What They Don’t Tell You About Depression

Even though more than 16 million adults in the U.S. suffer with depression, it’s still grossly misunderstood. I’m guessing that’s because of the stigma that’s attached depression and other mental illness. If nobody talks about it, then people can’t educate themselves about depression and the stigma can’t be eradicated.

Hopefully you know that depression is more than just sadness. There are a whole host of symptoms that can be very debilitating, and depression can affect you physically, too.

Here’s what you might now know about depression that I’ve found out through my experience.

  1. A lot of medication I’ve tried, mainly antipsychotics, make you gain weight. While on Abilify, I gained 30 pounds in about four months. The meds helped me but gaining weight made me feel worse about myself. Often patients have to choose between a drug’s physical toll it can take and gaining weight. Normally, I would advise that you stay on a medication if it’s helping you, but because of the weight I gained, it just made me more depressed and fueled my body dysmorphia.
  2. Depression is misunderstood by A LOT of people. As I mentioned early, people don’t know that depression is more than sadness. It can affect your memory, concentration, sexual drive, appetite and sleep patterns. When I’m going through a depressive episode, it’s hard to get out of bed. I’m fatigued and it can be daunting to complete small (and usually easy) chores and tasks. People don’t understand that depression can affect all areas of your life.
  3. It’s lonely. Sometimes it feels like I’m on the outside looking in on the world go about their days and be happy. I feel out of place, because if you’ve never experienced major depression, it’s hard to understand. Just ask my husband. He’s the most supportive person in my life, but he still doesn’t understand completely. You start to think that everyone else is happy (they’re not) and that you never will be.
  4. People will judge you and you’ll feel guilty. That stupid stigma rears its ugly head again. People will think you’re lazy, that you’re not trying, that you can just “snap out of it,” but it doesn’t work like that. Sure, I fall behind on housework and take a lot of naps when I’m going through a depressive episode, but normally, I’m motivated and get things done. When depression hits, you are so fatigued it’s hard to even brush your teeth for two minutes. When people assume you’re lazy and not trying, it just means that they haven’t been educated on depression. That’s why we have to talk it. We have to say, “Screw the stigma,” and accept who we are. Then maybe others will better understand.
  5. You’ll experience fatigue and other physical ailments. I’ve already touched on this, but I wanted to talk about symptoms you may experience besides fatigue. I get migraines, stomach aches (mostly from my anxiety) and back pain. My sleeping patterns change, only leading to more fatigue.
  6. You’ll feel like a burden. I struggle with this so much. I feel guilty and like I’m a strain on my family, which sometimes I am. I went to a psychiatric facility for six weeks, leaving my husband in charge of most everything. It was hard. It was also very costly. And when I’m going through depressive episode, my husband has to pick up the slack with the house and kids. I also feel like I talk and think about my mental health 24/7, so I can tell if I get off track and am heading into an episode. I’m sure all my friends and family are tired of reading about and talking about my mental illness.
  7. There are “Impossible Tasks” that you will feel you can’t do. Mine is showering. When I’m depressed, I just can’t summon the strength to take one. I’ll go a week without doing it because it seems as hard as running a marathon with no shoes on and a bodysuit of armor. It may as well be. Brushing my teeth is also hard — any personal hygiene is hard for a lot of depressed people. You might find it gross, but it’s the truth.
  8. People won’t think you’re sick. Going back to thinking depression is sadness — they won’t understand if affects more than your mood. People don’t think depression is a disease like any other. Again, that’s the stigma talking.
  9. Family and friends may drop out of your life. It’s a lot to be friends with, date or deal with someone who has depression. We have unpredictable moods, we can’t always go out and socialize and we might even make others feel sad because we are. I get it can be draining, especially if your loved one feels like a caregiver at times.
  10. You’ll buy into the stigma at times but none of it is true. There have been times where I have thought I’m lazy, weak, useless, not trying hard enough or would be better off dead. No matter what, you should reject those ideas that are born only from ignorance. You’re not lazy or weak. Matter of fact, the strongest people I know struggle with mental illness.
  11. Sometimes you might feel like you want to die. I have treatment-resistant, major depression, and because of that, most medicines don’t work and it took a long time to figure out with meds did work with what therapies. In between that, I experienced severe bouts of depression where I felt suicidal. I didn’t want to be suicidal; I didn’t want to die. But my brain was telling me the only way to escape the unbearable pain I felt was to kill myself. It’s scary and overwhelming. If you are depressed and dealing with suicidal ideation, please call your doctor, reach out to a trusted friend or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Read my blog on what it feels like to be suicidal here.

When I was first diagnosed almost 20 years ago, I didn’t realize how hard it would be to deal with depression. Now, not everybody with depression deals with all this and is not as severe, but I think it’s still important to know.

If you would like to read more about depression, I urge you to go to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Thanks for reading. Stay in the light.

If you have something to add to this list, drop it in the comments.

Hindsight

I can tell you now that I’ve always had anxiety, even as a child, and I can pinpoint signs of depression as early as middle school. Either that or I was facing some wild ass hormones, compliments of puberty, although my cohorts didn’t seem to have it that bad.

When I was in college my Mema passed away after a battle with colon cancer. It was very hard on me and I started seeing a therapist.  It was during therapy that I knew I’d always been sad but I didn’t realize – or maybe I was in denial – about having depression. I didn’t continue therapy, I just dealt with my problems with what I now know to be negative coping skills: binge eating, compulsive shopping or skipping class and trying to sleep my anxiety and stress away.

Unfortunately those “skills” are still employed when I’m stressed or going through a depressive episode, which is a lot. Don’t worry, I’m in therapy weekly.

Graduation night in 2006. I had no idea what I would come to face in the next couple years. Er, decade.

There I was in my mid 20s. I was so sad most of the time. I was constantly anxious. I thought it was normal because nobody else ever told me it wasn’t. I knew I was more emotional than my friends, but I had always been emotional since childhood.

Finally, after I had graduated college, got a job and health insurance I saw a doctor who told me – you have depression and anxiety.

Where am I going with this? Depression and anxiety plagued me almost my entire life yet I knew nothing about it except that people who look antidepressants were crazy (so said family members and friends). I told nobody except a friend in pharmacy school that I was started on medication. I definitely didn’t tell my parents. When I quit my first job and was back on their health insurance I said I had PMDD, premenstrual disphoric disorder, (which I do have but didn’t know then) but it was easier to explain that I had severe mood swings during my period than depression.

Now my parents know. I think being hospitalized for suicidal thoughts tipped them off. And while they’ve never experienced depression and may not understand how it feels, they are very supportive. I’m just sad it took me so long to admit that I needed help.

Again, that’s why this blog exists. The stigma of mental illness keeps people from seeking help when they need it the most. It prevents people from being educated about one of the most prevalent diseases in the U.S. and I simply want to shed light on it.

So, let’s talk.