go through what it took to get up and get going, but when I got to the kitchen I realized I didn’t have the energy to make breakfast. I thought I’d have yogurt instead. And I found myself standing there, looking at the silverware drawer, completely drained by the very idea of how much energy it would take to get out a spoon. A spoon! It isn’t like my silverware drawer is in a safe! This thought actually ran through my head, “Why bother? And I am just going to have to eat again later.” It all seemed so pointless. And believe me, eating has never seemed pointless before! In fact, I am convinced that that is why most “comfort food” are things that are easily chewed and don’t require many utensils. Think about it. Comfort food used to mean the casseroles and foods of our childhood, but it’s grown to mean things like fast food. I swear that’s because no one who is depressed has the energy to make a roast or their mother’s apple pie – they barely have enough to pull through the drive through. (I don’t actually eat fast food, even when depressed, but I get it. Boy, do I get it.)
Here’s one more example – I drive a stick shift car. I don’t usually think anything about it. If I do, it’s that I love my little rocket ship of a car, but when I am depressed, the idea of having to go from second to third and back again, just seems ridiculous. It’s so draining!
I have a lot of things to be grateful for, however. For me, depression is a fairly recent thing. It is not something I have suffered with my whole life. I also have a wonderful group of people in my life who are incredibly supportive, including my boyfriend who has been awesome. I’m getting help, I am privileged enough to have a job that affords me good health insurance and I’m seeing a therapist. My truly bleak days have become fewer and fewer.
There is one other thing I am grateful for – my love of fitness classes. They help tremendously. I’ll write about it more later, (I have a whole post planned on this subject,) but I’m finding that regular exercise is helping me keep the thunderclouds at bay. I’m glad I discovered that while I am still all new and excited about it, rather than when things had become routine. I’m not sure it would have been quite as effective.
If you know someone who is depressed, give them a hug, bring them a meal, and give them a ton of credit. They are probably doing the very, very best they can.
Photo credit: Priyambada Nath via flickr