One in five people get depression at some point in their lives. While any of us can feel low at any point depression occurs when these feelings linger for weeks, months or even years and make everyday life hard.
It isn't uncommon for somebody to go through a depressive episode, recover and then have another episode. In fact, the majority of people who have one depressive episode will go on to have another one. I have been struggling on and off with depression for about 10 years now: my first episode was when I was about 14, my worst episode was at 19 and a couple since. I wanted to demystify it a bit for those going through their first episode, or for people who are supporting somebody with depression and I wanted to give recurrent sufferers a chance to say 'yeah me too'.
So without much further ado, here is what depression is (to me):
Not wanting to get out of bed
Getting out of bed means facing the day. The prospect of facing 16 hours of feeling lethargic and empty is enough to make anyone turn back under the covers. But if you do go back to bed depression introduces you to her friend guilt. Staying in bed means facing the day feeling guilty because you're missing work and everyone else has to cover for you. It's 6.45am and already you're in a no-win situation.
Whether you get out of bed or not, a day with depression is boring. Nothing brings you pleasure anymore: not your favourite TV show, not your friends, even sex feels meaningless. Long empty hours of feeling nothing but boredom and sadness stretches ahead. Sleeping it off is a rare luxury because every time you try to sleep you will probably want to cry first.
Having a body made of lead
Most people don't realise that depression doesn't just affect you mentally; it's also associated with a whole host of physical effects. Muscle aches and joint pain is common and moving your body feels like heaving a tonne of lead around. Depression can affect your digestive system, your appetite, your weight and your immune system too.
Not wanting to be alone but finding people exhausting
The only thing that seems to provide some temporary relief for me is a hug from somebody close to me; it stops my thoughts from going down that dark path for just a few moments. Unfortunately, I find people exhausting when I am depressed. My thinking slows down completely so I find it very hard to follow conversations; I can't keep up with what is being said which makes me feel like a bad friend or colleague. I become very irritable when I am depressed too; I can't stand people changing plans, or not being able to make decisions. It makes things incredibly hard because I want more than anything not to be on my own, but I know I am not an easy person to be around so I tend to isolate myself.
I don't feel like me anymore
This is a hard one to explain, but being depressed sort of feels like watching your life on a TV screen rather than actually being a part of it, except in this version somebody is fast forwarding to all the bad bits and whizzing past your happy memories. Everything about you feels different and out of place. You know you're acting strangely, thinking strangely and feeling quite unlike yourself and yet there is nothing you can do about it.
Angry that I can't snap out of it
I feel self-indulgent living like this; too trapped in my own head to do anything productive. Keeping the curtains closed on summer days and not making plans to do anything when I have been blessed with a healthy body and there are plenty of people out there a lot worse off than me. It's normal to feel angry at yourself for slipping back down again and angry that you still don't know how to 'snap out of it'. It's a vicious circle.
Wondering what next ?
Depression and anxiety quite often come hand in hand and it's easy to see why. If you're dealing with the mental and physical symptoms of depression of course you are going to start worrying about how people see you, what they say about you and where to go next for treatment. The worries start to pile up: what does my boss think about me, will I lose my job, where can I go for treatment, will treatment even work for me this time round?
If you're struggling with depression the most important thing you can do is ask for help. Start with somebody you trust, and build up the courage to talk to a healthcare professional. You can call the Samaritans anytime on 116 123 (UK).