Being afflicted with depression is like living in a perpetually darkened world. It’s not pitch black, but there’s very little sunshine. It’s kind of like the twilight world in a science-fiction fantasy. It’s like being on the path that Frodo and Sam took to deliver the One Ring to Mt. Doom in The Lord of the Rings. The world takes on a gloomy, dark pallor–there’s no cheerfulness or joy, no sense of worth, no sense of purpose. There’s no reason to get up in the morning. Bills? I don’t care right now. Job? Work? Leave me alone. Just leave . me . alone . Why do I even bother?
That’s a picture that many people see every day. For someone who’s never experienced deep depression, it’s hard to understand, hard to comprehend. For those of us who’ve been there or are there, though, it’s all too easy. Some people have dealt with depression for so long they don’t even remember what it’s like to feel happy, to take joy in the little things, to want to function, to be, do or have.
The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way. If that’s where you are, you don’t have to stay there. You don’t have to live life that way. You can look forward to the new day, smile in the sunshine, smile at a rainy day, be grateful for life, enjoy doing the things you used to do when you were happy. You really can.
So let’s get back to it. In this article, we’re going to delve into a little more detail the symptoms I covered in the previous article, Depression – it really CAN kill you.
A mild disclaimer: I am not, nor have I ever been, a psychiatrist, psychologist, mental health practitioner, or even a health practitioner. The information contained in the following articles is based solely on my own research of online and offline materials, additionally on personal experience with major depression. If, after having thoughtfully read this post, you feel you may be suffering from major or clinical depression, I urge you to seek competent help from a health practitioner.
Remember, these descriptions come from the DSM-IV, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Again, here is the list:
- deep sadness or a feeling of emptiness or apathy nearly every day for the past 2 weeks or more
- diminished interest or pleasure in all or nearly all activities for the past 2 weeks or more
- a decrease or an increase in appetite, causing you to lose or gain more than 5% of your body weight
- sleep differences of more than 40 minutes from your norm, either more or less
- agitated or irritated with yourself or others, or physically moving slower than you usually do
- extreme fatigue or loss of energy
- feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt, or a feeling that you’re just not useful any more
- a diminished ability to think or concentrate, or having trouble making everyday decisions. A decrease in your ability to make sound decisions
- recurrent thoughts of death, or having seriously contemplated hurting someone else. Serious contemplation of or attempting suicide.
Feelings of sadness, emptiness, or apathy – We’re not talking here about just being ‘sad’ or ‘lonely’ for a day or two, but pervasive, deep-down feelings of sadness or emptiness for weeks at a time. You may feel that there’s just no use, no reason to go on. You may have periods of crying for no real reason. It seems like the normal every day things in life just don’t matter, that you just don’t care. Cleanliness of your surroundings and personal hygiene can suffer. Bills go unpaid not because money isn’t available, but because you just don’t care whether they get paid or not. Consequences have no meaning.
Diminished interest or pleasure in normal activities – This is somewhat akin to ‘apathy’ above. Nothing seems interesting or fun any more, despite our living in a time when there are more entertaining and fun things to do than ever before. The activities you end up engaging in are those that require little effort: watching TV for hours on end, listening mindlessly to the radio, watching movie after movie on the movie channel not because the movies are interesting, but just as a way to ‘tune out’.
Decrease or increase in appetite – This is just what it says: a change in your normal eating habits. Gorging or starving yourself; eating as a way to make yourself feel better, or not eating because you simply don’t want to.
Difference in sleep patterns – When your sleep pattern varies more than 40 minutes in either direction over a period of time, something happening either physically or mentally. ‘Sleeping in’ on a weekend morning doesn’t count. Sleeping in every day for a solid week does count. Likewise, waking up at 5am one morning after going to bed at midnight isn’t an indicator for depression, but doing that for several days in a row is.
Agitation or irritation directed at yourself or others – Again, ‘normal’ bouts of irritation don’t count. What counts is when you have the feeling that you or the people around you can’t do anything right; that whatever they do irritates you no end. You may be agitated or upset for no reason; the simplest request can cause you to explode. In the same category is moving slower. You may not notice this for yourself, but pay attention when someone close to you remarks that “You’re sure moving a lot slower lately.” There’s no spring in your step; you tend to shuffle instead of walk. You’re slumped over and moving like you’re 90 years old and feeling like it.
Fatigue or loss of energy – Feeling tired all the time, or most of the time, applies here. Maybe you want to do something, but you’re just too tired. You don’t have the energy lately to do much more than the simple things.
Feelings of worthlessness, or excessive or inappropriate guilt – This is a biggie for a lot of people. A general feeling of worthlessness is different than ‘low self-esteem’. Worthlessness can be pictured by thoughts like, “I don’t know why anybody bothers with me. I’m not worth the effort.” Feeling too much guilt over something, or feeling guilty for something that wasn’t your doing is also a symptom. This could be something like feeling that it was ‘all your fault’ because someone who was visiting you got in a car wreck after they left you. If you’d only let them go 5 minutes sooner, when they wanted to…
Diminished ability to think or concentrate – Have you noticed that you’re having difficulty concentrating lately? You start a project, but can’t seem to follow through; your thoughts keep wandering. Decision-making is related. Are you having trouble making decisions? Or, are the decisions you are making logical and correct?
Thoughts of death, hurting another, or suicide – It is natural to think about death. We wonder about it. But we don’t dwell on it for any length of time — it’s just a passing thought. If you find yourself preoccupied or thinking overmuch about death and dying, then it isn’t normal. Also not normal are more than passing thoughts about hurting or injuring another person. We’re not talking normal feelings of anger toward someone. We’re talking about making plans to put this person on the rack and stretch them, or strap them to the table and watch the pendulum come down, or taking them ‘out behind the woodshed’ and inflicting serious physical harm. Mental harm counts, too. If you spend your time reveling in the thoughts of reducing another person to a ball of tearful gibbering mush by what you say to them, that’s a little around the bend also.
The biggie here is suicide. Most people think about suicide occasionally, if only to think about how they would never do something like that. But if it ever comes to the point of you making serious plans, or even attempting it, you’re deep in the danger zone.
NOTICE: please — if you are currently having serious thoughts or plans for suicide, please, please, get in touch with a health practitioner. You can call 1-800-273-TALK (8255), the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a 24-hour, toll-free suicide prevention service available to anyone in suicidal crisis.
In the next article, we’ll look at some of the causes of depression. In later articles, we’ll discover some of the things that can be done to lessen or eliminate depression.