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Misconceptions of Depression

This was the first blog that I ever wrote. I felt terrified about posting it as it was the first time, fully exposing myself to everyone I knew, as well as a whole heap of people I didn’t know, with the charity Time To Change, posting it on their website. However, I couldn’t have asked for a better response. The blog was viewed by over 1,600 people and shared 920 times on Facebook. I received many heart-warming comments from both people that I knew and many I didn’t. All of which have greatly inspired me to continue writing mental health and well-being blogs.

Depression – Breaking Down Misconceptions

April 2016

I’m writing this blog sat by the beach in Byron Bay Australia, on what was supposed to be a 9-month round the world trip of a lifetime. However unfortunately, due to becoming unwell with an episode of depression and anxiety, a large part of this trip was quite the opposite. Thankfully though, after an agonising 3 months, I have made a full recovery and I am once again enjoying myself and making the most of the remaining part of the trip!

I started to become unwell, whilst on what I can only describe as a paradise island, in Indonesia – crystal clear waters, the sun shining, relaxing by the beach, not the kind of setting that fits with the stereotypical or misconceived idea of depression. There were certainly no grey and gloomy days, on the outside anyway. But inside, well…inside, my days were becoming darker and gloomier by the minute.

I could feel my mood being dragged down; my once positive and optimistic thoughts being swamped by negative, self critical, attacking thoughts. My laughs and smiles drained out of me; replaced with complete and utter sadness, anxiety, and an overall feeling of dread. But this is the thing, depression doesn’t care if you are in beautiful, idyllic surroundings, it doesn’t care if you have a great family and friends, a good job, opportunities. Depression can take a hold of any one of us, at any time in our lives, and this, I feel, is the most important thing to realise and understand about depression. In it’s most severe form, it’s a mental health illness, it doesn’t discriminate, and contrary to what many may think, none of us are immune.

I’m writing this blog because

  • I am determined to raise awareness of depression – I want more people to understand what depression actually is and to understand how debilitating it can be.  
  • I want to help dismiss some of the misconceptions surrounding the illness. 
  • I didn’t feel able to talk openly about this growing up and to many degrees still don’t, but I really want this to change, for me, and for everyone else that suffers with depression. 
  • I want more people to understand, that just like any other part of our body, our minds can break at times too and I guess that’s the simplest way of explaining what happens when a person becomes clinically depressed. 
  • I am determined that one day mental illness can be talked about as openly and non judgementally as physical illness. 
  • I want to support the great work that ‘Time to change’ is doing.

My personal experience

My episodes of depression started when I was 14 years old. I remember being at school, sat in the canteen with my close friend, attempting to eat my lunch, but having no appetite.

I became tearful for no obvious reason and felt extremely low.

I felt afraid but unsure what of.

Over the coming days, I started to feel very anxious and uncomfortable around others and just wanted to go home and be by myself.

I became extremely tired, however was unable to sleep throughout the night. Instead, I lay there, my thoughts racing, worrying, constant, until I would hear the birds and see the light through my curtains, realising that I had been awake the entire night. By morning, I felt physically and emotionally exhausted. I rapidly lost my appetite and felt sick to the stomach most of the time, struggling to force down the small bits of food that my Mum tried to tempt me with.

I felt an overwhelming feeling of sadness, I felt scared, I felt guilty, I felt alone, I felt like my mind had been taken over and I was no longer the Kerry that I once knew.

The world and everything in it was dark; I lost the ability to laugh and smile, I lost all pleasure in doing things, and simple everyday tasks became near impossible. I felt like a small child and relied on the support of my family to get me through each agonising day.

My Mum and Dad took me to see a GP and I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I was put on antidepressants and sleeping tablets. 14 years on, I have had around 10 episodes of depression and anxiety, which have resulted in me having to take periods of time off sick from school, university and, more recently work. Over the years, I have received various treatments, learning different ways to help reduce the likelihood of relapsing. It’s an on-going journey but one that I am determined to keep learning from, in the hope that one day I can live a life free from depression.

Misconceptions

For me, the biggest misconception about depression is that you have to have something to be depressed about. Whilst major life events can of course cause a person to become clinically depressed, for many it’s just an illness, a condition, a predisposition, which does not require a significant trigger. Feeling an increase in stress at work can simply bring it on. 

