In my last blog post, I finally accepted I wasn’t going through a rut or bout of post-breakup sadness, when I made what I believed to be objective gains in both my career and love life, but still couldn’t find the happiness eluding me.

It took me three decades and lots of reverse life engineering to realize something must be off, but they say knowing is half the battle. So maybe you’re wondering if there’s an easier way to ascertain if what you’re going through is actual depression?

Not to be a Negative Nancy, but there isn’t a universal life hack for predicting if and when a traumatic life event might trigger a case of situational depression, despite what buzzfeed might tell you otherwise. This is because no two people experience depression in exactly the same way and what will cause it varies even more, involving a slew of complex biological factors outside our control. To add salt to the wounds, folks with depression are often oblivious to their depression, even resistant to any kind of acceptance (let alone the seeking of help). They might have developed a thick coat of coping armour, call it intellectual arrogance or self-aggrandizing DENIAL, designed to prevent the kind of rigorous self-examination you (or your loved one) must go through if you really want to overcome this malaise.

That all said, I do believe we can recognize certain patterns operating within the depression chaos. So let’s pop the hood on our hurting noggins and see how depression manifests.

WHAT DEPRESSION IS LIKE FOR ME 

Depression takes many shapes with a potpourri of grotesque symptoms. Here are mine.

Depression has many faces, all of them ugly, with a potpourri of symptoms. Here are some of mine.

I’ve come to learn I’m a very emotional and sensitive person, despite what my own crass irreverence might belie. It doesn’t take much to trigger me – romantic or professional rejection is the usual culprit, whether real or perceived – which saturates my mind with big emotions like jealous rage or gloomy sadness. By the time my aggressive, reactionary emotions quiet down, and the doom and gloom of depression settles in, I can’t help but view everything around me with a bleakly negative bias. It’s as if I’m forced to wear pessimistic lenses that distort my vision. Everybody I interact with seems to be conspiring against me, whether it’s the Starbucks barista screwing up my order, my supposed friends ignoring my text messages, or employers doubting my competence. This paranoia makes me want to socially isolate myself (if those I’ve lashed out against haven’t done so already) so I can be left alone to stew in my hopeless thoughts. That is until my impulsive nature finds a way to cope by filling the void.

Worldview

We depressives have a dangerous way of viewing the world around us in black and white terms (Art credit to Marco Bucci)

While many of the symptoms of depression – the drop in energy, drive or motivation; changes in appetite; the erratic sleeping patterns; the acutely pessimistic outlook – are fairly common, this condition wears many different faces, making it very tough to spot. Extroverted depressives might get more aggressive and lash out at their loved ones, while introverts withdraw and cocoon themselves away. The brooding and acutely negative self-talk may be one of depression’s hallmarks, but the content of these thoughts is entirely individual. Mine involve overbearing assaults on my self-worth, but yours might take on a more apathetic or judgmental flavour.

Okay, so we don’t experience the same laundry list of symptoms, but maybe it’s easier to pinpoint when we get depressed?

WHAT CAUSED MY DEPRESSION DIDN’T CAUSE YOURS

Alas the causes of depression couldn’t be more unique, and we aren’t even talking biology yet.

Take my father, who has battled a much more crippling and catatonic form of depression for much of his life. He’s suffered in silence through a number of episodes over the years, although it wasn’t until my Grandma fell ill with Parkinson’s that I really noticed anything peculiar. An incredibly giving, sharp-witted super-caretaker, our Grandma was by far the pillar of strength in the Sage family. Witnessing the descent of her mind into dementia was heartbreaking for everybody, but most of all, my Dad. After she passed away, my Dad’s zest for life faded away with her. He stopped playing the piano, exercising or even reading as he lost the motivation to do pretty much anything.

On the surface, maybe one could assume my father was grappling with GRIEF. In fact, it likely started that way. It makes sense that anybody going through the loss of a parent would want to set aside enough time to mentally process their sorrow. It also makes sense that some degree of social isolation would be necessary. However grief shouldn’t completely hijack your drive and motivation to do anything. Nor should it kill off your ability to derive pleasure from the sorts of things you used to love (an insidious symptom called anhedonia).

The DSM often cites timeline as a means of diagnosing and differentiating between melancholic grief and depression. If certain symptoms persist for weeks, then you should likely seek help, sort of idea. Problem is, moods are subjective and mood disorders skew perspective, so how do we really know? Whatever you do, don’t attempt diagnosing yourself – like I did, which I’ll talk about next week.

Grief-VS-Depression-INFO2

The progression of Situational Depression in an over-simplified nutshell. 

I’d like to think that the SADNESS we feel after a tragic break-up or death in the family is a normal and very healthy part of the healing process. Inside Out did a great job of exploring this and by virtue of doing so, revealed how most of us are conditioned by society and our families to really fucking suck at it.  Often we don’t allow ourselves to properly mourn the loss of a loved one, job or relationship by denying or detaching from our difficult feelings. When we attempt to dismiss our sorrow and anger or effectively numb these emotions with booze, workaholism or hook-ups, I think we put ourselves in real danger of transitioning into depression. And likely without even realizing it, given how this disease prefers subterfuge and death by a thousand cuts.

What about the RUTS and FUNKS – those listless phases of life we creative folks find ourselves in? Financial instability may motivate us to take a job we need but end up despising, or to settle into a relationship for a false sense of security to alleviate our fear of being alone. The boredom and stultifying complacency are clues we often ignore until too late when they’ve devolved into the much more serious state of depression.

Ultimately, we’re talking fine lines here. If you’re already biologically predisposed to some kind of mood disorder, preventing the transition from grief into depression will likely require superhuman levels of emotional self-awareness and/or talk therapy with a mental health expert who knows you better than you know yourself. As I said before, the arrogance of DENIAL might delay these insights, as will skeptical friends who tell you “cheer up, butter cup”. It took several years aboard my own emotion rollercoaster before I finally wore down my denial and accepted I needed an intervention. So trust me, I get it. Maybe in the not-so-distant future we’ll have invented a tricorder device, that provides instant pre-diagnosis, but until then, we’ll have to stick with the soul-searching introspection.

If you’ve gotten this far, we’re hopefully on the same page. Maybe you’ve even accepted that you’re some kind of depressed and you’re ready to go to battle and slay it good. Well, I hate to burst your optimistic bubble, but this is a blog about depression. Before you can get the therapy you’ll need, you’ll need to figure out what kind of depression you actually have, and get a proper diagnosis. And with the stigma still alive and well, getting access to that can be an even bigger bitch.

But don’t worry, you still have me and my curiosity on your side, and we’ll wonder about the pratfalls of diagnosis next time.

 

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