Hello. Happy Thursday night, or early Friday, perhaps you could say. The weekend is almost here and I shall greet the weekend with a post as a cheers to the weekend! Depression is a thing I have struggled with immensely in my adolescence and is kind of that big ‘real’ event in my life. The lesson to learn here (and that I learned as a 15 year old!) is that depression really is no joke and can be a serious and deadly mental illness. I had a 4 month mental breakdown, I call it, with the serious symptoms of depression. I blamed myself for everything. I could not concentrate on anything for more than 20 minutes, and if I managed to concentrate for 20 minutes it was a damn good accomplishment. I kept on dwelling on the stupid things I did, like how stupid I sounded when I asked for a chair, and how worthless I looked moving it. The world was scary and I did not know how to deal with it at all.
AN ‘ASPIE’ FLAVOR OF DEPRESSION:
I say aspie flavor of depression because really, my nonverbal learning disorder troubles manifest themselves throughout this depression.
Defining terms: Nonverbal learning disorder:
If you do not know, non-verbal learning disorder is basically what the title suggests. I have trouble picking up on things that are not explicitly stated to me. This comes out in school especially, with the inability to pick up the big unstated picture. In this case, the student will remember the details and the things the teacher says directly, but cannot pick up on the overall, unexplicit picture. I had this problem big time with history and so it was really hard for me to remember a war or time period because the details were just details and it was so hard to connect them all into a big picture. In high school, this was still a problem and it took me writing out a battle 3 times on paper to paint the big picture in my head.
It can also come out socially, as in non-verbal cues, in which the moods, thoughts, and feelings of people are not explicitly stated.
This is not an official diagnosis, so it often comes with other diagnoses like ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome. So, at the time, along with my diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, I was also diagnosed with a non-verbal learning disorder.
Non-verbal Learning Disorder ‘Thinking- prints’ On My Depression:
Dweling on little teeny-weeny DETAILS
I focused and blew out of proportion my tone of voice when asking for a chair. It was a minor detail and did not mean that much in comparison to the big picture of the whole action and what I was doing, as a mere human being with needs…yet somehow I did not consider it as just this minor detail, but a really big action. And that was the thing: every action was of the same level of importance and significance to me; I had no sense of higher rank order, or the end result of something, for that matter.
2. Failure to see the big picture
3. Failure to read body cues
It was what my college counselor accused me of. I did not look around. Part of it, I wanted to block my whole grade out and appear as this virtuous, emotionless robot, but also, I did not really know how to read people, or like what to look for. If I saw the cues, I knew, but my brain never knew how to just calm down and look at people’s cues. I would have to consciously direct myself to do so… It was scary to me like I was not supposed to do it.
Despite these innerworkings of the toxic thinking of depression, I still had the neurotypical symptoms of depression: exaggerated, black and white thinking, hopelessness, guilt, wanting to die, loss of interest in fun activities, and just finding life a chore in general.
What is Depression Like?
Describing my depression to someone else always finds itself to be the most difficult thing on the planet. It is not that I do not remember my feelings and experience with it; all of it plays back in my mind so vividly as a movie on the big screen. The problem is, I cannot make this person see the emotional movie that plays in my head, and I don’t know where I would begin to explain it to him-nor what words to even describe it. Words can only do so much when it comes to feelings and emotions…I cannot quite capture the debilitating force of depression’s mental prison- that moment when it first hacks your mind and then proceeds to trap you in a swirly hypnosis of negativity and grief all the while it feeds you scary thoughts and nasty tasting food that makes you feel dead on the inside. How do I say this to people when they ask what depression is like?
To quote a common proverb, ‘No one knows what someone truly goes through until they walk a mile in their shoes’, and this cannot be more true in the case of mental health issues. I can explain how rough the walk is with depression; I may even be able to show the damage it has done with the blisters on my feet. However, the actual feelings, how illogical it makes one, how it turns killing oneself into saving oneself from pain-those things are hard to understand in every day conversation and even harder to explain. It is an invisible battle and to explain what others cannot see requires more than just casual conversation. For this reason, I wish to depict the struggles of depression, and so have attempted to unveil the quicksand of dredge which depression wreaks on its hapless victims.
I have identified 4 key aspects to understanding depression:
I will discuss each of these aspects in this post.
