Depression : A view from the inside

Behind The Smile
Credit: B-ALSHA3ER

Six or seven years I was diagnosed with (moderate) depression for the first time in my life. A couple of years after the first bout of depression I was diagnosed with (severe) depression. A few weeks ago I was once again diagnosed with depression.

I'd like to share my experiences to try to give an insight into this often well-hidden illness.


You Don't Look Sad

Often people look surprised when they discover that I suffer with depression and depression's best friend: anxiety. Usually I'm told "you're usually so happy" or "anxiety? but you're always Doing Things and Talking To People!".

I recently watched a video that I feel explained depression really well.
The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality.
If you want to learn more, and have thirty minutes to spare, I can strongly recommend watching "Depression, the secret we share".

It's possible to feel depressed and still laugh at amusing and funny things. Thankfully my depression, even when severe, isn't all encompassing and allows surface-Chisel to still appreciate and enjoy some of the things happening around me.

Depression just makes it harder and more tiring.

Brain Fog

Credit: Distant Hill Gardens

One symptom I have when I'm in the moderate-severe depression range is what I call Brain Fog. It feels like I'm one side of my mind and the thoughts I want to form are on the opposite side - separated by a dense fog, or grey candy floss.

The simplest thoughts can become incredibly difficult. Thoughts and ideas that used to form and flow so easily are now like wading through treacle. It's constantly knowing that you just know how to think something through but you can't quite join the dots.

Memory Difficulties

Credit: Filippo Minelli

Another brain function that suffers is short term memory.

It can be as fast as, "I need to stop typing and do X." In the second it takes you to stop, you realise that you knew you'd stopped for something but no longer have any idea what that was.

This is most frustrating when you're in the middle of something and stop to write a to-do reminder for something you want to do later but don't want to interrupt your current train of thought (more than you need to). Pause, pick up a pen ... "Dammit! What was I going to write?" ... "What was I in the middle of before I stopped to write something?"

Attention Deficit

Credit: Janine

I'm not sure if this is a separate symptom or a side-effect of the brain fog and memory difficulties, but it can be a struggle to focus on anything. If you can't think straight and then forget everything as soon as you eventually manage to form a thought then it's quite difficult to stay focussed on anything at all.

After living with this for a while it starts to become difficult to even start anything because your mind is already telling you there's no point; you won't be able to think properly or remember anything long enough to do it, so why start at all.

If I'm not careful it's easy to get into a cycle of simple, repetitive, micro-tasks: Do I have any new work email? Do I have any new personal email? I wonder if there's anything new on IRC. Maybe there's a Facebook mention I missed.

Easy tasks that aren't important if they're missed or forgotten, but when you do remember them they're a quick, tiny, easy win. Sadly they're also massively unfulfilling and don't help with any of the larger and more important tasks in your backlog.

Getting Around

Credit: Jamie Dobson

A weird side-effect of the depression and anxiety is how and where I walk. Sometimes walking at a normal pace is nigh on impossible and after stepping out of the door you need to put all your energy into consciously taking one small, slow step after another. I get there, but it takes about three times longer than usual.

I'll develop a sort of narrowed or tunnel vision making everything seem distant, surreal and out-of-sorts.

Even stranger is where I walk. Normally I'll walk wherever it makes sense to on the pavement; usually near the middle. When the anxiety is in an increased state I tend to drift to the side so I'm as close to a wall or large object as possible. I don't know if I think I'm going to blend in and become invisible, or if walls are just comforting in their own special inanimate way.

Socialising

Credit: Philip Bouchard

I can pretty much forget about socialising when I've lapsed back into a state of depression.

Loud venues mean I can barely hear the conversation and retreat into my own thoughts - somewhere I don't want to spend too much time.

Large groups are difficult to keep up with and somehow I end up between two sub-groups - once again unable to participate and back into my thoughts.

Small groups are manageable as long as other people do most of the talking. I'm quite happy to listen and feel part of the small group without needing to contribute too much.

Some situations are more than I can cope with. I can no longer attend office parties; the combination of a large number of people in a fairly small area making a cacophony that's overwhelming just sends my anxiety levels through the roof.

Oddly, I'm OK to attend concerts, movies and theatres. I think there's something about the disconnect and focus away from each other that makes it bearable.

The Mask

Credit: Kathryn Denman

Day-to-day I try not to give any external signs that the inner-Chisel is a mess. At work I'll warn people as soon as I start a course of anti-depressants. I try to keep my routine as normal and regular as possible. Keeping up commitments, for example the weekly choir rehearsal, is one way I fight back against the dark void trying pull me in.

Often the energy required to keep up the mask is exhausting; evenings are often spent unable to move from my bed without the energy to even watch trash-TV.

Part of the reason for The Mask is to try not to lower people's expectations and giving myself a Get Out Of Jail Free card for unproductive or anti-social tendencies. It forces me to fight back and not just give in and sink into the black void.

The Cause

I don't know what the cause or triggers are. I suspect 'winter' is involved but I don't relapse every winter. This time I've had no distressing life events to push me into the abyss. It's really a mystery, and one I'm sure I'll never solve.

The Cure

I don't know what brings a depression episode to an end. Like the gradual downhill descent (yeah, I know, it contradicts the abyss remark above!) the recovery is long, slow and imperceptible. One day I'll realise that I've been able to think clearly and for extended periods for the last few weeks, and I'm not 'left wall hugging' when I walk at all. I wean myself off the meds and just pray for a long, happy gap until the next episode.

That's It

A whirlwind overview of depression from my perspective. I'm not saying that all depressives are just like me - I'm sure we're all unique, black, snowflakes - but I imagine that we all have some troubles and behaviours in common.

I'm not ashamed to suffer from depression. I'm just annoyed that I suffer from something so invisibly crippling that I'm acutely aware of, but can't do anything about.


Credit: Beatrice the Biologist