It starts out with a sense that something horrible is about to happen, which is true.
Clinical depression distorts your normal thought patterns. Individual experiences differ, but your head might feel full of cotton wool, mud, sludge, sand. You may lose the ability to concentrate. Your short-term memory might disintegrate. Your self-confidence evaporates. Normal sleeping patterns cease to exist. You might feel extremely irritable, sad or noise sensitive and lose your ability to control your emotions.
Depression begins by stalking you like a big cat does an antelope. It draws nearer and nearer. Your uneasiness escalates. You break into a run. Once you try to outrun it, it comes into its own. It bursts out of the long grass and does what it is born to do: It isolates you from your herd. It makes you feel more alone than you ever have before.
But the two biggest boulders depression drags into your head without your consent, are guilt and feelings of worthlessness. It rolls those boulders over your reserve of hope and squashes it. And that’s when it becomes dangerous, because when you are overwhelmed by guilt and worthlessness, and you have no hope, your place in the world feels redundant.
This is not true, though.
But your brain is unwell. So, it may begin to plan exit strategies for you. These horrifying impostor thoughts are called suicidal ideations. They are involuntary, but they are not irreversible. If you can acknowledge them as a dangerous symptom of a potentially fatal illness, and get the right treatment, you’ll probably recover.
Clinical depression is remarkably inclusive. It disregards your gender, sexuality, race, age, size, ethnicity, political persuasion, socioeconomic status, and outlook on life. We are all fair game.
So, how do we help each other?
If I had just two sentences to convey my support to anyone suffering depression, they would be:
‘It’s not your fault’ and ‘It gets better.’
While you’re in the middle of it, you won’t believe me. But it is true.
I have survived depressive episodes that have rendered me catatonic (barely able to move and communicate), that have needed medication, months in hospital, and at times ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy) to get me better. With the right care (for me) I have recovered every time.
Most people who experience depression will not become this unwell or require such intensive treatment. My depressive episodes sit at the severe end of the spectrum because they are part of Bipolar 1 Disorder, and because that is my individual pattern.
The key to getting better is accessing the right care as quickly as possible after the onset of symptoms. Private health insurance helps. But perhaps the most important thing we can do for each other is to legitimise depression as an illness or symptom you can’t think your way out of any more than you could cancer.
If you think you may be experiencing depression or another mental health problem, please contact your general practitioner or in Australia, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 for support or beyondblue 1300 22 4636.
Anita Link is a writer, a mother of two, a small animal veterinarian and a passionate mental health advocate. You can read more from Anita on her blog Thought Food.
This piece was first seen on ‘MamaMia‘, 24 November 2018.