The American Psychological Association (APA) defines depression as follows:
‘A negative affective state, ranging from unhappiness and discontent to an extreme feeling of sadness, pessimism, and despondency, that interferes with daily life’.
I’ve been living with depression since my early teenage years, and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in 2013. From there, depression has been my “friend”. Living with depression, for me, is terrifying and is also a place to learn about myself.
Depression creeps up on me stealthily. The mood change that goes from happy Susan, to sad Susan is drastic and out of nowhere, I fall apart. This might be falling behind in work, having to take a couple of days off from work, not eating, or eating too much, crying non-stop, and having no energy. One day I might be functional, and then another day I’ll be lying on the floor on a yoga mat with no energy to get up and take care of my mental health.
It takes a lot out of a person to do day to day activities when they are depressed, and that is understandable. Depression makes us believe we are worthless and hopeless, and not able to perform our daily duties because we are incapable of taking care of ourselves. This is absolutely NOT true, but when we are depressed we can easily make ourselves believe it.
At present, I am coming out of a depressive episode. Last week was agonising, with spells of sadness and the feeling of deep remorse that I even existed. To many people I looked functional. I went on a run, went on walks, grocery shopped, and even attended a training for work on Zoom. What people didn’t know was that I was spiralling fast, down into depression, and I was trying to keep busy hoping the depression wouldn’t affect my day to day life.
All of a sudden, I woke up one day, and I knew this day was going to be bad. I dragged myself out of bed and looked at myself in the bathroom mirror. Depression was here and it had no plan of leaving. I walked back to bed and told my husband I couldn’t go to work. My head throbbed and tears began to pour down my face. As days progressed, my depression began to get worse. So much worse, I began to take not one day off work but almost an entire week off work. I contacted my psychiatrist and told him what was up and he confirmed my worry: this was a depressive episode.
When you are in the middle of a depressive episode, the episode feels like it will never lift. Even if you try your best (ie. going for a walk, or taking a shower) you are not rewarded for your attempt at doing something to ward off the depression. Instead, the depression either escalates or simply continues, until you decide that the depression wins and you can’t do anything about it.
As I come out of my most recent episode, I began to reflect on what depression really does for me. As with anything in life, depression gives us something. It contributes to life in some way, and for me, as I reflected on this, I discovered some things that depression gives to people that you cannot find anywhere else unless you are experiencing being depressed:
Things I have learned:
- Depression comes into my life for a reason: it allows me to understand that life is not always perfect but it is beautiful
- There’s something amazing about someone who lives with depression: they have amazing empathy toward other people, especially people who are going through hard times
- Depression is wisdom
Living with depression means you are always on a journey
For me, depression always shows up a little bit differently than it did in my last depressive episode. There might be some similarities like being sad and feeling worthless, but there might be different triggers, and different thoughts that come along during each episode that do not compare with previous episodes.
There’s a bunch of quotes that state that we learn from our mistakes, our experiences, and the paths that we chose to take in life. This rings true for depression. Depression is a place for self-discovery: What are some things that you learn about yourself?
You are strong for battling depressive thoughts, and resilient for going through a depressive episode. Discovering who you are through a depressive storm is the most exhilarating feeling. The times that you are depressed and ask questions like, “Am I worthless? and “Is this me?” are times where you are unknowingly discovering that, “This depression is not me”.
As I come out of this depressive episode, I have learned several new coping skills and have learned some potential early signs of depression that I have never been aware of until this episode.
I leave you with this quote:
“You say you’re ‘depressed’- all I see is resilience. You are allowed to feel messed up and inside out. It doesn’t mean you’re defective- it just means you’re human”- David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
The next time you feel depressed, know you are not alone and that this shall pass. You are more than your depressive episode.
Written by Susan Page Gadegone
Susan is a mental health advocate, blogger, and peer counsellor. She writes about her lived experience with bipolar disorder
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