What Is It Like To Have Depression
I used to write on this site quite frequently and produced some articles that I liked and some other people quite liked as well. I even won a few accolades here and there. However in August of this year some problems of mine came to a head and I discovered that I was suffering from clinical depression. Safe to say it kinda put a downer on the day.
The video I made above was really to help me and it was great to get that off my chest. However I wanted to go into a bit more detail in the rest of this article.
Mental illness is something that still has a lot of stigma attached to it. It's a truly scary thought to know that your own mind is somehow escaping your control. It's also a scary thought to others around you. Telling someone that you have a mental illness will immediately cause them to act differently around you and understandably so. Especially with depression, friends may often feel guilty in some way, tormented by the idea that they didn't see the signs or that they may have somehow contributed to the condition. None of these things are true.
In order to view mental illness in anew way it helps to instead view it as a very physical condition, which it partly is.
Mental illness does have a physical cause and it all happens in the brain. It is somehow off putting to think of complex human emotions as nothing more than chemical reactions inside the brain, but that exactly what they are. Serotonin is the key in this case. Serotonin is integral to much of the human body. It helps regulate digestion and synthesize protein, but it's also important in terms of mood. A lack of serotonin can cause bad moods or decreased happiness and energy. This is exactly what happens to people suffering from depression. It's what makes it so difficult to combat. It's impossible to be happy when your own brain is telling you not to feel happy.
This is what I was referring to when I mentioned treating mental illness as physical injury. No one orders a paraplegic to get up and run because it's obvious that they can't. Yet many people have described a curious reaction to depression: many have been told to "just cheer up". Well honestly people can't just "cheer up" because it's an illness that can't be willed away by concentrating really hard. Sufferers of depression are well aware that everyone has emotions and that everyone feels sad sometimes. The difference is that when people feel down they can usually feel happy very soon after by watching a funny video, hanging out with friends or family etc. Sufferers of depression are simply unable to shake this terrible feeling and the longer it goes addressed the further it begins to impact their lives.
It's becoming very clear that many many people end up afflicted with some kind of mental illness at some point in their lives and yet these people are either so scared or too unaware to investigate further or visit a doctor and it's something that needs to change. No one is afraid to get a broken leg treated and no one should be afraid to get a mental illness treated.
Mental illness is no one's fault, especially not those who suffer from it.
Cheesy picture alert
Do I Have It?
I don't claim to be an expert in this field but I'll do my best to give out some advice. Many people who have depression don't realize that they have it mainly because the actual symptoms can be easily misunderstood.
So here are a few signs that lead me to seeing my doctor.
Feeling bad when things are good
It's perfectly natural to feel stressed or fearful in a stressful and fearful situation. However feeling the same way without any real reason is not normal. This was one of the telltale signs for me. During an exam or when I had a lot of work to do it was expected that I would get stressed, nervous and bummed out from time to time. But after a while I realized that I was feeling the same way even when I was around my best friends in places that I liked. It was highly disconcerting when a friend of mine for seven years terrified me with the prospect of going out to bars. It made no sense. I had known him for a long time and been out to plenty of bars with him and have plenty of drunken stories to tell about each other. Fear of talking to him and procrastination of the night out did not make sense.
This would happen repeatedly where during nights out on the town I would end up looking at the clock the way I did in school, counting the seconds before I could finally leave. I was surrounded by friends that I knew I liked, going to places I really enjoyed going. Why would I be hoping to leave. It was because a quirk in my mind was telling me not to enjoy myself and it was doing it's job very well.
Complete lack of motivation
This one is also key. A well known symptom of depression is of course feeling sad. However I think the bigger umbrella symptom is complete lack of motivation. Something in the back of your mind is constantly asking the question, "why?". Why get out of bed? Why do your work? Why pursue any hobbies? Why talk to friends? The answers should be, to enjoy the day, to get qualifications, to enjoy my hobbies, to laugh with my friends. Yet for some reason when this question is posed to your mind, you can't come up with those answers.
And so after only a few days of constantly sleeping, not doing your work, not talking to friends or pursuing hobbies your mood takes a nose dive. This is where the intensne feeling of sadness comes from and if not addressed it leads onto the next sign...
This is the highly dangerous realm of depression. This is the part where you start to tell yourself things like: I don't do hobbies because I have no passions; I don't hang out with friends because I don't deserve friends. The mind has started to make up answers to those "why?" questions with a line of reasoning leading to a truly dark path.
If depression was on a scale that was falling, this is a stage that directly proceeds things like, self harm and god forbid even suicide. Luckily I was able to figure out what was wrong before this ever became a possibility but so many others don't. The idea that someone could die from the way they're feeling is more terrifying than any thought that has ever crossed my mind.
But this is by no means a helpless case.
How to help
Depression is a very serious and potentially destructive ailment and yet despite this it is one of the easiest conditions to identify and treat. After being diagnosed most doctors recommend a course of antidepressants which are highly effective and counselling depending on the severity of the condition.
However there are even more ways to help combat those bad days.
Sleep is very important for the human body but it also has a powerful impact on the mind. Waking up at a sensible time and going to bed at a good time works wonders. Because many college lectures of mine start at 9am I make sure to wake up and get up at around 8am. On days off I always make it a point to then wake up at 9am so I feel like I've had a lie in. When going to bed a good time is 11:30pm - 12:00am. Even if you don't feel that tired at least try these times. It's also essential not to browse facebook on your phone before doing this: the light from the screen has been proven to make sleep more difficult. If you have trouble sleeping when not tired a simple technique I use is to focus on your breathing. Don't breath loudly or anything just be aware and listen to yourself breath.
Eat healthy and Exercise
This one goes hand in hand with combating psychological problems and physical causes. With the exercise in question you don't need to do anything too excessive. A simple walk will do, as long as you have a goal in mind. In order to combat the lack of motivation setting small and achievable goals will help to motivate you. Eventually this attitude will spill over into other areas of your life. On a physical level though, remember how I said serotonin is involved in protein synthesis? Well if you work muscles your body recruits protein to repair those muscles and in order to synthesize that protein it needs serotonin, and serotonin helps improve mood.
Two birds with one stone.
And finally, music. Everyone loves music and listening to happy up tempo music and dancing along to it like a lunatic - hm...maybe not the best word choice there - works wonders. Below I've put on of my personal favourite tracks to listen too to get in a good mood. Why not make a playlist on youtube or on your iPod.
I hope this advice helps. It certainly helped me, because while writing this I can say for certain: I feel fantastic.