So maybe you’ve been depressed for a long time. You have trouble getting out of the bed in the morning. You don’t make the bed after you get out, just in case you want to get right back in. You do this more than once in awhile, and you wonder “could I be like one of those drug commercials, and I suffer depression?”
Feeling depressed is a creeping, building, cumulative disorder. It can slowly rob you of everything that used to bring you joy. The changes can be subtle, but you notice that you don’t enjoy food, or even the first cup of coffee in the morning. You lose interest in your appearance, or maybe even daily hygiene habits. People around you will ask you “what’s wrong, you don’t seem like yourself today?” Bless the well meaning people in your life, because they are willing to risk your telling them in a torrent of emotion just what is going on in your life and your mind. Or for some, you’re not yet willing to drop the facade and let people into the dark place that you’ve found yourself living in, not fully realizing that you’ve lost function. You’re accomplishing noticeably less and less activities of daily life, and perhaps relationships or your job performance are changing for the worse. You know that you need to take action, but you may not possess the resources, wherewithal to take steps to address a growing issue like loss of functionality.
What is it about humans that makes us avoid acknowledging changes in ourselves? We can see it happen in others, but are we attuned to looking inward, at ourselves for the same changes?
Is it because there’s no operating manual for humans to go find an answer to the question “what happens to people when they get older?” or “what should I do if I don’t feel like being around others who are energetic, and getting things done?” Depression knows no age limits; young people, the elderly, even children can experience depression that robs them of the enjoyment of their youth. The young don’t realize that they won’t get a chance to rewind the giant DVR of time, and do over the carefree days of their lives, those days before responsibility, mortgages, children, job, and family will slide into the priority of their energies. For adults, they may dismiss symptoms of depression as a natural part of growing older, losing interest in old hobbies, old friends, and things we used to enjoy doing. The old story about the experiment done with a frogs in a beaker of water comes to mind. If you try to place a frog in a beaker of boiling hot water, that frog is going to escape with some minor burns to his body, but reflexes engage the legs, and the frog jumps away to safety by changing its dangerous environment. If instead of boiling water, some sadistic scientist decides to place the frog in a cool water beaker, one that feels normal. The sinister, masochistic researcher then slowly heats the water while the frog notices the warmth. The frog is a cold blooded amphibian, and so the warmth is preferable to being cold; there’s no danger and certainly no need to jump and flee. As the sad experiment progresses, the water slowly reaches a boiling point, and the frog is cooked while still alive. This is an analogy of the cumulative and corrosive impact depression has on the sufferer. They may not see what the slow, creeping darkness is doing to their level of function in the world.
Depression can be like the sadistic experiment, and you are the frog, immersed in water that is rising in temperature. How fast the temperature rises depends on how well you cope with stress and change. Are there outside influences like the economy that are increasing your level of financial stresses because you’re a parent who must provide for a family? Do you have a demanding job, or an unreasonable boss at work? Are you a caregiver for one or both of your parents, someone who must fend for your own well being, plus make stress filled decisions for the care of elderly, infirm, and possibly disabled loved ones? There are different journeys for each of us, and how much more manageable our lives would be if in fact we had Life’s Operating Manual to guide us. With deference to a great human being and author, Tom Shadyac I’ve included a link to his extraordinary book because Tom lived through a terrible depressive experience and told his own story in a wonderful documentary called “I Am.” The book from which he got the idea for the movie is a dialog some of us have about life choices and coping with change. Coping skills are those tools or life choices that we develop during our formative years, those first 18 years spent usually at our parent’s home. We are taught at home problem management skills that shape our interactions with others. Our culture, education, religious beliefs, affect, life experiences all form our perceptive set, which forms the lens of emotional intelligence, or self awareness. How well we cope with stress depends on the situation, but also what experience has taught us, and fight or flight responses we face daily. Usually our learned coping skills take us far in life, into what is referred to as “high function.” If the coping skills fail us, then we find ourselves slowly boiling alive like a frog over a bunsen burner.
Have you noticed that you get a decreasing amount of joy in your life? Are you accomplishing less because your mind is clouded by thoughts of “what if?” Have people you care about told you that you seem different, and detached? Do you dread the times you used to enjoy with friends, because they seem happy and enjoying life, but you don’t? If you answered yes to one or more of these questions, and you sense these feelings last longer than just a few days, then you might be depressed.
Fully functioning people will tell you that they have bad days. They fall down, and they experience negative feelings. The difference between functioning people and depressed people may be as simple as how our perspective changes when things don’t go our way. Do we dither about what to do? Do we believe that terrible things are just around the corner that will negatively impact our lives in profound and lasting ways? The fall from function is a clue to whether or not you may experience situational depression (e.g. loss of a beloved family member or pet) or mild depression where you just don’t feel like doing much– you’re stuck in a funk that may last for a few days before things pick up, and you are back in the fray, managing setbacks with ease while getting things done. The major depressive disorder engulfs some of us, and blinds us to the loss of control and function that we used to enjoy. Whether you’re having a bad day, or whether you believe that you’re depressed and need help, the first step toward returning to high function begins with you.
If you’re waiting for that ONE person to change your life, go look in the mirror. It’s you!