I remember a time in my life when the only time I felt like I could breathe was in the dark. I felt relieved when night came and the darkness cloaked my face in shadows. No one could see the smile fall away or the occasional tears that fell from my eyes.
By day I laughed and smiled and sang the Barney song with my two toddlers. I went to work and worked hard. I went home and worked harder. The weekends were rough because I wasn’t as busy and often there were mandatory family get-togethers that I dreaded. I didn’t enjoy them anymore and I hated answering the perfunctory question, “Hi! How are you?” I always said, “I’m doing great! How are you?” I felt like a liar. I wasn’t doing great and I didn’t care how they were doing.
From the outside, my life looked perfect. I had the perfect husband, the perfect house in the perfect suburbs with a dog and a cat. I had a graduate degree, a good job and two perfect children, a boy and a girl. So, what the hell was the matter with me? Why didn’t I feel that sense of joy and peace that I saw in the people around me? Were we all faking it? Maybe no one was really happy. What did happy feel like anyway?
Unhappy, Sad, Depressed, What the Hell is the Difference?
First, it is important to note that depression is not an invisible illness. Researchers have been studying it for decades and studies show there is a link between an illness that causes inflammation and the development of depressive symptoms. This means it is measurable and has a host of causes. It also can be treated.
Everyone gets unhappy, discontent, melancholy, sad, or whatever adjective you want to use to describe that feeling you get in your gut when someone dies or when you are looked over for promotion again. The feeling passes. It may take a few days or weeks, but it begins to fade and the light shines into your world again.
Depression is all the above adjectives and more. It is walking through life in a foggy, grayscale world. Occasional wisps of color appear in the heavy air from time to time, but you don’t notice because you are focused on the road ahead. It’s like a tightwire and you must walk carefully, or you will fall into the pit of quicksand below. That is your life.
To define it more scientifically, depression is a mental disorder marked by aversion to activity, low mood, and lack of finding joy in things that you once enjoyed. These feelings, thoughts and behaviors affect your well-being.
But what if those signs are hidden behind a smile and a jovial attitude? How can you know if someone is truly happy or if it is a façade?
The Hidden Signs of Depression
- They are the king of excuses. Have you ever tried to wear a smile when you were sad or hurt? It is exhausting. People with depression fatigue easily and have a hard time keeping the smile on their face for a long period of time. That is why they have excuses as to why they can’t make the party, they can’t hang out. They are usually the people who leave early from an event or are too sick to attend a family gathering.
- They Withdraw. Making excuses to get out of social gatherings is a type of withdrawal, but going out of your way to avoid friends and loved ones is a deep, isolating withdrawal. People who are depressed are unable to muster the kind of energy maintaining a relationship or friendship demands. The person on the receiving end of the avoidance often feels hurt because they believe the lack of contact is due to something they have done.
- They become easily agitated or anxious. Some people show signs of restlessness. They are unable to sit still, and their eyes constantly look around the room. They seem uneasy and get angry when asked if something is wrong.
- They are always tired. Many illnesses and diseases can cause fatigue, but if an otherwise healthy person seems to lack the energy to do anything other than watch Netflix day in and day out, that may be a sign of depression. Even the smallest of tasks become overwhelming.
- Changes in appetite. Some people stop eating when they are depressed. They find food to be bland and they feel full quickly. Other people are unable to stop eating and they gain weight. The depression worsens because they now have a self-image problem as well.
- Feelings of guilt and self-blame. Depressed people are not happy with anyone and that includes themselves. They do not understand why they feel worthless and unlovable and often every past failure comes to the surface and they agonize over every mistake.
- Confusion and/or mental slowness. Depression clouds the brain and makes you feel like you are trying to run under water. People who are depressed often will take longer to formulate answers to questions. It seems to take them a long time to think and sometimes they appear confused and forgetful.
- They have physical pain. Depression is painful and not just mentally. People who have suffered from depression for a long time have physical pain. It can manifest in the form of a headache or severe backache. Sometimes it is stomach or abdominal pain.
The symptoms of depression affect every aspect of a person’s life. For me, there was nothing in my life that went untouched by my depression. I felt like no one truly understood my pain and that I was doomed to live the rest of my life not caring about anything or anyone. I was content to sleep. At the end of my depression, I couldn’t function. I went to bed and I stayed there for 6 days. I ate because I was brought food and I drug myself from the bed to use the restroom. Otherwise, I was asleep. I couldn’t carry on a conversation. I didn’t watch tv. I didn’t even notice my husband and children were going about the business of living.
At the end of that week, I sought help with a psychiatrist. I was at the point where I no longer cared if I lived or died. I didn’t want to die. I wasn’t going to try to make it happen. But, if it did happen that was fine. It didn’t matter because I felt there was nothing to live for anyway. I started on two antidepressant medications that work in combination and after about 2 and a half weeks I noticed the morning sunshine streaming through the slats on the bedroom shutters. The room was so bright and the air seemed crisper.
My depression began very subtly. However, there were signs all along the way. I kept them hidden and refused to give in to a joyless life until the day I could no longer fight. If I had asked for help earlier instead of trying to be a high-functioning depressed overachiever, I never would have sunk so low.
If you identify with any of these symptoms or recognize them in someone else, seek help. Hiding it will eventually take its toll on your mental and physical well-being, and really, why suffer a joyless life when a happy one is within reach?