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Signs of Depression - Explaining the signs

Updated on August 18, 2011

Before finding out I was suffering from depression, I never understood what it meant to have this disorder. I never understood why the doctor would have to ask so many question in order to tell me what was wrong with me. I often did not understand a lot of the questions as I was unable to process everything (I didn't know it was a sign). Sometimes I would ask questions about the questions I was being asked because I would feel comfortable enough with the person sitting in front of me. At times, I would discover the person isn’t as understandable as I expected and would often feel the effects of depression setting in deeper. I decided, because of reactions like that, when I had a clear head, I would sit and explain each of the symptoms and try to explain what a person with depression is going through.

Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness –
A bleak outlook – nothing will ever get better and there’s nothing you can do to improve your situation.

Who hasn’t felt helpless or hopeless at one point or another in their lives? The difference is when you have depression, the feelings come often and they overpower any other thoughts you may have. You could be the most optimistic person in the world, but if depression hits, there’s nothing you can do to make your mind think anything other than you’re helpless and hopeless.

What does the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness feel like? It feels like you’re lost in the middle of the forest, don’t know how to get out, have no way of figuring out how to get out, and it’s starting to get dark. You don’t know what to do. The feeling of wanting to curl up into a ball and cry is the only thing you can think of right now. You feel like you’ll never get rescued and you will eventually expire there. You feel like nothing good will happen, so you’ll just have to live with whatever happens to you.

A lot of times, the things people say to you do not help at all, no matter how encouraging or comforting they may be. The feelings continue because you don’t think that person understands what you’re experiencing. When you feel hopeless, it’s like there’s nothing left for you to do in this world. You feel like you’re just “taking up space” and existing, rather than living.

Those feelings are often the feelings that come over me first – the other feelings are already there, but the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness comes and goes depending on what’s happening. There are times when they’re worse than other times, for what reason, I don’t always know. There are days when I’m able to deal with the feelings better than other days, which usually means I’m able to control all of the other feelings that come up.

Loss of Interest in Daily Activities -
No interest or a lessoning of interest in former hobbies, pastimes, social activities, or sex. You’ve lost your ability to feel joy and pleasure in anything.

This one is a hard one to get over. You don’t notice when it starts to set in, it just happens at its own pace. You may start to notice that you don’t like something as much as you used to or that doing something that would have normally caused you to jump for joy barely makes you smile. You may also notice around this time that you sex drive has decreased. You partner will usually notice it at first, but if you’re a busy person and have a run of excessive activities to do during a certain time, neither of you may notice. The simple joy of sex also decreases. If you do have sex, at times the feelings you would normally have do not happen anymore. I would compare it to just going through the motions, without feeling anything.

How does it feel to have a loss of interest? You don’t actually feel anything. You may have a feeling of frustration because you know you enjoy football, but all of a sudden, football seems a big bore. But as for losing interest itself, there is no real feeling. For myself, I did not have any feelings (other than frustration at the loss of interest). In this case, there’s no use in trying to beat yourself over the head to try to enjoy the activity, hobby, etc. again. It will only cause you more unnecessary stress to try to get back those feelings you lost. Although I don’t find joy in a lot of the activities I once did, I still continue to do them because I would rather continue doing them and not feel joy than to stop all-together and feel frustrated with having nothing to do. The decision whether to continue your hobbies/activities is up to you. Consulting with your therapist may help in making your decision.

Weight and Appetite Changes –
Significant weight loss or weight gain.

This was another sign I first noticed when I realized I had a problem. My appetite changed and although I continued to eat semi-normally, I had lost about 30 pounds. Now some of you are probably wondering why I would complain about losing that much weight? I didn’t exactly complain, I was happy to lose some of the weight as I was trying to get back into shape, but it did make me worry because I had lost it all in a month’s time. Normally, when getting back into shape, I can lose about 10 pounds a month, depending on what activities and exercises I’m doing. At the time, I was only walking, doing yard work, and cleaning around the house. It wasn’t enough activity to make me lose that much weight, and I hadn’t cut down on my eating much either.

