What Life Really Feels Like With Depression and Anxiety
September 26, 2018 |

dog-depressed-anxiety-sadness

Depression - the bane of my existence; the term either shunned or overhyped. The illness that comes and goes, sans warning labels or prejudice.


I have discovered that there rarely is an equilibrial state for the subject of depression. Perhaps it’s because in a world filled with mental illness dating back centuries, it still is in its infancy.


People either feel too strongly about the illness and rigorously monitor your speech for anti-mental illness ideologies, or they’re ignorant and there’s instant silence as you utter the word “depressed”.


If we consider for once that the outsiders are indeed, outsiders, what can we say of the depressed?


I’ve had mixed feelings about depression, and it’s because I have been struggling with the mental illness since my mom passed away. There are times when I let it control me and wipe away every happy thought, and other times when I let it define me as the foundation for my strength.


Like a phoenix rising from the ashes.


Only, dealing with depression is like riding a wave with sensory impairment. You can no longer tell when the tides are high and when they’re low. It also falls in that awful illness spectrum category, unlike the other physical ailments that you either have or don’t have. Medically diagnosed or not, depression sucks.


A lot.


There’s got to be a way around this illness. But when the opinions vary - doctors swearing by medication and naysayers concocting recipes for a better lifestyle - what goes and what doesn’t?

Getting back to the basics - what IS depression?

For the ones who’re still unsure of the definition of depression, here’s my unfiltered view.


Pre diagnosis, you feel an intense emotion of despair, unhappiness, lack of motivation, a devils workshop and confusion.


From a medical standpoint, you’re depressed if your symptoms are preventing you from living a relatively normal life.


If you’re unable to wake up every morning because your first thought is “why should I?”, you might be depressed.


If you can’t move for hours, you can’t focus or feel like there’s no point in living, there’s a good chance you’re depressed.


NOTE: I use the word “might” because this post is not meant to be a self diagnosis test; it is only meant to shed some light on the illness and provide you with a perspective.

What is anxiety, and how is it related to depression?

Again, unfiltered and non-medical view of anxiety coming your way - a sense of doom followed by catastrophizing and physiological reactions that include heart palpitations, sweating, shaking, trouble breathing or fainting.


The disorder is diagnosed when there’s a difficulty performing daily routines without the symptoms above posing as serious obstacles.


If you cannot leave the house because you’re scared someone is going to look at you and laugh at you, you could be suffering from an anxiety disorder.


man in hoodie sitting alone on the curb at night
Anxiety and depression can get the best of us. Identifying symptoms and getting help is important

Depression and anxiety are co-morbid disorders - they often present as a couple, with a bi-directional relationship. By that, I mean if I’m suffering from anxiety that prevents me from leaving my house, chances are I suffer from social isolation that result in sadness, lack of motivation and various other symptoms of depression. If I’m suffering from depression and lack the motivation to do anything, over time I may develop an anxiety around meeting new people, venturing out of my comfort zone, and constantly attempt to refine my social circle and life to accommodate my disorders.


Not everyone presents with the same issues - you may only suffer from one of the two disorders. Even so, the prevalence of co-morbid mental disorders isn’t unheard of. This is a great article that goes into more details about co-morbidity and how it affects the diagnosis and treatment of mood disorders.

Symptoms of Depression and Anxiety

Everyone has different symptoms of depression. You may have some, and your friends or family members may have others that you don’t experience.


Some of the general symptoms of depression include

  • Anhedonia (lack of interest in experiences or activities that usually bring about positive feelings)
  • Lack of motivation to live
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Negative thoughts and feelings
  • Inability to focus or concentrate on simple tasks
  • Insomnia
  • Low self esteem, low self confidence, social isolation
  • Irritability
  • Emotional instability - periods of frequent highs and lows
  • Some of the general symptoms of anxiety include

  • panic attacks
  • avoidance of situations, events, or people
  • developed phobias
  • physiological factors that resemble panic attacks like sweating, palpitations, shallow breathing or shaking.

