Post No.: 0777
Some people with depression experience primarily sorrow and despair. Some others mainly catastrophise doom and so probably have anxiety too. For others still, it’s anger and restlessness, or alternatively feelings of empty numbness and apathy.
Those who mostly experience numbness feel as if ‘what’s the point to anything’ or ‘nothing really matters’. Their range of emotions becomes constricted. Compared to the other presentations therefore, those primarily with numbness do exhibit the signs of depression but these can be even harder to spot. Yet they may still get judged because they’ve maybe ceased to care about their appearance; thus an unkempt person with their shabby or untidy abode is criticised with contempt rather than treated with the attempt to empathically understand why they’ve let themselves go.
Unless they seem to revel in their squalor, and especially if they weren’t always like that (and if we haven’t known someone for long enough then we definitely shouldn’t judge them), then these are potentially glaring clues to their internal state of mind.
So we need to stop judging people’s lives on the surface and start to care more to query about their mental health underneath that surface. We might also think ‘what have they done for me lately?’ when we forget to ask ‘what have I done to help them get better before I can expect them to do anything for me?’ We want understanding when we’re not feeling our best yet can neglect others when they’re not. We ultimately need less judging and more understanding. We need less ‘you’re not doing anything for me’ and more ‘how are you?’
One of the clearest signs of depression is the downward and/or irritable change of someone in a ‘you didn’t used to be like this’ way. Hence, especially for anyone you’ve known for years – instead of criticising them, ask, “What’s up my friend?” Meow.
People don’t always become depressed overnight though, which can make the transition difficult to spot. It can take weeks or even months. But if you can spot the signs early, whether in yourself or someone else, it can prevent a full-blown depressive episode. It may start with the initial shock and numbness resulting from experiencing a traumatic event, which leads to symptoms like headaches, sleep deprivation, low energy, bodily pains and bad skin. If so, it’s already time to talk about things with someone like a friend, or to point these symptoms out to a friend – before it reaches the stage of burnout, struggling to do the things one could previously easily do, making more mistakes than usual, losing interest in the things one used to find pleasure in, an increased irritability, and then depression. This irritability can push others away when one needs them most. If you’re on the other side, if someone is suddenly behaving irritably with you then try to have the compassion to understand that they might be going through a mental health issue.
There are different degrees of depression, but generally you develop a negative view of yourself (e.g. ‘I am worthless, I cannot do anything right, perhaps I was never meant to be’), a negative view of the world (e.g. ‘no one cares about me, I cannot trust anyone, the world isn’t safe, and the world is doomed anyway’), and a negative view of the future (e.g. ‘things will never get better, they’ll get worse, so there’s no point in anything’).
You’re more likely to develop depression if you live in a poor, high-crime, low-employment area. The loss of a loved one, divorce, physical injuries/illnesses, losing a job or home, being mugged or abused, and traumatic accidents or disasters, will all be risk factors. Genetics is a factor too, as is a self-critical personality – depressed people are less self-serving and more self-deprecating. You’re less likely to develop depression if you’re wealthy, respected, have decent familial support, understanding friends, and perhaps adequate government support. No one is immune though – it’s like smoking means you’re more likely to develop lung cancer but it doesn’t just affect smokers. The loss of a loved one feels just as distressing to someone rich and famous. Some physical health problems cannot currently be solved no matter how much money you have. And what if you realised that all that hard work to get rich and famous wasn’t worth the sacrifices? What point is ‘too rich’ or ‘too famous’ to get depression anyway? What if you were already depressed before you became well-known?
People who’ve never experienced it can wrongly assume that it’s just feeling sad or a little blue, and that watching a comedy and sinking some ice cream will make one feel better straight away. Everyone can occasionally feel a little down but clinical depression lasts for at least a couple of weeks and is so debilitating that it affects the motivation and ability to do even the simplest of daily tasks. You might not care about self-care, like on your appearance or physical health. Sleep patterns are disrupted too, so you might have insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness during the day or prolonged night time sleeps).
You often feel a strong guilt over things that may not actually be your fault. You may feel that no one will help you hence there’s no point in asking for help. Some catastrophise predictions of the future, but others may remain seemingly peaceful in the face of real-world catastrophes because of the apathy or numbness to their own future anyway i.e. they may feel that their life is going to end soon so threats of the end of the world aren’t going to make a difference. The world is burning – an anxious person goes, “Waa!” while a numb person goes, “Meh.” Regardless, you can’t see a hopeful and/or long future – how much difficulty one has in imagining a decent tomorrow, or a tomorrow at all, is a strong indicator of how depressed someone is. If someone can tell you all about the plans they have for their life (e.g. the places they want to visit, people they want to see, what they want to be doing in 5, 10, 20 years time) then they’re probably okay.