I noticed the weight loss, but, again, I wasn’t going to complain about it. Then a couple of months later, the opposite happened – I gained weight. In fact, I gained back all 30 pounds! I was pretty unhappy about gaining back the weight as I was happy when I lost it all. It was then that I realized I had a problem – not a weight/eating problem, but there was something else affecting my weight. What it was, I still had to discover.

How do you know any of the weight loss or weight gain was not due to exercise or in a change in the amount of food intake you have? Okay, the weight gain may be due to the amount of food intake I have, but what about the weight loss? I currently do as much (if not more) activities than I did at the time I lost the weight, except now I haven’t lost any weight.

Changes in Sleep Pattern –
Trouble falling asleep, staying asleep, sleeping too little or sleeping too much.

Insomnia is a big word that comes out quite often. I have had trouble sleeping for a few years now, but didn’t think anything of it. I had 3 different jobs at one point and thought it was because of all the things going through my head and all of the stress that I wouldn’t be able to sleep. No matter how tired I was, I just could not get to sleep or stay asleep. There were days when I was so exhausted, and when I finally managed to fall asleep, I’d only get in 2-3 hours (if even). Then I would have trouble staying asleep. I wake up many times during the night to toss and turn. Some people think my bed is the culprit, but even with the most comfortable bed possible, I am still unable to sleep through the night. I’ve tried different beds, but none have worked. Then there are times when I oversleep. When I do oversleep, I’m usually out for 10-12 hours (sometimes longer). There are times when I plan to use my weekend to do work around the yard or the house, but sleep in so long that I end up wasting the rest of the day away.

How do you know your change in sleep pattern is not due to a change in diet? Or a change in stress level from your work, your family, and your social life? Those questions are easy to answer. I have absolutely no change in diet. I eat the same things I did when I was younger (and without any “issues”), even better than I did back then, and I try everything to be as healthy as possible. A change in stress level, on the other hand, could very well be the culprit. Recently there have been a lot of changes going on at work, with a lot of people left confused, scared, and on edge at the possibility of losing their job. There has also been a little bit more stress at home. I’ve moved twice in the last 3 years due to stress, some of which I had no control over. That’s when I wonder if all of the stress is what caused my depression to come on. It makes sense.

Anger and Irritability –
Feelings of agitation, restlessness, or even violence. You have a lower tolerance level, you have a short temper, and everything and everyone gets on your nerves.

This is one of the last things I noticed when I realized I was really dealing with Depression. There are just some people who get on my nerves for being a certain way. I don’t know why – I can’t explain it, but just know it happens. I accept that it happens and was able to understand that people are the way they are, you can’t change them. Lately, I haven’t been so understanding and would often shut myself off so as not to have to interact with the person/people.

How do you know your anger or irritability is actually anger and irritability? How do you know it is not pent up frustration from trying to cover up how you really feel? Or that it’s not frustration built up from other experiences? You’ll know your really angry and feeling irritable because you’ll want to cause pain or harm to a person for no reason at all. Something as simple as a person laughing wrong can cause you to go “off the edge”. You’ll know it’s not “pent up anger” because you’ll often notice it is someone you don’t even know – even someone you’re passing on the street. As much as you don’t want to get upset, you can’t stop the feelings. Anger and frustration are not normal feelings. The feelings don’t just appear out of nowhere – they happen for a reason. But with depression, there’s no way in controlling it – it just happens. There’s also no way in getting rid of it on your own.

Loss of Energy –
Feelings of fatigue, sluggishness, and being physically drained. Your whole body feels heavy and even small tasks are exhausting or take longer to complete.

