I think that everyone’s experience of depression is very different but all are equally valid, so let me tell you how it feels to me…..
My depressed periods come suddenly and without warning. I suddenly find that things that I would usually gobble up, become more difficult. This last time began last July when I was organising a weekend with friends that I had been planning and looking forward to for months. A crowd were coming to stay with us but I was struggling to pack the food bags and was fretting about catering for the number of people, whereas usually I am a good hostess. That weekend felt like hard work to me, although I hope that none of our guests noticed how much hard work it was, and it signalled the start of a rapid decline.
By the week after, it had developed into a full blown depression and all those familiar feelings came back to haunt me:
– I struggle to wake up and get going in the mornings, not quite duvet days, but there is no energy or motivation there at all
– I can no longer multi task but need all my concentration just to complete a single task and it takes forever
– My mind can only think negative thoughts in that I always assume the worst – so there is no point phoning for tickets because they will almost certainly be fully booked. There is little point in any baking as it’s bound to taste disgusting etc.
– I fret about small things that would not normally not phase me, so I worry about being late; t I am constantly checking the clock and I nag the family more about being on time, it becomes a real anxiety.
– I withdraw from my friends and reject invitations to go out or meet up. I shy away from all social contact, as I just feel as though I have nothing interesting to say or contribute. I allow my husband to make the decisions for us about where we go and who we socialise with, whereas I normally control our social diary, as I have no interest or ideas.
– I cannot make a decision or plan ahead, as I am paralysed by fear of getting it wrong. Even my mum or my sister will suggest an activity or visit that I would ordinarily like, but I am unable to respond positively, I simply push it away and say ‘we will see’. I am afraid of commitment.
For me then these “flat, low” feelings can last for 6-9 months, which feels like being in limbo, as nothing is resolved , I am just waiting for the day when finally I feel better and “normal”. I do not feel suicidal or panicky, but I just feel empty and all the sparkle in my eyes has gone, when I catch myself in the mirror. Depression is a very selfish condition as, for that time, I cannot focus on anyone much other than myself. Then I will discover, out of the blue, that my friend has separated from her husband for example and I was not there to support her or a friend’s child has been bullied at school and I did not know, so I feel guilty then and the spiral continues.
Things that I usually embrace with both hands, like birthdays and Christmas, become agony, as I cannot shop or make decisions about gifts. In fact I tend to overs pend online now, in an attempt to make up for the neglect. So depression can cost me a fortune as ease and convenience is invaluable, I cannot face the shops and crowds, I do not count the cost! My sister will call and ask what we all want for Christmas and I will have no ideas and show no enthusiasm, in fact, I would rather that it all just went away. I tell her so and she agrees, there is no need to acknowledge Christmas at all, then I feel guilty and the downward spiral continues.
Every year I have been able to maintain the necessary function to get my son to school, get myself to work and to shop for and cook our meals, but there is then no room left for anything else, like chatting with friends, going out and making plans. I waste hours in the supermarket being indecisive and I cannot plan ahead so I will buy the ingredients for one meal and then have to repeat the torture the next day. My son gets to school but he may not be wearing the cleanest, most ironed uniform and I may forget his dinner money or swimming things more than usual.
I am proud never to have missed any work from my depression, but it is exhausting and very hard work. I am not confident in the least and indecisive. The reports that I usually create efficiently start to take days to produce, as I keep writing and re-writing them, trying to improve them but I am never satisfied. I usually enjoy meeting clients, it is my favourite part of the job, but when depressed that is fraught with problems: will they realise that I am an idiot? Will I be able to advise them? Will I be too tired once I get there? I am always relieved and sceptical that clients do not realise that I am not right and I have an unnerving and unnecessary desire to confess, before I am found out!
And then after months of struggling, suddenly things start to improve… it is a quick as my decline, I just suddenly realise that I have really enjoyed an activity and not analysed it to death. Then I will start to feel my energy levels restore and might have a busy night when I start tidying up or clearing away paperwork that has been lying around for months. Last time I can pinpoint my recovery to the May Day bank holiday weekend, when I realised at the end of the weekend that I had had fun and not worried about everything. I never dare speak out loud that I am feeling better, I never want to tempt fate. In my next article I will try to explain to you how it feels when I am ‘manic’/hyper, when this dark cloud lifts.
Part two to follow…