Another misconception is that you can’t possibly suffer from depression if you have a great life – a caring and supportive family, close friends, a great job, a nice home etc. I am fortunate enough to have all of these things, and when I am well, I genuinely love my life, however despite this, I still suffer from severe episodes of clinical depression. Unfortunately, these things do not make people immune from depression. Whilst certain factors in a person’s life can make them more vulnerable to depression, it is still an illness that can affect anyone, just the same way that a physical illness can. 

I think depression is too often confused with sadness. The word depression is thrown around so frequently in society; to describe bad weather, a person who is feeling miserable, a bad week at work maybe, or simply the fact that your favourite TV series has come to an end. The overuse, but more importantly the misuse, of the word, makes it even more misleading and difficult for people to understand and differentiate misery or sadness with clinical (major) depression. True depression is not simply a feeling ‘I feel depressed’, which can be fixed by a fun night out with a friend; it’s an illness, which, along with feelings of extreme sadness, has many other symptoms, including physical ones (significant loss in appetite, difficulty sleeping/waking early, difficulty concentrating, extreme feelings of guilt, anxiety – to name just a few).

Depression is one of those things that I think is really hard to imagine if you’ve never experienced it, but I’ve read some really good metaphors over the years, to help describe it.

What does depression feel like?

‘Depression is a dark, inescapable place. It’s like being locked in a room with no light, windows or door. It’s so dark you can’t even see your hands in front of your face, let alone find a way out.’

‘It’s like drowning…except you can see everyone around you breathing.’

‘A total loss of who you are.’

‘Multiple emotions: fear, despair, emptiness, numbness, shame, embarrassment and an inability to recognize the fun, happy person you used to be.’

‘Like living in a dark tunnel with no light at the end, and no air to breathe no matter how deep a breath you take.’

‘Like your mind is paralyzed.’

‘Depression is hating yourself so much you can’t look in the mirror.’

For me, I would describe depression as being trapped inside a glass box with no door – you can see clearly the outside world and everyone in it, including your old, happy self. You so desperately want to reach it but you just can’t seem to….’

Anxiety can be another symptom of depression or indeed often a condition that people experience alongside depression. However, I am not talking about the kind of anxiety that you experience when going for a job interview or sitting an exam; the anxiety that is reasonable, understandable, logical. I’m talking about the kind of anxiety that fills you with dread the minute you wake up in the morning, the anxiety that makes you feel physically sick, that makes it hard to leave the house, the kind of anxiety that makes simple everyday tasks near impossible. This is the kind of anxiety that does not make sense; it’s not reasonable or logical, just simply paralysing.

Recovering from depression

The recovery process can be slow and challenging – just like a person with a broken leg who finally has the cast removed, discovering they have lost muscle and strength, requiring months of physical rehabilitation in order to walk ‘normally’ again, a person with depression goes through the same thing, but instead may need psychological rehabilitation (therapy), to help repair the damage caused to their mind and their thoughts. Or to help explore perhaps why their thoughts or thinking patterns may have contributed to depression and anxiety in the first place.

Psychological therapy takes time, patience and commitment. The confidence, which you lose from depression, takes time to build back up. Depression strips you of any kind of compassion towards yourself. You are learning how to live your life again, to do the things that you used to do, which in the midst of depression were simply unable to. It can take a while to learn to like yourself again and to believe in yourself.

Whilst episodes of depression have proved the most challenging experiences of my life, they have also provided me with a great passion and interest in mental health, which in turn has lead to a rewarding and fulfilling career, which I wouldn’t change for the world. It’s given me great insight into the complexity of mental illness and the mind. It has made me far more understanding, accepting and empathetic towards other mental health illnesses or symptoms, which I perhaps would have otherwise found hard to appreciate or imagine.

There is a huge misconception that depression or mental illness is a sign of weakness, but the patients that I have been lucky enough to work with in my career to date have been some of the strongest people I’ve met. The strength it takes to fight depression needs just as much recognition and praise as those battling a physical illness. We must never underestimate depression and the devastating and sadly too often fatal, effects it can have on people’s lives. People suffering with depression are going through a hard enough time as it is; they don’t need the added pain or distress caused by stigma or discrimination. They deserve the same understanding, non-judgemental attitude and empathy as those suffering from a physical illness. #ItsTimeToChange!

All quotes taken from:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/danny-baker/depression_b_5267263.html