This one is another symptom that is hard to deal with. You may not notice it at first, but eventually you’ll notice you’re feeling tired and it’s hard for you to move. You may have gotten a full night of sleep, but when you wake in the morning, you feel as if you never went to bed. The rest of the day, you’re dragging yourself around just to get things done. The feeling is like trying to do something (like washing the dishes) when your body is telling you it’s time to sleep right now. There’s nothing you can do to combat the feeling. Energy and caffeine drinks will only work for so long to keep you semi-awake, but the feeling of being drained never really goes away. The feeling of being physically drained is very hard to live with. No one wants to live life feeling tired all the time.

Is there a change in activity or a change in diet that may have caused you to feel fatigued or physically drained? Although many of us go through changes in our family life (a new baby, family trouble, a death in the family, etc.), changes in our jobs, the human body does this marvelous thing where it adjusts itself to get accustomed to any changes. It can take a couple of days to get adjusted, a week, or even a month or two, but by the time you realize it is not a change in lifestyle, the other symptoms have already begun to set in. Doing something as simple as playing with your child is now a huge undertaking. As much as you love your child and want to play with her/him, it’s become very difficult to move.

Self-loathing -
Strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt. You criticize yourself for you faults and mistakes.

This is often one of the hardest feelings to get past because you feel like you don’t deserve anything. You often nit-pick every one of your faults and criticize yourself over and over again for all of your mistakes. Something as simple as saying the wrong word can often send a person spinning throughout the day, trying to convince themselves they are not stupid, it was a mistake, but why did he/she make that mistakes?, what is wrong with him/her?, why this or why that?

What is the difference between the feelings of worthlessness and guilt? Often the feeling of guilt is stronger. It’s harder to convince yourself or a person who has guilt that he/she is not a bad person. Though he or she may have made mistakes and is not perfect, it is not as bad as it seems. Whereas a person who feels worthless can often be convinced that it is not as bad as he or she thinks it is. I often find myself nit-picking at something that happened months or even years ago. I question myself as to why I did something or did not do something. I cannot stop thinking about it for hours, days, even weeks. No matter what I do to convince myself that I am not as “stupid” as I think I am, I cannot stop thinking about what happened. Sometimes, I get on myself for thinking about what happened so long ago and why I got on myself about it when it was in the past. It’s a hard symptom to deal with. Feeling worthless is just as hard to deal with as a person can often feeling like they don’t deserve to be around people because of their imperfections and because they make “stupid” mistakes.

Reckless Behavior –
Engaging in behavior such as substance abuse, compulsive gambling, reckless driving, dangerous sports, or even excessive spending.

It’s hard to pinpoint these to being something only people with depression do because there are a lot of people do these activities with no reasoning behind them other than the thrill of it. Of course, when a person turns to a substance, starts gambling for the thrill of a win, drives recklessly or takes on a dangerous sport because he/she does not care about himself/herself, or even spends excessively large amounts of money for no reason at all, there must be a reasoning behind it. Most times the people who turn to some sort of reckless behavior use it as a means to escape from life and the things happening in it. Often times, the thrill or the rush of adrenaline of the experience helps the person to feel alive again. If you remember one of the symptoms mentioned earlier, people with depression lose interest in a lot of activities. When someone finds an activity that makes them feel alive and takes them away from whatever may be happening in their life, he/she will often continue to do it because they are drawn to feeling again.

