Identifying Non-Traditional Depression Symptoms
“Depression is a disorder of mood, so mysteriously painful and elusive in the way it becomes known to the self…as to verge close to being beyond description.” William Styron, Darkness Visible
I was reminded recently, when I told the members of my forum for people with depression that we were moving back to a previous software platform, how any change can freak out someone with depression. Even though we were moving back to software that many members had complained about leaving in the first place when we changed last fall, many members (in some cases, the same ones) were now complaining about going “home,” as one member who was happy with the reversal put it.
I’ve run into this depression symptom many times during the ten or so years I’ve had my forum. But if you look on any of the depression symptoms lists, the ones many people use to self-diagnose, you wouldn’t see “strong resistance to changes.” You won’t see a lot of other symptoms that people with depression experience. In brief, this is what you’ll see:
- Decreased energy
- Trouble concentrating
- Feelings of guilt and hopelessness
- Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
- Change in appetite and sleep patterns
As I said, this is in brief, about half of the items you’ll usually see on your typical depression symptoms list, but even if I included all of them, the end result would be the same - the list can be completely unhelpful to a real person when it comes to alerting them to their undiagnosed depression.
My depression went undiagnosed for twenty years. I can promise you that I saw this list many times during the latter part of this period. But it never clicked with me; I never recognized myself in those symptoms. Finally, when I read William Styron’s account of his own depression in Darkness Visible, the lightbulb clicked on.
Here are two of the quotes from Darkness Visible that really resonated with me and helped me recognize that what was tormenting me was depression:
“For myself the pain is most closely connected to drowning or suffocation-but even those images are off the mark.”
“My behavior was really the result of the illness, which had progressed far enough to produce some of its most famous and sinister hallmarks: confusion, failure of mental focus and lapse of memory.”
Now granted, part of the problem was that I had had depression since I was a child, and so there had never been any changes, per se. But I think the main problem with these typical depression symptoms lists is that they’re really dry and technical. It’s hard for people to connect to them and see themselves and how they’re feeling in these lists.
So how about a list of non-traditional depression symptoms? Do any of these resonate with you?
- It’s difficult to smile; it feels as if your smile muscles are paralyzed.
- You’re crying a lot, for no apparent reason.
- There seems to be a glass wall between you and everything and everyone else.
- Carrying on a normal conversation is nearly impossible.
- Your senses are dulled - food doesn’t taste good, scents that you love leave you cold and music doesn’t affect you.
- You’re irritable.
- Your hygiene has become less than perfect (to put it kindly).
- Everything is a huge effort, the same way it is when you’re really sick, like with the flu.
- You’re afraid, anxious or worried all the time.
- Every day the weather seems cloudy and gray, even if it’s sunny and beautiful. It’s not just that you’re indifferent to the weather; you almost literally see a dark cloudy day no matter what the weather.
Deborah Gray wrote about depression as a Patient Expert for HealthCentral. She lived with undiagnosed clinical depression, both major episodes and dysthymia, from childhood through young adulthood. She was finally diagnosed at age 27, and since that time, her depression has been successfully managed with medication and psychotherapy.