I once read a really good book on depression; Reasons to Stay Alive by Matt Haig.
In it he talks about how the word depression is somewhat of a misnomer:
“It is the wrong word. The word depression makes me think of a flat tyre, something punctured and unmoving. Maybe depression minus anxiety feels like that, but depression laced with terror is not something flat or still. The mind is infinite, and its torments – when they happen – can be equally infinite”.Matt Haig, ‘Reasons to Stay Alive’
A person suffering from depression can appear withdrawn, solemn and unengaged with the World. But under the surface, there is a tornado raging inside your head.
I have experienced some anxiety alongside my depression, but only a little. For me, depression even in the absence of severe anxiety still feels like that same raging storm. My mind was (and sometimes still is) constantly clouded by hundreds upon hundreds of negative thoughts swirling around at great speed.
Its really a strange feeling to so desperately want to get away from your own head.
I wanted to write this post because I was suffering with depression on a lower level for such a long time before I was able to put a name to it. The symptoms didn’t necessarily fit with how I thought depression would feel and so they went ignored. Instead of catching it early, it was able to progress into a major depressive episode.
But I also didn’t want to write a post saying that if you feel such and such a symptom then you have depression because a) I’m not a doctor or a psychiatrist, and b) depression is different for everyone so what might be a symptom of depression for me might not be for you.
Instead I’m going to write about how it actually feels for me because, on that, I truly am an expert.
Feeling Down and Crying A Lot
This is perhaps the most obvious symptom people think of when they think of depression. Someone who is extremely sad, all of the time. For me, I don’t actually remember feeling particularly sad in the strictest sense of the word, despite the fact that I would unexpectedly burst into tears on a regular basis.
I remember more just feeling low. A bit numb really.
Winston Churchill very famously referred to his depression as the ‘Black Dog’. For me it felt as though a very heavy black cloud had settled over my mind, so thick that it was impossible to wade through, and it dragged the rest of me down with it.
Outbursts of Anger
This was one of the first indications to me that something was very very wrong. I have never felt anger before the way I felt it during the worst of my depression. Sudden bursts of intense, explosive anger. God I was unpleasant to be around. I don’t even want to think about how many phones I broke during that period by hurling them across a room at speed.
I have gained somewhere between 3 and 4 stone during my struggle with depression. Anyone who knows me will know how much of a big deal that is for me after years of struggling with self-image and managing my weight (which is, of course, a major contributor to my mental health issues).
My weight gain largely occurred as a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances.
There were months where I was barely able to get out of bed, let alone get out of the house to exercise. In my worst days I comfort ate and relied on unhealthy convenience foods as finding the energy to cook was just impossible. And of course, I drank way more alcohol than is advisable.
Funnily enough, cooking is now something that I regularly do as a way of managing my mental health. I exercise much more regularly and my alcohol consumption is much more moderate.
I think its important to say that I haven’t made these changes to lose weight. Not only is weight loss a bit out of reach at the moment as I work to improve my mental health but I am also in the slow and painful process of trying to make peace with my body as it is.
I’ve made these changes because I am acutely aware of how closely my mental and physical health are linked.
Withdrawing from Social Situations
Even though I am now very much in recovery from my depression, socialising is still something I struggle with on a daily basis.
Five years ago I was one of the most social people I know. I would never turn down an invitation and I was out with friends most nights of the week. Today is a totally different story. I am much more withdrawn and find socialising quite exhausting.
It isn’t just socialising in-person that suffered. Text messages, phones calls and emails went unanswered for weeks at a time as I struggled to find the strength to even respond to a simple message.
Of course it was much worse when I was in the depths of my depression but it still remains a bit of a battle. Managing my mental health is pretty exhausting and sometimes I feel so completely drained at the end of a work day that I just want to crawl into bed and stay there.
Loss of Interest in Things I Used to Love
Travel. Photography. Muay Thai. Reading. Actually leaving the house.
All things I used to love and all things that fell away pretty quickly when I developed depression. I just completely lost interest in anything. Some days I would lie in bed just staring at the ceiling, unable to bring myself to even watch a movie.
Inability to Make a Decision
This was perhaps the weirdest symptom of depression for me. The complete inability to make any kind of decision. I’m not joking.
What movie do you want to watch? Erm…
What do you want to eat for tea? Erm…
Literally no idea.
My thought process would be something along the lines of:
“Should we watch that movie? But then I don’t think [insert name here] likes rom coms. They’ll just be sat here the whole time feeling miserable and not enjoying themselves and wishing they weren’t here. Maybe we should watch that movie instead. But then will they enjoy that? Do I want to watch that movie? If I choose that will I regret not putting another movie on. Oh god there are so many movies on Netflix; I need to scroll through them all. Do I even want to watch a movie? Maybe we should watch a TV show. But which TV show? In fact, do I even want to watch anything at all?”
And so on…you get the idea. I would be completely stuck in limbo, unable to make even the simplest of decisions.
When I was really at my lowest point with depression, I was so unbelievably exhausted. Part of that was sheer mental exhaustion from the trauma of having to deal with my own mind for an entire day. But then there was also the extreme physical exhaustion caused by lack of sleep.
Regardless of how tired I was, the second I put my head on the pillow all those thoughts living in my head would triple in volume and I would lie there, unable to quieten my mind and just go to sleep.
When I finally did drop off it was for a few fitful hours. I would wake more exhausted than when I went to sleep. If I’m not getting enough sleep I instantly feel less resilient and less able to cope with everyday life. I didn’t have the energy and strength to battle my mental health problems and so it just made them even worse. One big vicious cycle.
Thoughts of Harm
Whilst, there were only a few occasions when I had any serious thoughts about hurting myself, there was one recurring thought that popped into my head every single day.
More of a vision really; a vision of bashing my head hard against something; usually the sharp corner of piece of furniture or something. These visions were so vivid and graphic I can still see them in all their disturbing glory now.
Looking back now, I know I didn’t want to harm myself. I was just in so much despair at living in the constant hell that was my own brain that I just wanted it to stop. My head was literally ruining my life and so these thoughts about bashing it open were, I think, a manifestation of my desire to get rid of all the intrusive thoughts inside my head.
Keep in mind, everyone’s experience of depression is different. And if you are suffering one or more of the symptoms above it does not necessarily mean that you are suffering from depression.
If you feel as though you might have depression, see a doctor for a professional diagnosis.