Friday, July 14, 2017

Article: Inside a Depressed Person's Head

Depression is a rather poorly understood phenomenon, even sometimes by those who suffer it regularly.  Most people's experience with depression is at the loss of a loved one.  That's a normal thing to be depressed about, but unlike major depression, it goes away simply with time.  Major depression is not so polite. 

I have, to my knowledge, suffered dysthymia for the majority of my life.  Which is also not major depression, it's a minor, long-lasting, greyness to the world.  It's why I get grumpy quickly.  It's why I'm often negative rather than positive.  It's something I'm trying to fight. 

However, I have also had an episode of major depression.  At least one, but only one I can easily see in retrospect was definitely major depression.  I was in college, and it was finals time in sophomore year.  The stress of so many projects (all of which seemed above and beyond me) combined with poor eating, combined with the uncertainty of the future and a sense of crushing loneliness (I'd recently broken up with my second boyfriend, who had then gotten together with his future wife).  All of this came together into a cognitive tempest of emotional pain.  Inside of it, everything was my fault, nothing was ever going to improve, and life was literally pain. 

Please understand that I was firmly convinced of those facts: everything was pain, and it was my fault.  Unlike many sufferers of depression, I had very little support.  But also unlike many sufferers of depression, I had also spent most of my memorable childhood either miserable, angry, sad, or highly focused.  So when my life became pain, it was simply a ramping up of what had already been. 

The golden sun shone warmly down upon the college campus, bringing out the deep emeralds of the carefully tended plants and brilliant shades of sapphire sky, and none of it touched me.  I like colors, but within the grey haze that my life had become, everything was merely theatrical scenery, flat, transitory, irrelevant.  I didn't notice that change, either.  I've never claimed to be particularly observant, but intense pain tends to make anyone's observational skills worse.

So I didn't recognize it at the time. despite literally studying it that very semester, and only long afterwards did I go, "oh, wait... everything isn't my fault, why did I think it was?  Was... was that major depression?"  Instead, I did what I've always done when my life is hard and miserable.  I put my head down and kept plugging along, one step at a time.  As far as I understood, I had no other alternatives. (Suicide didn't really occur to me, I guess.)

Like all finals seasons, it eventually ended.  I can't honestly remember if I kept that fact in mind, that the finals would end, and it helped, or if I lost track of it entirely in the slew of due dates and projects...  but it did end.  I shipped myself and my stuff back home, and with the main source of the stress and pain over, recovered over the course of a couple weeks. 

Besides the points this article makes, I'd like to point out that depression is quite literally emotional and cognitive pain.  The brain handles pain differently than the rest of the body does, but it is still pain and cannot be fixed by simply "looking on the bright side" of things.  If this idea is new to you, please read the "Support for People with Depression" and "What Loved Ones Can Do" sections of this article very carefully, and commit it to memory. 

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