This is a follow up to my last post, How to recognise depression: the 3 signs you can’t afford to miss. (If you haven’t read that, you definitely should; these are only a few other things that may help.)
Depression is a beast.
Ok, sorry that came out of seemingly nowhere, but it’s true. It’s not one of the signs of depression, no, but if you’ve ever lived with it, you probably know what I mean. If you haven’t, well… Just take my word for it.
Anyway, so on to the matter of the day. I want you to have a better handle on this, so I’m digging into it a bit more.
You see, there are a few other things you should know about how depression expresses itself. Let’s take it from two broad angles: how it affects the mind and how it affects the body.
Let’s start with the first.
How depression affects the mind
In a sense, all the various types of mental illness mess with your mind, each in its own unique way. So what is depression’s “unique way”?
First though, let’s do something. Think back to the last time you were sad. What kind of thoughts did you think? What filled your mind more than anything else? If you’re like most people, you probably thought negative thoughts. When you’re unhappy, that’s when you tend to think about how messed up life is, how incompetent you may feel at something, and so on. If you’re unhappy, you’re more likely to misinterpret someone not greeting you as “They don’t like me,” instead of “Maybe they didn’t notice me.” Or you may think that and go on to think, “Because I’m the kind of person people don’t notice.”
For someone who’s depressed, it’s like everything has changed, sometimes almost overnight. Nothing might seem to make sense, life itself appears meaningless. (Remember Akunna, from the first post in this series, on what it’s like to be depressed?)
The technical word for this is “cognitive distortion”: foundational errors in the way we see things, because of how we may be feeling. Imagine grey-tinted contacts being fixed over your eyes while you were asleep without you knowing; you actually thought the whole world had gone grey.
It’s right there that depression strikes.
So here are some of the ways depression affects how a person sees things:
Guilt. “It’s all my fault.” This is one of the toughest parts. I mean, it’s bad enough that you feel depressed, but you may actually find yourself blaming yourself for it. (In fact, you know those village witches people trot out from time to time, the ones who’ve confessed to maybe killing some prominent chieftain or stopping rain or whatever? You know, they’re probably just depressed. No, really.)
Low-self esteem or feelings of worthlessness. “I’m useless.” We’ve all thought poorly of ourselves at one time or the other, but during an episode of depression, the thought weighs on you with the heaviness of utter certainty. You’re useless and you know it. Or so it feels. If friends compliment you, they’re just trying to be nice, but you know what they’re really thinking inside.
Hopelessness. “There’s no point. Nothing matters, anyway.” The future…what future? Maybe yesterday it looked like there might be something to look forward to, but right now you can’t remember what that was. And that connects with another major symptom…
Thoughts of death, or even suicide. Thoughts of death are more frequent. Since life sort of seems to lose meaning, death begins to appear to promise relief from the drag of each day. It may begin with thoughts of death, but then (since death doesn’t come soon enough) the idea of taking one’s own life may start to take root. There may even be an attempt. Or more. (More on this very serious issue in a future post.)
Difficulty concentrating, or remembering things. Simply thinking feels like work. It’s like the physical tiredness has extended to the mind. Memory may seem to be failing. (“What did you say?”) The real problem, though, is not paying enough attention to things in general (too much going on inside); it just shows up as increased forgetfulness.
How depression affects the body
Yes, depression affects the body too. Two main body functions this plays out in are sleep and appetite.
I’m sure that’s not a huge surprise to you. Again, you’ve been low before, and I bet your sleeping and eating patterns changed to some degree or other, right? Some people eat and sleep more when they’re low (I do), but for many people, it’s less.
It’s similar in depression. Food loses its appeal, appetite might almost disappear. Catching sleep becomes like trying to get a US visa. Hours pass and eyes stay open, negative thoughts churning endlessly.
But don’t forget…
All this comparing depression with sadness is to help you better understand what it’s like to be depressed. I’ve said it before, but it can’t be said too often: depression is NOT just sadness. It’s not even a severe kind of sadness. Depression is a disease and sadness may (or may not) be one of its symptoms. (Tweet that.)
In my next post, I’ll talk about types of depression, and later on, about some of the unique ways it’s expressed in Nigerians. If this has helped you, let me know, in the comments or in my email. And be sure to share it with someone you think it may help.
Finally, in case you missed it in the previous post, you can do an online self-test I created to help you decide if you need to see a professional.