• Michelle Partington

What Does Depression Look Like?

Life experiences sometimes come and swipe our legs from underneath us and this can drag our mood down significantly. Most people don’t think they need to seek support. They tend to come to the conclusion that it’s an expected state to be in after a significant event. This is true to an extent because these life events can make us rightly sad and royally fall on our bums. However, when the sadness, along with other changes in behaviour and mindset, extends and interferes with normal daily living, and is making you physically ill then you need to do something about it, before it develops into depression.

When people talk about depression it normally brings up images and thoughts of sadness, hiding behind closed curtains, staying in bed with no hope. This is the case sometimes and depression can be very debilitating if not recognised and treated.

The symptoms of depression include feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, resulting in a negative outlook on life. This can lead to a loss of interest in daily activities, hobbies and social activities. You can lose the ability to feel joy and pleasure, and you can also lose your libido, potentially affecting relationships. With the low mood you can experience appetite changes, either eating too much or not enough. Some have trouble sleeping or actually ending up sleeping too much. This can lead to anger or irritability. Feeling agitated, restless, or on the very odd occasion, violent. Your tolerance level is low, you become short tempered, and everything and everyone gets on your nerves. Loss of sleep and poor appetite can also cause loss of energy, feeling fatigued, sluggish, and physically drained. Your body can feel heavy and you feel like your dragging yourself about. You can develop unexplained aches and pains from being tense. There can be an increase in physical symptoms such as headaches, back pain, aching muscles, and stomach pain. Even small tasks can be exhausting or take longer to complete. This can create problems around focusing on tasks, making decisions and remembering things. Mistakes can be made and you then start beating yourself up about it. You can begin a downward spiral of self-loathing, strong feelings of worthlessness or guilt. You then start to criticise yourself for the mistakes you begin to make. Sadly this may lead to behaviors such as drinking or drug taking to try to cope with, or forget about what is happening, self-medicating. The problem is, drink and drugs are just fuelling the depression and do not work or cure your condition.

Sadly, a lot of people mask how they really feel, hiding their symptoms from everyone. I have heard a lot of people talk about being on autopilot and this is certainly something I experienced personally. We all put on a mask sometimes to hide how we feel but that can be just as suffocating as the symptoms themselves. It is so difficult to battle with depression while pretending that everything is just fine. It’s draining, exhausting, and can eventually lead to a massive breakdown if you do not seek support.

Any life changing event can knock us off our feet, noone is immune. As I alluded to I have lived with depression associated with a number of life changing events. Note that I say ‘lived with’ and I will come onto that shortly. My life changing hits started at a young age when I was sexually abused. This has affected relationships I attempted to hold down but ended up pushing away. Eventually, years on I confronted my abuser and I actually filmed the conversation! If you want to watch it heres the link: https://youtu.be/jf7Q7jhgN6I. Please note that there is some swearing but hopefully you will forgive me! For me I felt I had some form of closure from this because I received an admission from him. In my mind he turned from this person who dominated me, to a powerless dirty old man. Struggling to hold down relationships fuelled my depression which wasnt great.

I was then exposed to another life changing event which spanned over 2 years really. I was deployed to Afghanistan a couple of times as a paramedic on the helicopters, picking up the wounded and attempting to save their lives on board whilst flying them back to the hospital. That alone would fuel depression but add to that the anxiety of waiting for the jobs to come in. Anxiety can fuel depression to so it was a double whammy. These tours sadly resulted in a diagnosis of complex post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) and lead to an end to my career. If you want to get a sense of how this was for me then watch this video: https://youtu.be/Mv-RMRbqh1c. A picture paints a thousand words!

After 23 years in a career you lived and breathed, it was heartbreaking that it had to come to an end. I spiralled downwards and was in an absolute mess. I was that low I contemplated taking my life on more than one occasion. I couldn’t see a life outside of the RAF and I no longer wanted to live with the nightmare war still going on in my head. The end of my career was devastating. The RAF was where I found myself as a person and where I proved my worth. Now that had gone I couldn’t cope, my depression had really hit: https://youtu.be/B8uoieHgseA. I was blessed to climb out of that pit but not everyone can. Anyone who attempts or completes suicide is depressed but I have to stress that not everyone with depression is suicidal.

This all sounds bleak so far but people can, and do live with depression. Look at my experiences, throughout my life I have been through some huge life changing events. Underlying everything was depression but I was functioning (most of the time). I know many people who are diagnosed (or undiagnosed) with depression, living and functioning, carrying on with their daily activities, going to work or school/university, being socially active and coping pretty well. That’s if your depression is managed.

Without treatment, people do ‘live’ with depression but mainly on autopilot. However, inside, they’re falling apart and just about holding on. Early intervention is vital in order to treat it. Some people may have a one off episode and never experience depression again. There are others who live and function with it, with relapses possible which you can prepare for and start to manage. Get to know your illness, the triggers and how you respond to them. Liaise with health services for support with formal treatment but also, I highly recommend you talk to family and friends as well as work colleagues. If they understand how depression affects you, they are better able to support you.

Do not think that depression is a death sentence, it is not. If you seek support then you can live with it….

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