Having experienced my first bout of depression in my twenties I realised that one of the biggest challenges was getting those around me to understand what I was feeling (or not feeling) at the time. Having now recovered I am able to make this list which would have been impossible in the midst of my illness.
This is not just about my own experience though. Rates of mental illness continue to rise. Depression is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide.
The key to the effective treatment of any illness is understanding it, and this begins at home. Whether it is a friend, partner, colleague or family member, having someone who understands depression can make a big difference.
The following eleven truths are based on my own experience but I believe that they will resonate with others too. Please share them if they help to explain the unexplainable.
1. A little gremlin lives in your ear.
Whether its forgetting to wish your friend good luck for an interview, or making a typo in an email, even the smallest mistake is just another box tick on the list of things that you can't do right. Whilst a rational mind would say sorry to the friend, and forgive themselves, you have a little voice in your ear that tells you that it's because you're a bad friend, employee, or person, and that 'you don't deserve to be happy, ever!'
2. You work on a time delay.
Ever watch the news when the anchor is speaking to a reporter overseas? There is always that awkward delay before the anchor's question reaches the earpiece of the reporter. A several second silence which seems to last an eternity on live TV.
When you're depressed that's how every conversation feels. Your brain takes longer to process what has been said often leading to a time delay. Your slowing of speech becomes obvious to those around you which often leads to giving up all contributing in conversations altogether. Your greatest hope is that people will just stop including you, and you can carry on disappearing into the background.
3. You create your own invisibility cloak.
Move over Harry Potter, those with depression have their own magical creation which is far more impressive than the one Harry used to sneak around Hogwarts. Not only does it make you disappear, but it does it slowly, gradually, so that no one around you notices.
First, it makes you slowly withdraw from conversations, and avoid doing anything that will make you the centre of attention. To throw others off the scent, you respond normally generally telling people 'I'm fine', whilst slowly declining invitations to social events. One by one people stop inviting you and including you, and before you know it 'Abracadabra' - you're invisible!
4. Your mind has hit stand-by.
When I was depressed I could go for days, often up to a week, and not remember what had happened. It's like my brain was on standby, and although technically functioning and alive, it was not absorbing or remembering information. To those around you, you could even appear 'normal'. This is because you are functioning on autopilot, saying and doing the right things, but not really present.
5. The world becomes a horror movie.
At 23 years old I became terrified to even board a bus on my own. Talking to a stranger became the equivalent of being chased down the street by a pack of giant spiders. Every day, around every corner, was a potential terrifying scenario. This lead to the point that the only time I felt safe was in my bed, under my duvet, and away from a world I no longer trusted.
6. You look the same but you are not the same.
Who was that person who laughed so easily with their friends? What would that person say to the version of you now? The difference in the person that you are BD (before depression), and the person you are AD (after depression), can be monumental . You can't remember the feeling of being truly happy, and worry that you will never feel this feel this way again.
7. You feel guilty. Like it is your fault that you're ill.
It is an unfortunate symptom of depression, that those who are suffering feel guilty for having an illness.
Not only do you think that it is your fault for not being strong enough to resist your negative thoughts and feelings, but you feel bad that other people are having to worry about you when there is nothing physically wrong. The reactions of people who don't understand can just make it worse, telling someone who is depressed to 'cheer up, it's not so bad', or 'snap out of it', will only increase their feelings of guilt making them feel worse.
8. This can lead to self destruction.
Like the fight or flight reflex that humans share with the rest of the animal kingdom, when we are tired of fighting we run instead.
Tired of feeling guilt, you pull away, convincing yourself that it is better for everyone if you are alone. This is when we enter self destruct mode, depriving ourselves of the help that we need, giving up on our commitments, and refusing to show any kindness to ourselves.
9. You watch life through a glass wall.
As you sink further into depression you begin to feel like you are an observer looking on to a world that you are not a part of. Seeing normal situations and emotions play out, you begin to lose your connection with real life and retreat deeper into yourself. You understand what you should be feeling but you can't feel it, like there is a glass partition between you and the rest of the world.
10. You don't want to talk about it.
One of the most challenging symptoms of depression for those around you, is that you don't to talk about it. In truth, you don't know what is wrong, and when people ask you, trying to explain it makes you feel foolish and guilty for wasting their time.
The benefit of hindsight allows you to see that things can, and do, change, but when you are in the middle of that valley you can't see over the mountains to any kind of horizon.
11. You don't feel sad. You don't feel anything.
It is one of the biggest misconceptions of depression that it is extreme sadness. In my experience depression is very different from sadness. It is the absence of feeling.
When you are sad you feel something. Sadness can be a release. Grieving over the loss of something helps you to come to terms with it, feel the emotion and move on. Depression is a loss of emotion, the very thing that makes us human. It is a state of limbo in which everything you have ever known no longer makes sense or has a purpose.
I know I said 11, but I'm going to sneak one more in because it's the most important...
12. It can and will pass.
Like even the fiercest of storms, with the right help and support, it will pass eventually. Although you may never be the same as you were before, you will be a new you, stronger and more self aware.
The biggest lesson that I ever learnt was to let people help me, even when it felt like the most unnatural thing to do.