How and Why Does Someone Suffer From Depression?

A tricky question with a trickier answer. I’m telling you, depression is like Godzilla - it wreaks havoc and jumps out of nowhere.


A lot of people tend to wonder if depression is due to stress, chemical or hormonal imbalances or situations.


The answer - it depends, and it’s a combination of a lot of factors in most cases.


    There are four categories that I can come up with as factors that lead to depression:


  • Chemical imbalances
  • Environmental factors
  • Hormonal imbalances or other medical issues
  • Psychological factors or situations:

Chemical imbalances:

Clinical depression is attributed to a chemical imbalance in the brain. There are chemicals in your brain (known as neurotransmitters) that are responsible for conducting electro-chemical impulses that send messages to the body. When there is a low level of specific neurotransmitters like serotonin, it causes symptoms of depression.

Environmental factors:

War, poverty, isolation, bullying and domestic violence are some of few environmental factors that can cause symptoms of depression. Such situations are traumatizing; poverty, for instance, can result in inadequate and poor accessibility to resources and basic necessities that can assist in a better livelihood. Mental health issues can also result in poverty, particularly if the patient lacks a support system.

a man showing the camera a sign that says
Environmental factors can cause some of the symptoms that people with anxiety and depression suffer from.

Hormonal imbalances or other medical issues:

Symptoms are quiet universal; you can have an iron deficiency and still suffer from symptoms of depression, like fatigue. Hormonal imbalances can contribute to some of the symptoms that depressed people experience, but on its own, is not a factor that causes depression. When the medical issue is diagnosed (through a medical checkup or a blood test), and is treated for, the symptoms may disappear.

Psychological factors or situations:

Our lives are filled with ups and downs, and warrant a certain set of emotional reactions. Constant irritability or fatigue that isn't attributed to a specific instance may need to be examined further as symptoms and not emotional states.


None of the factors I’ve mentioned above are actual “causes” of depression - they produce symptoms that are associated with major depressive disorder.

Am I really depressed, or lonely, sad, bored, in a bad relationship or just plain tired?

When you’ve got a lot going on in your life it’s hard to distinguish between an emotionally challenging period that has a straightforward remedy, and a prolonged period of emotional turmoil that doesn’t have a beginning or an end.


Take for instance, my mother’s death. An event in my life that really turned my world upside down made me think that the people around me were causing me to be more negative. I started derailing, swept most of my problems under the rug and couldn’t address any issue head on without wailing about it for months.


Finally, it got to a point where I could no longer look at myself in the mirror without feeling extreme contempt for the person staring back. I hated myself, my life, and the people in my life.


looking into the distance
These days I'm a lot calmer, happier, motivated and positive about my life.

When I started experiencing suicidal ideation, I reached out for help and got what I needed.


What started off as an unfortunate time in my life, spiralled out of control and caused me to hit rock bottom.


Point of the story? If you’re experiencing these negative emotions or characteristics for more than a time period that you consider normal, then you need to get a second opinion. If something feels wrong, don’t brush it aside or blame it on the situation. Although a situational reaction is possible, your symptoms may be caused by deeper issues.


Understanding your baseline for emotional reactions and feelings puts everything into perspective with regards to your current state of mental wellbeing.


Either way, you should never live a life that is perpetually sad, tiring, or lonely. The second you realize that something is amiss, seek help, because it isn’t worth pushing against a snowball that isn’t going to get any smaller.

What about Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is categorized as a mood disorder that occurs periodically and that is triggered by the seasons of the year. The most common time of the year when people begin to experience SAD is during the winter season.


The triggers are usually a lack of Vitamin D, or poor exposure to natural sunlight. Symptoms of SAD however, are identical to those seen in patients with major depressive disorder - lethargy, anhedonia, social isolation, sadness, lack of motivation.


Luckily you can combat SAD with light therapy and more exposure to daylight. I’ve also talked a bit about how you can kick the winter blues in the butt and take control of your life.

