I recently had my first visit with my new psychiatrist. One of the questions he asked me during the consultation was, "What does depression mean to you?" I took this to mean, "How does it manifest itself for you?"
The question was hard for me to answer, and not just because my three year old son was wreaking havoc in the room. I was surprised that I had trouble answering, and upon reflection, realized that it was akin to answering someone's question about what attracted you to your spouse. When the relationship is new, you think about it all the time, so you have those answers uppermost in your mind. When I was first diagnosed with depression, it was all new to me, so I examined my feelings about it constantly. After 15 years I just took it for granted that there was nothing new there for me to discover. I write about it all the time, but I rarely think about how I define it.
After realizing that I wasn't quite as familiar with my feelings and thoughts about depression as I had assumed, I started turning it over in my mind again. I found that I had learned some things about depression in the years since I was diagnosed.
â— Depression brings with it, or perhaps is, the complete absence of hope. Until you are devoid of hope, you really can't appreciate how much we need it. We all lose hope in certain situations. We may feel sure we're not going to win a game of tennis or get a promotion, but even behind an expectation of defeat, we still always retain a small measure of hope. That's why we keep trying. But depression steals hope from every aspect of your life, from your chances of making it through a yellow light before it turns red to your chances of making it through your life, period. This absence of hope is what makes everyone tell someone with depression that they're negative about everything. If you have no hope left, of course you're going to be negative.
â— Depression is a mental ventriloquist. It puts thoughts in your head that aren't yours, thoughts like, "Everyone hates me," or "I'm such a loser," or, worst of all, the idea that suicide is the only way out of the pain. Once you know you have depression and learn to recognize these thoughts as the depression talking and not your own thoughts, you can dismiss them. But until you get to that point, these thoughts of course seem to be your own.
â— Having had both Multiple Sclerosis and depression, I can tell you that in a way depression is even more enervating than MS. If I'm depressed, even thinking about doing housework, for example, is tiring, and I don't get much done. If I'm not depressed, just tired from my MS, I keep on going, getting stuff done until my body finally refuses to move.
â— Depression takes away your determination, your resolve, your mental cheerleader. That voice that tells you to keep trying; that you can do it. This is somewhat related to the lack of hope, but isn't exactly the same thing.
â— Depression slows down your thought processes. You feel like you've taken stupid pills. You have more trouble learning things, you don't make connections between things, you don't have leaps of intuition or any of those higher brain functions that we take for granted.
â— Depression blunts your ability to communicate effectively, or at all. Speech can be slowed and difficult. Expressing yourself in writing can be easier, since you're not on the spot, but it's also an effort.
Those are some of the things I've learned in the past fifteen years about depression - according to my particular experience with it. I'm interested in hearing your thoughts about what depression is. Please leave a comment or share your thoughts in the message boards.