What is depression? It can be difficult to explain if you’re in the middle of a depressive episode, as well as difficult to understand if your loved one is fighting it, but you’ve never experienced it yourself.
What is Depression? What Does It Feel Like?
Depression is, by definition, a mental health disorder. The root of the issue lies in our minds and the way that our brains are processing the world around us. I stumbled upon an incredible description of the depressed mind by Marriage and Family Therapist Cynthia Lubow, who was kind enough to allow me to share it with you. So what is depression?
“While not everyone’s experience is the same, when people have a major depressive episode, generally the world looks, feels, and is understood completely differently than before and after the episode. During a major depressive episode, the world can literally seem like a dark place. What was beautiful may look ugly, flat, or even sinister. The depressed person may believe loved ones, even their own children, are better off without them. Nothing seems comforting, pleasurable, or worth living for. There’s no apparent hope for things ever feeling better, and history is rewritten and experienced as confirmation that everything has always been miserable, and always will be.
“When this reality shift happens, it’s difficult to remember or believe what seemed normal before the episode. What the person believes during the episode seems absolutely real, and anything that conflicts with it is as unbelievable as a memory or message telling him or her that the sky is purple.
“For example, if the person is unable to feel love for a spouse, and someone reminds the person that he or she used to feel that love, the person may firmly believe he or she had been pretending to himself/herself and others—though at the time he or she really felt it. The person can’t remember feeling the love, and can’t feel it during the episode, and thus concludes he or she never felt it. The same process happens with happiness and pleasure. Attempts to tell the person that he or she used to be happy, and will feel happy again, can cause the person to feel more misunderstood and isolated because he or she is convinced it’s not true.
“Even if nothing was wrong before the episode, everything seems wrong when it descends. Suddenly, no one seems loving or lovable. Everything is irritating. Work is boring and unbearable. Any activity takes many times more effort, as if every movement requires displacing quicksand to make it. What was challenging feels overwhelming; what was sad feels unbearable; what felt joyful feels pleasureless—or, at best, a fleeting drop of pleasure in an ocean of pain.
“Major depression feels like intense pain that can’t be identified in any particular part of the body. The most (normally) pleasant and comforting touch can feel painful to the point of tears. People seem far away—on the other side of a glass bubble. No one seems to understand or care, and people seem insincere. Depression is utterly isolating.
“There is terrible shame about the actions depression dictates, such as not accomplishing anything or snapping at people. Everything seems meaningless, including previous accomplishments and what had given life meaning. Anything that had given the person a sense of value or self-esteem vanishes. These assets or accomplishments no longer matter, no longer seem genuine, or are overshadowed by negative self-images. Anything that ever caused the person to feel shame, guilt, or regret grows to take up most of his or her psychic space. That and being in this state causes the person to feel irredeemably unlovable, and sure everyone has abandoned or will abandon him or her.
“It’s difficult to describe all of this in a way that someone who’s never experienced it can make sense of it. I can’t emphasize enough that when this happens, what I am describing is absolutely the depressed person’s reality. When people try to get the person to look on the bright side, be grateful, change his or her thoughts, or meditate, or they minimize or try to disprove the person’s reality, they are very unlikely to succeed. Instead, they and the depressed person are likely to feel frustrated and alienated from one another.”
How Can We Work Toward Healing?
So how can we climb out of this mindset? When the darkness feels like reality, how can we begin to sincerely believe in and experience happiness again?
- Counseling. Counseling serves to help us work through our thoughts, recognize the untruths in our mindset, and establish a plan for change. You can seek counseling from a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist. If you’re having difficulty deciding which type of professional to see, consider meeting with your primary care doctor to ask for a recommendation. If your primary doctor is not available, your insurance company can often direct you if you call the customer service number on the back of your card. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also offers a treatment referral helpline, where you can speak to a live person to get general information on mental health and locate treatment services in your area.
- Support groups. Many facing depression have found group therapy or support groups to be effective for alleviating the symptoms of isolation and loneliness that are common in depression. It’s helpful for many to realize that they’re not alone, and that many people, in all different walks of life, are facing the same darkness. Oftentimes progress comes easier if we’re partnering with others in a similar situation.
- Medication. Many people are apprehensive to start an antidepressant medication. They don’t want to have to take a pill for the rest of their life in order to be happy. But the truth is that few people take an antidepressant indefinitely. The medications help to balance your neurotransmitters, the chemicals in your brain that affect mood and emotions. Their purpose is to “jump-start” your mood and give you the boost you need to fight back against symptoms of depression. Most people only take antidepressants for six to nine months, though some take them longer.
- Natural remedies. There are a lot of simple actions we can take that will naturally combat depression. For example, exercising boosts our endorphins (or feel-good chemicals), improves our mood, and relieves stress. Adding foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and folic acid to your diet may help to relieve symptoms. You can find these and eight more natural depression remedies here.
Wrap It Up
What is depression? Depression can make our minds feel dark, lonely, and hopeless, but there are several ways to combat that darkness. Counseling, support groups, medication, and natural remedies, each offer a unique approach to healing. You may try one or several before finding the treatment best suited to your needs.
But whatever you do, do something. Despite your current reality, the truth is that you don’t have to stay in this place forever. How can I be so sure? Because I know from experience. And I have family and friends that also know from experience.
So take the first step, whether or not you think it will help. You might just be surprised.
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*DebTakesHerLifeBack.com is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on DebTakesHerLifeBack.com.
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