How do you know a start in substance abuse, compulsive gambling, reckless driving, dangerous sports, or excessive spending is depression related? Could it be possible that a person realized they have an interest in those things? Most people do not wake up one morning and think about using drugs. When a person thinks about drugs, they are thinking about a way of “escaping” from life and everything going on in it. Drugs are the quickest solution to escaping and often one of the easiest ways for a person to get that feeling of euphoria they so desire. Compulsive gambling is hard to pinpoint because people are compulsive. Although, if a person never had an interest in gambling all of a sudden takes up an interest in it, then it could be possible they are trying to gain that “escape” or gain that feeling of euphoria. Reckless driving and dangerous sports are not quite as easy to pinpoint as being a means of escaping from life. Many people like the thrill of danger, so a person cannot say only people with depression do it. Dangerous sports are fun to do for some people. Reckless driving can also be something “fun” to do. There are many movies out now that glorify racing and doing stunts/tricks with your car. Because of the popularity of these movies and the stunts/tricks done in them, it cannot be said that a person who does them is suffering from depression. There are many people who do stunts/tricks for a living. Although, if a person does reckless driving and dangerous sports with the intention of getting hurt, it is quite possible that he/she is using it as a means of escape. It may also be an attempt at ending his or her life, which is another symptom as well. Now, excessive spending may not be something you would think is an effect of depression, but when a person constantly feels the need to spend money just to “feel good”, there is a reason behind it. There are scientists who believe spending money can cause a feeling or euphoria for some people, and that feeling can give the person with depression enough of an escape to feel good about themselves enough for just the tiniest bit of time.

As with all behaviors, they have to be continued in order for a person to feel “normal” or feel anything at all. If a person is forced to stop a behavior, it can cause more trauma to the person than it would be to let the person continue on doing what he/she was doing. Although, if the person’s life is in danger because of any one of the behaviors, then it is not just a means of “escape”, it is now a cry for help.

Concentration problems –
Trouble focusing, making decisions, or remembering things.

Trouble focusing can be a hard symptom to deal with. If you’re a person who is in school and/or works, you know how much you need to focus on what a person is saying, what a project is, on your work, or on anything at all for that matter. If you find yourself struggling just to listen to your boss explain a new project or a professor explaining a historical event, it’s nothing to go running to your physician about. Some people normally cannot focus at certain times of the day, after eating, or when he/she is bored. Everyone goes through this at one time or another, but when it affects your day and when you know it’s something that interests you, but you cannot keep your attention, then there may be something going on.

Making decisions can be hard, but if trying to decide something simple as “Blue bag or the red bag?”, “Where shall I eat for dinner?”, or “Do I want to wear my white shoes or my black ones?” becomes a difficult decision, it may be time to sit back and think about things. Have you always had a problem making decisions? I know when I find making simple decisions like that frustrating, it’s not because I don’t want to make the decision, it’s because I can’t. We have all spent a lot of time thinking about what to wear because we want to impress someone, but when you have a set wardrobe for work and still can’t decide what to wear you may be having a problem. It can be something as simple as deciding what to eat to deciding which house to buy.

Problems with remembering can be quite irritating when you start to forget important things, especially people’s names. Although problems remembering can be attributed to age or other factors, when remembering things becomes excessive and to the point of affecting your life, you may need help. How do you know its depression related? One of the things I noticed is I forget things that are important to me - happy, exciting, and important memories. No one wants to forget those kinds of memories. I’ve also forgotten sad, unhappy, and traumatizing memories. Those types of memories I do not mind forgetting, but when someone asks me what happened that made me so upset or caused me to leave, I cannot remember. I often feel “stupid” for not remembering either type of memories as they should be forever imprinted in my mind, but they aren’t. I’ve even had people ask me if I remember something we did together. Sadly, I sometimes do not. It’s hard when you realize you’ve forgotten something that means a lot to you.

Unexplained Aches and Pains -
An increase in physical complaints such as headaches, back pain, muscle aches, and stomach pain.

You wake up one morning, feeling pain shoot throughout your entire body. You have no explanation for you it – you hadn’t been out partying and you hadn’t been doing any strenuous activity. The pain continues through your body the entire day. You try to get through the day with pain killers, but they don’t help much. You notice you have an increase in headaches and stomach aches. Again, you have no explanation why either of those are happening. You continue to do what you have to do because you know you have to and you continue to do what you want to do because you want to continue on with life despite the pain. You notice your back aches a lot more as well, but again, you don’t know what caused it so you continue on hoping it’ll pass.