Preventative measures for depression and anxiety

One of the biggest misconceptions of dealing with depression and anxiety is that it could have been prevented.


Yes.


The situations that you had to deal with (environmental factors) that likely contributed to symptoms of depression could have been mitigated.


This however, is akin to saying that cancer is a preventable disease if you eat and live healthy, do gene testing, or live in cities.


All possible.


Yet there are so many people who have cancer, and still cannot understand what caused it in the first place!


When you’re a part of the majority that has no idea why you’re suddenly dealing with it, take it in your stride.


Is it possible to alter your lifestyle to improve the quality of your life? Sure! Just as it is with physical ailments, leading a healthy, nutritious, socially charged life with purpose can make a difference.


    Some of the top factors that improve quality of life include


  • Strong support systems: I cannot stress on how important it is to have family or friends who know what you’re going through and be there for you when you’re having a bad day. They’re the people who’ll lift you when you need it, or provide for you when you can’t provide for yourself. And when the going gets too tough and things are getting serious, they need to be there for you to intervene because your life is important to both you AND them!

  • exercise mat with bottle and towel
    Exercising increases the heart rate, and makes you feel like you're in control of your body and energy.

  • A healthy lifestyle: Even if your depression is clinically diagnosed and is due to chemical imbalances, sticking to a solid exercise routine and eating a balanced diet can improve your levels of energy and motivation. Make plans to work out with a friend, try joining a fitness club, or learn how to cook exciting, healthy meals to improve your lifestyle.

  • Keeping busy: Easier said than done, but finding a hobby to pursue, or an activity that will keep your mind off your anxious or negative thoughts are essential to leading a calm, positive life.

Of course, none of this might be possible for you if you do not have the resources or tools that you need to combat depression or anxiety. Therefore I recommend that you seek medical help from a mental health professional - a therapist or a psychiatrist, or even a combination of both - to assist you with your disorder.

Explaining depression and anxiety to people who don’t understand

A support system is what defines part of the purpose of life and existence. When we’re left hanging in the dark, living gets tough. Not having someone understand what you’re going through is normal, but when they’re unsupportive and begin to deride or dismiss your experiences, think about whether the relationship is important to you. I’ve talked more about how to deal with negativity and negative people, so now’s the time to get some advice on handling those tough situations!


Being depressed or anxious doesn’t need to be labelled. If you prefer not to disclose your disorders to someone who doesn’t need to know, then it’s fine to withhold information. Alternatively, choosing what information to reveal, like certain symptoms and feelings, rather than specific, detailed instances, could be a good choice to keep people informed.


one man helping another climb up a mountain
Support is all we need to feel loved.

If you’re a friend of someone who’s going through rough times, keeping in regular touch with them and making all the effort to be there for them is of great value. It is close to impossible to really empathize with someone - you might even come across as someone who’s making it about you and not them - so work on asking them what they need to feel better, and how you can be there for them.


Depression and anxiety aren’t well understood, but making the time to educate and be educated is vital, especially when so many people are dealing with this issue in this lifetime. It isn’t a taboo, it isn’t contagious, and it isn’t meant to be an immediate stamp of insanity - it is none of those things.

Why I’m talking about my experience with depression

Writing about how I’m dealing with this newly labelled form of mental instability isn’t easy. You’ve got to understand, in a world where we’re comfortable sharing the ups of life and burying the downs, I look like a complete fool baring all my vulnerabilities for the world to consume like a soap opera. At certain times I feel like Jim Carrey in the Truman show, only, I’m voluntarily airing most of my dirty laundry in public.


It’s not easy, but that doesn’t mean that I’m going to back down. On most of the good days, I think about how I could potentially be touching someone’s life. I’m not God, and I’ll never proclaim to be a healer, but I’m hoping my experiences assist in lessening depression’s impact on another’s life.


That, or it teaches people to be more sensitive towards everyone.


Depression and anxiety are real issues. And we need to expand the circle of conversation for this subject.




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