But if they struggle to imagine a tomorrow, or even an hour from now at the extreme, then they’re likely seriously depressed. This is when suicide begins to become contemplated as a permanent solution to escaping the numbness. Unfortunately, taking the action to end one’s life is more likely to happen not when one is so deep in numbness that one lacks any energy whatsoever to move or even think, but when one’s energy is just beginning to lift but one hasn’t yet let go of the negative thoughts.
With depression, you pay more attention to unpleasant words like ‘murder’, than to neutral ones like ‘grass’ (although is this cause or effect?) Whether you have depression or not, you’ve probably noticed that you don’t fancy listening to sad songs when you’re happy or upbeat songs when you’re down. The world no longer seems sufficiently fair, you don’t feel in control of events, and things appear futile. You stop seeing friends, pursuing fluffy interests you used to like. And you might attempt self-medication with alcohol or recreational drugs, which makes things worse.
You withdraw from activities, including those you used to enjoy. You might not want to be around others or go outside of the house. This all leads to a vicious cycle and makes you less likely to want to engage with life. You mightn’t notice how stuck your life has become and you mightn’t wish to acknowledge that you’re depressed until it gets severe. You might think this is simply the way you are now and that cannot be changed. So you, and those around you, will need to notice when depression is starting before you enter that downward spiral towards desolation. The earlier the intervention, the quicker and more successful the recovery.
So seek qualified help, or patiently but firmly encourage someone with depressive symptoms to seek professional help if it’s not you. Remember that you probably weren’t always like this hence you can get better again. A doctor might find some underlying medical issue like hypothyroidism, sleep apnoea, vitamin D deficiency, or the side-effects of certain medications, so these need to be investigated.
If it’s someone else, acknowledge their thoughts and feelings instead of arguing with or denying them – but do remain encouraging. Telling them to simply ‘cheer up’ or ‘think of only positive vibes’ can backfire though. So validate their feelings, no matter how pessimistic – but explain that it’s just the depression hijacking their thinking, that they must try something different because what they’ve been doing so far isn’t working, and that you love them and are there for them.
Social support moderates the effects of depression. You might not wish to be around others but you’ll be glad that you went along to that barbecue or restaurant meal. Focus on other people, on other things like healthy and fulfilling hobbies – awaken other parts of you so that your identity isn’t just as a ‘depressed person’. Move – regularly exercise. Get out of the house. Move towards something you value like a qualification, career path, family or finding spirituality. Mustering the motivation can be difficult in this state but break a task down into smaller steps and take it one step at a time.
If you’re helping someone else then take care of yourself too. Seek your own support from family and friends. It can be tough hanging around someone you love who is currently in a bout of depression, even if your heart is of gold. Even with professional help, recovery can take months before improvement. If you’re overwhelmed yourself then this won’t help you, them or anyone.
…All in all, we need to do less judging and have more empathy for other people’s present feelings. We need to be less snooty and more understanding of other people’s less fortunate backgrounds and current circumstances. We need to do less sneering and have more compassion to help people rather than kick them when they’re already down. We also might laugh at and belittle other people’s anxieties and ‘mad’ thoughts and believe we’re just expressing hilarious ‘banter’, yet feel that others are lacking sensitivity and sympathy when they jeer at us when we’re feeling distraught, afraid or not in the mood – hence we need to watch out for our own hypocrisies, or listen when others point these out to us. Of course, others should mayhap empathise with our reactions if we’re feeling scared, frustrated or exasperated towards someone who’s depressed or anxious – but if we’re not depressed or anxious ourselves then perhaps we should be the ones to try to soothe and ameliorate a distressing situation rather than add fuel to it.
(My own depressive episodes have been mainly characterised by a sense of numbness rather than sadness, anxiety or anger. This numbness resulted in indifference or apathy – as if the motivation for seeking most of the things I used to enjoy, like travelling, seeing friends, driving, and more, got switched off. The future became like an opaque cloud. I’m consequently pretty chill and easygoing though, even in the face of death. I howbeit appear to regularly seek the feeling of controlled pain, to cut through that numbness, like via oppressive exercise goals. Perhaps the inflexible intensity of producing content for this blog and the target of at least a thousand posts within six years is reflective of that too. This blog has however given me purpose, and by taking it one day at a time, I’ve gotten this far. And I’m overall feeling mentally better now compared to how I felt at the start of this journey. I seldom have intrusive problems with OCD anymore. The philosophy of stoicism has helped; as has being more grateful about even the little things in everyday life :).)