This was the very first symptom I noticed – pain. For a while, I was always having upset stomach. No matter what I did (exercise, relax, etc.) or what I ate (dieted a few times, ate “stomach calming” foods, etc.), the symptoms never went away. I learned to live with it because I thought that’s just the way my body is. Then I woke up one morning and realized my body ached from head to toe. I could barely get out of bed. I thought I must have really busted my hump the day before, but when I remembered I barely did anything the day before, I was left clueless. Then the headaches followed along with the back pains. Again, I tried to live through them. If they got too out of hand, I would take a pain killer or two to try to get through my day without feeling totally uncomfortable. Unfortunately, they didn’t always help.

I’m sure some of you are asking, so what am I using to alleviate the pain I feel every day? Not a lot. Again, if the pain gets too much to handle, then I will take a couple of pain killers to try to dull the aches. They don’t always work, so I try not to use them too much as I do not want to get addicted or have my body get adjusted to them. For stomach pains, there isn’t really anything you can do. You can eat “stomach calming” foods, but they don’t always help either. This is one of the symptoms you either have to live with (if you don’t want to take any of the medications the doctors prescribe) or you have to take medications. Although, one of the turnoffs of the medications the doctors prescribe is they can cause symptoms as well, sometimes more than what you already have. I am not saying prescription drugs do not work or will absolutely cause you to because sick, I am saying there is a possibility. You have to consult with your doctor and read all of the side effects. If you feel the risks of the side effects out-weigh your current symptoms, then that is something you have to talk about with your doctor. Most doctors will insist on prescriptions to help alleviate the symptoms you do have and if you should have any new symptoms, he or she can help you to alleviate those as well. Again, I insist you speak with your doctor.

Thoughts of Suicide –
You think about ending your life.

Thinking about ending your life is not a normal thought. It is not normal to want to die. Certain events may cause you to temporarily think about ending your life because it would be easier, but if the thoughts come on a regular basis and happen multiple times a day, it is definitely time to get help. There are many free help lines that will get you through this rough time. If you do not trust talking to someone you are close to, at least take the time to talk to someone at a help line. You can remain completely anonymous, if you choose. You do not have to tell the person on the other end of the line anything you do not want to tell her/him. Those people are there to help you get through the situation no matter what it takes or how long it takes.

How do you know these thoughts are real? There are times in all of our lives when we lose a person and wish we could be with him/her, but realize that person has passed on and in order to be with him/her, we have to end our own life. Most people stop at the point of just wishing to be with the person, but never do anything to act upon the thought. The difference with a person with depression is, almost always, when that person has a thought of suicide, he or she will act upon it. I cannot tell you how it happens, other than the thoughts “appear” in a person’s head and he/she feels the need to act upon them. These thoughts often come up during a time of high stress or during a situation that causes the person to feel sadness, anger, pain, or any type of suffering. These “triggers” cause the person to feel uneasy and think the only way to end all of the suffering would be to end their life. Once the thoughts are in the person’s head, it can sometimes be hard to get them to change their mind. Often times, the people closest to that person can actually make things worse, not better, as the people closest to that person think they know the person well enough to know what is best for that person. Often times, the person doesn’t even know what’s best for himself/herself. Their mind is so controlled by the thoughts of suicide that he/she cannot even see that you are there to help them. It’s best to get professional help if you know someone with suicidal thoughts.

This hub is in no way, shape or form a means of diagnosing yourself or a recommendation for getting treatment. The intention of this hub is to help everyone understand depression and what a person with depression may be experiencing. If you feel like you may have depression, please get help. If you know someone who may have depression, please encourage that person to get help. Depression can be controlled and made easier to live with.


Submit a Comment

  • John Hewitt jr profile image

    John Hewitt jr 

    7 years ago

    Thank you for writing this hub. As i have suffered badly from depression i can fully relate to all off the above. I have pulled though the worst of it and now have taken up writing hubs. Have a great day


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