You may be thinking that duration is a straightforward answer; duration is simply how long the depression lasted; surely this is simple to tell. My response to this: no, its not that simple. Depression is a part of life and life is never simple. Duration of a movie, a car ride, are both straightforward but there is nothing straight nor forward about defining a time range on human emotions-its more like a rough, jagged line. Clinical depression is not like the common cold in that one day it just appears and then goes away after some time. My depression was at its worst for a straight 4 months in my sophomore year, but it happened way before that and lasted way after it. Depression emerges and creeps its way into your life often way before your notice of it and so its origin is unclear and it NEVER GOES AWAY. Those darkness-dwelling, self-defeating thoughts permanently make its home in your mind and it then becomes your job (you never applied for) to develop coping mechanisms to combat the thoughts to work your life around the depression.
The thoughts of depression and being trapped in your mind may seem petty and weak to be controlled by because we cannot see them but I promise you its anything but and takes a lot to fight. I wish to just elucidate this phenomenon in this post.
My school life just put the cherry on top of the heavy, luscious, rich hell cake into which God had baked my life that year. Of course no one knew what was going on at all- not even the bright red cherry of my so called school life.
My circle of friends at lunch turned into a hostile debate team where everyone just attacked everyone verbally, and my one best friend just abandoned me for another girl while simultaneously, my Aunt, to whom I always came for her keen yet lovingly positive advice, slipped into cancer’s harsh, fatal, hands. My grades slipped and I did not speak in my classes.
Every day in all of my classes the continuous echoes and toxic thoughts in my head would shout ‘Everyone hates me’, ‘Everything is my fault’, and, ‘I cannot do anything right’ but no one heard these thoughts. No one saw the woeful dread of doing my homework the night before worrying about talking and going over it. I had to be perfect and say the best most profound thoughts because I did not deserve to speak and run my mouth otherwise, but I was too stupid to do so. No one heard these thoughts and how was I ever to explain them.
I was fighting a war, and I was on a losing streak for 4 straight months. I was breaking. I physically couldn’t speak in class, nor even get up in the morning…All I wanted to do was cry over my stupidity, guilt, and worthlessness. Desparation and exhaustion set in fast. I made efforts to fight my negative thoughts. I would make plans on how to speak in class, but when the moment came I just, I just did not have the right mind set. It was like being trapped in a cage my mind put me in and no one could see this cage. I wanted to be my energetic, driven, lively self, but all this drive seemed lost and I was withering away under everyone’s radar. It felt like I was knocking on the door, begging to be let in, but no one was inside to hear. I was fighting and putting in so much effort, but nobody saw this.
The radiant take away:
Outsiders physically, visually can NOT, recognize the effort to fight depression because of its invisible nature. Mental work does not achieve anything beneficial nor anything physical, so it is overlooked or just not seen. Perhaps for a valid reason in far as evolutionary psychology goes. Nonetheless, the struggles are struggles just like overcoming real, physical handicaps. So, the demands on a depressed mentally handicap person are the same as any other person, and the reality that the depressed individual is just not able to do the same things as the mentally healthy person is not seen. As the expected consequence follows, there becomes this discrepancy between the amount of work and effort the depressed person puts in and how much praise and rewards the depressed person experiences. A depressed individual may work doubly hard to fight off her negative bearing thoughts, but the work and effort other people see that individual put in is only physical, not mental. It is easy to see the accomplishment and effort a person with a prosphetic leg puts into running a marathon successfully. It is not so easy however to see the accomplishment in going to work despite negative thoughts. Everyone has negative thoughts and we all fight them so we think depression is the same way, and not that intense.
What is an accomplishment for a depressed person, is just another daily task for a mentally healthy person. To illustrate this, imagine you are learning how to juggle. You put so much time and effort into learning how to juggle and finally can juggle 3 balls at a moderate pace. You then show people your awesome juggling skills and they give no reaction, and proceed to juggle way more things than you, at a much quicker pace. This is what depression is like. Everyone seems to be better at juggling life than you are, and the little triumphs and baby steps you make to juggle life like a pro, go unnoticed, making you doubt your juggling abilities even more…and so ensues a tiresome series of fights that only end in one way.
One important thing to remember in this post is that depression is really intense. I have been hoping convey in this post that depression is not just feeling sad and having negative thoughts-because we all do this at one point. It is a brain wound…and the chemicals in the brain are altered and so the function of thinking is flawed. There is not this control. It was like my tantrums when I was little.
