Today I had the opportunity to discuss depression with a friend of mine. Or - more specifically - how it affects me. Depression affects everyone differently, but I hope this post will serve to at least give a little insight for those of you that have never experienced it and have trouble understanding it.
I suppose I'm lucky in that I've been dealing with it for so long that I don't really care about the stigma that mental illness carries. For what it's worth, the stigma is bullshit: If you suffer from depression or think you might, I urge you to seek help immediately. There are many people in your life that will be supportive in ways that you don't expect.
How does depression affect me? It's difficult to describe depression to someone who's never experienced it. The best I can do is stumble through some metaphors and hope they give you a small window into the life of one depressed individual.
It's worth noting that there are several types of depression: I suffer from dysthmia, or persistent depressive disorder. It shares symptoms with major depressive disorder but the symptoms are (generally) not as debilitating.
The most constant reminder of depression in my day-to-day life is the persistent internal conflict. The best I can describe it is as if my brain has split into two halves: A rational, logical side, and an irrational, emotional side. I recognize that I am depressed and there is no logical explanation for the way I'm feeling or acting, but I have to convince the emotional side of my brain. This is not as easy as it seems. Think back to an argument you've had with an irrational person (we've all had at least one..) and how frustrating it was to try to convince that person using logic and reason. Now, imagine having that argument inside your head for almost every decision in your life.
It's exhausting, frustrating, and demoralizing. It is also a huge detriment when it comes to seeking help: Almost always, inaction is easier than action. "It's always been like this," the irrational side of the brain argues, "what could possibly make it better?" It's truly an uphill battle even for the smallest of victories.
Lack of Motivation
This really goes hand-in-hand with the internal conflict, but I feel it's a big enough problem that it warrants its own section. Have you ever been laying on the couch watching Netflix and been unable to peel yourself away to do the dishes, clean the kitchen, or mow the lawn? For many people, this is a temporary struggle. For a depressed person, it is a constant struggle. The worst part of the struggle is that it's not only applicable to things you don't want to do, but also things you do want to do. It circles back to inaction being easier than action. I want to go see my friends, but it's a hell of a lot easier to stay home in isolation.
Inability to Imagine Lasting Happiness
I've dealt with this for a long time but was unable to articulate it until recently. My therapist asked me to write an essay imagining what my life would be if I were the happiest man on earth. After staring at a blank page for nearly an hour, my mind was still as blank as the page.
I can imagine the abstract concept of lasting happiness, but I cannot apply that concept to an image of my life. The best way I can describe it is by drawing a parallel to a neurological condition called aphantasia. Essentially, aphantasia is a condition where you are unable to visualize things in your "mind's eye." Here's an excerpt from an article describing it:
If you tell me to imagine a beach, I ruminate on the “concept” of a beach. I know there’s sand. I know there’s water. I know there’s a sun, maybe a lifeguard. I know facts about beaches. I know a beach when I see it, and I can do verbal gymnastics with the word itself.
But I cannot flash to beaches I’ve visited. I have no visual, audio, emotional or otherwise sensory experience. I have no capacity to create any kind of mental image of a beach, whether I close my eyes or open them, whether I’m reading the word in a book or concentrating on the idea for hours at a time—or whether I’m standing on the beach itself.
If you take that excerpt and replace "beaches" with "lasting happiness," that's the best I can describe it. Much like the constant internal conflict of depression, it is exceedingly frustrating and demoralizing. Being unable to imagine lasting happiness saps my motivation like nothing else because there is nothing to strive for: It feels like this is the peak of emotion.
I hope this post has given you a small peek into the enigma that is depression. I'm happy to answer any questions or elaborate further if needed: Just leave a comment or reach out to me via any of the avenues listed at the bottom of the about page.
Again, I want to stress that everyone experiences depression differently; This post is just to explain how I experience it. If you also suffer from depression and none of this rings true for you, I'd encourage you to leave a comment. Not only will it help further explain depression to any curious readers, it can be cathartic to actually get it all out.
Finally, if you are depressed, I urge you to seek help as soon as possible. If you are feeling suicidal, please talk to someone immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) is available 24/7, is free, and is confidential. I know that last sentence is basically boilerplate at this point since you'll find the same sentiment on just about any website that discusses depression, but it is really important. If you're at a point in your life where you're wondering if you should call, you absolutely should call. I promise there are people who care about you and who want to help you.