One of the great ways to raise awareness, to tackle stigma and discrimination by increasing understanding, is to write about what depression is like. In this post I hope to add to that by sharing some truths and myths about depression.
This could have been called the things I wish you knew about depression. It’s based on my experience. Other people may and will experience different things, it can vary based on underlying causes and circumstances. That said there will be many things here that are common and only too well understood by those who have experience of depression.
So hopefully this will help add to the understanding of those who haven’t experienced depression, as well as helping other people with depression (you should know by now I hate the word depressives).
Depression really does impact your life significantly. But there is always hope, no matter how bad it gets.
So let’s board the Millennium Mythbuster and have a go at denting the battle stations of Stigma and Discrimination…(I haven’t got bored of the Star Wars references yet, sorry!)
- Tired. It makes you tired. I mean really tired. I can easily have a couple of hours nap during some days, even if I seem to have slept well the night before. It’s much worse when I don’t sleep well or have been restless from the medicated Riverdance thing during the early hours.
- Sad. As a certain president might tweet. Let’s break two myths – first, depression is not just feeling sad, the feeling is much more deep rooted and permeates through everything. Second, there are times when you don’t feel sad, you can laugh and joke. There is the other extreme, I often find when I come out of a low period that the hyperdrive kicks in and I bounce around like I imagine a heavily-caffeinated Ewok would.
- Crowds and new places. I really struggle to be amongst a lot of people. It just completely freaks me out and allows the Sith Lord Anxiety to creep up. Going somewhere new is a struggle, the tension builds up in advance and the Sith Lord The-Worse-Is-Going-to-Happen tells me all about how it’s going to go. Social interactions are complicated by your mind – given you are judging yourself then everyone else is right? If we need to do those things we need quiet time , sometimes just on our own to recover and gain our balance back.
- Masks. Ah putting on the brave face. A bit like Darth Vader the mask hides our true self and it keeps us going, when being able to hide behind a mask may be useful. That can allow us to at least function in situations that are stressful or hard. But they are tiring … oh they are so heavy. And not really that helpful, I hid behind a mask for too long.
- Pain. At the depth of a low mood the pain is as much physical as in the mind. The head feels too small to cope with the expanding pressure and the chest ache is incredible, like lungs and heart will simply explode if it carries on. This is why meditative breathing exercises can help, bringing the pause and control to address that.
- Intrusive. Might be difficult to talk about but intrusive thoughts and ideas of self harm, including suicide, often come with the package. The important thing is they are thoughts and you don’t have to act on them. Sounds easy, can be hard to not listen, too many people sadly do listen. It’s the biggest illusion that depression can offer you and many lives could be saved by making earlier intervention and timely support available. And talking about it – it happens, it’s difficult to talk about and to sometimes understand, however let’s face up to it and provide help at the most vunerable of times.
- Self-care. To look after yourself, both physically and mentally ,with self-compassion takes motivation and strength. Depression takes them away, it can be very hard to do the things you know will look after yourself. Sometimes just getting through the day is enough. At the heart of self-care is valuing yourself and making time to look after you.
- Forgetful. Okay, I am a middle aged man, I am going to be forgetful…but depression definitely makes this worse. It’s not just not remembering things, doing a list of tasks can be complex. It helps to write things down, as that frees the mind from worrying that you will forget an important thing.
- Slow. Like not being to get the hyperdrive going , you slow down, not in a good way of reducing being busy, but in everyday actions and speech. It seemingly takes more effort to turn thoughts into words and to move your body.
- Triggers. Triggers for a low period can be big or small. In fact the big event that you think will be a trigger often isn’t. It’s the small triggers, a simple harsh word, forgetting to do a simple thing, something not happening as you thought, plans change and bang – the Empire is invading your head. That is why day’s are hard to predict, especially if you plan something for the future, you can never be sure how you will be. But you don’t want to let people down so out comes the mask.
- Unsure. Decision making becomes really hard, even simple ones. Endless debate in head over big and small choices. One way to help with this is to reduce the number of small decisions you need to make each day. It really helps.
- Awkward. There can be many awkward moments when explaining depression, how people react. We already have a high level of guilt and shame (often for no reason other than our depression) so it’s easy to assume that is how we are perceived. And people often want to know you are speaking in the past, that it’s not something you are suffering from right now. Even though it is.
- Gifts. I know, it’s all bad news. However you may find depression can bring gifts – I am writing, painting , exploring a creative side of me I never imagined was there. I have made connections with some amazing, inspirational people who I never would have and deepened existing relationships. I have learnt new things about myself and understand my values and strengths perhaps more.
If that helped to share something new or change what you thought about depression then I will be treating that Ewok to a coffee and maybe a macaroon.
The next set of posts will look at ways of handling some of these with compassion, acceptance and values. For me those are three key concepts essential to mental wellbeing and can also support the management of or recovery from depression. And remember, recovery may equal management and that’s okay.
Love to hear any comments or if you would like to ask a question.