I would argue the sadness in depression is even more intense. It just feels so real and the amount of greif I felt was like my heart was really broken: It no longer could float on my chest and just sank into my stomach like a ten ton weight carrying everything. The negative feelings about myself were so real and it just made my stomach hurt so much. It felt like my heart was sinking down scraping the edge of my stomach to make this straight painful line that went down my stomach scratching a fault line against it and kept me in bed. The feelings just brought physical pain and I never knew that was a thing. My head would hurt, often simultaneously with my stomach. It would just feel so heavy with confusion and guilt, and the fact I could not escape my mind just made me even more scared and hopeless. It was like 3D feelings!
Perhaps because of its invisibility and intensity, depression, once developed, becomes very toxic to the individual and makes it so hard to get over. Depression is overlooked as a mental illness, and really…drastically misunderstood. People equate depression with sadness, but it is more than just a feeling. While the effect of depression may be a sadness, (but much more intense!) the inner workings of it are even much more complex than this and once it develops in someone, that individual is not just constantly sad, but locked up in the insanity walls of her own mind.
Like quicksand pulling its victim down, depression, dressed up handsomely, dreamily, and seductively, pulls its victim away from people. This is to say, the negative thoughts, the negative feelings, the reasoning: they all seem so true and real and even right to think, as if any other reasoning or fact could never be right.
This is depression’s power- it dresses up its thoughts in cloaks of reality and reason, when underneath the cloaks, is falsity to the tenth degree. In this way, depression allures its victim by taking over her reasoning. This is not all. It even hijaks her memory. The person will reconstruct her past events as evidence that she is a failure. This is how depression is so toxic to a person’s individuality. The person begins to hate the very thing that makes her, her.
Another aspect of depression’s toxic nature is the vicious cycle. A depression individual lacks the adequate reason to combat her negative thoughts. Let’s say someone is bummed out because they did not get the job they had really hoped for. The mentally healthy person will think of ways that could have contributed to this outcome, like maybe the job did not fit her personality after all, the day of the interview was just bad timing, the interviewer was off, etc., and then proceed to think of ways to land a successful interview. All these thoughts have one thing in common: they stem from having a high self-esteem. These thoughts all preclude the idea that one deserves to have a job, and the hope that one can get a job. A depressed person does not think he/she deserves the job in the first place, and may even lack any hope to obtain one. So one just falls and hopes but then falls again because the individual’s reason is not present.
Self-esteem is so important! it is just as vital to our functioning as a heart. I say this because self-esteem is our spirit as humans, and provides us the hope and drive to live life and be ourselves. Adequate reasoning and logic to cope with life’s disappointments is not there, without self esteem, and little speed bumps and disappointments just pile on the individual until the individual is mentally broken, and covered in dents and bruises from the bumps. This is to say the self-concept bruises so easily when it is not protected by self-esteem just like skin that bruises so easily.
So, one disappointment happens and the individual stumbles about life with this wounded self-esteem while the memory of the fail-the bruise- constantly plays back in his mind-that big noticeable, eye-sore, black-and-blue, bruise. As the self-esteem is already weakened, it gets further wounded, with more evidence that one is a useless, pathetic, failure. Memories play back which draws the individual to watch them in a twisted relish of sorrow. The depressed individual is powerless now; unable to put up the proper fight. Finally, he/she has no desire to even leave the house. It is in this way that depression creates a vicious trap that wears down one’s self-esteem until there is nothing left.
So, these are just a few aspects of what depression is like, and how it is and becomes such a debilitating problem for people with it. Essentially, at the core, depression is a yearning for love-Love from both, oneself and others. As I built my self-esteem back up, however, it all became clear: When I love myself, I am healthy and courageous enough to spread this love to others. Depression makes one dependent on others for their self-worth, which always falters because you are the only one who can truly love you. A sort of, mean, paradox of depression: You want others to love you but it is only you who can truly love yourself. Until you love yourself, every relationship with friends will be unsatisfying. That is to say, becoming happy and lively starts from the inside out. When I appreciated my strengths and accepted my weaknesses, I could then be comfortable enough to carry this disposition into my interactions with others. Furthermore, by accepting my own shortcomings and praising my strengths, I also accept others’ weaknesses while praising their strengths. In this way, I grew a love that I would spread to other people. The goal here, then, is to grow something to spread to others-this thing, is self-love. Depression drains an individual of every little bit of self-love she could possibly spread. Thus it is clear, we all need to love ourselves first. As much as I hate to admit it, elementary school teachers had it right all along: “worry about yourself first”.