Plunging into the abyss: A quick guide to depression
A quick guide to depression: what it is, how it can affect you, and where to get help.
When I was diagnosed with unipolar depression – or major depressive disorder – it didn’t come as a surprise. I was told that I’d likely been a borderline depressive for years, which wasn’t surprising either, given my personal history. I plunged headlong into the abyss that is depression, and I struggled to resurface from its depths for years.
So what exactly is depression? Imagine a profound ubiquitous sorrow from which there is no escape, a deep darkness that is all-enveloping and all-consuming. Imagine lacking the energy to care for yourself, or to care for others. Imagine losing interest in everything around you, even things that you had previously loved or enjoyed. Imagine slowly becoming someone else.
That might sound dramatic, but it’s the truth. Depression changes you in many ways. It’s a serious and debilitating illness, not a passing phase. Well-meaning people told me to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘think yourself better’. There is no snapping out of it; it’s about as impossible as a diabetic snapping out of having diabetes. There is no thinking yourself better. There is nowhere to hide when your biggest enemy is you.
It’s important to understand that depression – despite the stigma surrounding it – has been around for a very long time. It is by no means a modern illness brought upon us by our hectic lifestyles or fast-paced lives. It is also more common than people realise; one in ten adults suffers from the condition. It is identified as the most common disability that people face – and yes, it is indeed a disability, which is something that non-sufferers don’t seem to understand. It can also affect people from all walks of life; sometimes I’ve heard people speak of a celebrity who has confessed to having depression and wonder aloud what on earth someone who ostensibly has everything has to be depressed about. That is the wrong way to look at things. Anyone can suffer from mental illness; depression doesn’t discriminate.
Several factors can play a role in depression, including biochemistry (when your brain just doesn’t produce the right chemicals), personal history (suffering from loss, abuse, poverty, and other trauma), genetics (depression runs in families), and personality (people with low self-esteem are more likely to get depression).
People can experience sadness at the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or when they go through a separation or a divorce. Sad people may describe their symptoms as depression, but it is crucial to understand that sadness does not equate depression. Grief can bring about sadness, but in grief people remember the positive aspects of the person they lost; when one is depressed it is impossible to remember anything positive. Self-esteem is maintained by people who are grieving, but in depressed people feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing are common occurrences. Having said that, the death of a loved one or the loss of a job can bring on major depression in some people. Suffering from grief whilst depressed leads to extreme grief from which it is very difficult to surface. Although there are some common factors connecting grief and depression, they are actually different. It’s important for people to understand what they are feeling so that they can seek the help that they so desperately need.
Some of the symptoms of depression are sadness, loss of interest in activities that were previously enjoyed, changes in appetite, loss of energy, fatigue, lack of sleep or sleeping too much, thoughts of worthlessness, difficulty concentrating, and suicidal ideation, to name a few. It’s important to remember that certain conditions such as a sluggish thyroid and vitamin and iron deficiencies can mimic the symptoms of depression. Depression can also occur in women after childbirth, and that is known as postpartum depression. If your symptoms persist longer than two weeks, it’s time to see a psychiatrist.
However, not all is doom and gloom. Depression is the most treatable mental illness, and although a complete recovery is not possible (you will carry the illness around with you for the rest of your life) it can be managed with medicine, therapy, diet, and exercise. It is possible to suffer from depression and still have a good quality of life. Medicine is vital, as is counselling and therapy. It’s important to recognise when you are feeling low and seeking help and support while coursing through the depths. Seeking help and support is perfectly natural, although too many people prefer to suffer in silence. I implore you to reach out to someone, even if it’s just someone on the other end of a hotline. The emergency numbers for India are 1860-266-2345 and 1800-233-3330.
If there’s one thing I want to do with this article, I want you to understand that you are not alone. You may be feeling alone, but you’re not. If I and countless others can get successfully treated for depression, you can too. I urge you to find a psychiatrist and ask for the help that you need. I am living proof that life does get better after medication and therapy, and it can for you too.