It wasn’t by accident that I chose May 1 to release my new book, Stay With Me. May is Mental Health Awareness month and just as this subject affected the story line of my book, so it affects us in ‘real life.’ An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans, ages 18 and older, or about one in four adults suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. That’s 57.7 million people. This is why this month of awareness is so important. Change starts with awareness and awareness can only be brought about by education.
So for the next 30 days I’ll be posting links and articles and sharing information to bring awareness to this crisis. Please share this with others, and don’t forget to get a copy of my book. The story is important and positive. We may not be the one to receive the diagnosis, but ‘it’ affects us too, nonetheless. And if we can all learn how to care for one another, this world will be a better place.
Check out this first article, Emotions That Come with Depression by Joy Biddell.
I have read numerous blogs about depression, each written in their own style and explaining things in their own way. I am going to do that, too. I have decided to dissect my feelings into the “faces” I feel in the midst of a depressive episode. Many of these faces can occur at the same time, but I will tackle them individually in no particular order.
Face #1: Sad
This is probably the most well-known symptom and most talked about feeling in regards to depression. The famous media portrayal of depression of someone sitting with their head in their hands is often spoken about (not nearly often enough or in the right way, but at least people are talking and acknowledging depression more than they used to). For me, sadness rarely leaves. It’s a dull aching feeling inside that won’t bugger off. It kind of feels like a black cloud has invaded my mind and prevents me from accessing nice thoughts and feelings. A lot of the time I feel like I’m merely existing; not living. Words I would use to describe my sadness would be deep darkness, black and numb. Often I can feel nothing at all, indifferent to everything. I will wake up in the morning and there it will be, waiting for me to wake to invade my mind again.
Face #2: Lonely
I am blessed with a loving family, an amazing partner and some absolutely fantastic friends. I really do have a massive support network of people who love and care for me. Yet, I can be standing in a room full of people I know and still feel utterly alone. Depression makes me feel extremely isolated, even if that’s not the reality of the situation.
Face #3: Irritable
When I’m in a deep depression, I can feel extremely irritable with people, especially loved ones. I don’t know why this happens, it just does. I often feel a fuse has been lit and I am about to blow. This is why I often spend a lot of time alone, sort of a self-preservation tactic. If I do snap at people I often get left with a lot of guilt. So instead of being around people and biting their heads off and risk upsetting them (and myself), I stay away. I can literally feel the anger bubbling up inside just because someone is simply walking up the stairs. Where is the logic in that? No idea, but it happens.
Face #4: Physical effects
Recently I have read a whole load of articles about depression being a psychical illness too, and I can see where they’re coming from. Depression doesn’t just invade the mind, it seeks into the body, too. For me, the physical side effects are the tiredness and lack of strength. Unless you’ve been there, I think it’s difficult to grasp the concept of being too tired to do anything. There are days where I cannot get out of bed apart from to go the bathroom (and I will cross my legs for as long as possible to avoid having to get up). This probably sounds gross, but I don’t really care. There are times where I’ve not showered in over two weeks, sometimes longer. The strength it takes to have a shower is enormous to me when I’m so low. If you’re thinking, “Ew, that’s gross, it’s not hard to shower,” know that to me, it’s like climbing a mountain.
Face #5: Lack of motivation
Sometimes, I literally don’t have the strength to do anything. I’ve been thinking of writing this for months and months and have only just got around to writing it. I find reading incredibly difficult when I’m struggling, the words just don’t go in and it leads to frustration. It took me over a year to read one book. Motivation to go out and get fresh air is next to nothing, motivation to socialize is non-existent. It’s not because I don’t want to see my friends — it’s the tiredness and the effort and the guilt that follows when I still feel as crap after as I did before.
Face #6: Fake
This is the face which is hardest to write. I feel like I’m just admitting to being a liar. I’m not talking about making elaborate stories up about myself, but simple lies — I say and act fine when inside I am screaming. I’ve perfected my fake smile and my “I’m fine honestly” lie. If I manage to get out of bed and socialize (does happen a bit, especially as I am coming out of a long depressive episode), I often will put on a bright dress, do my hair and make-up and paint on a smile. Those who are with me generally think I’m doing OK and getting better, when in reality, not a lot has changed (sorry). Just because someone is smiling, laughing and has made an effort with their appearance does not mean they are fine.
Face #7: Guilt
This is a big one for me. I feel guilt about a lot of things. Firstly, I feel guilty about lying to people about how I’m really feeling. I don’t want to lie, but I also don’t want depression to be my identity. I don’t want to be the person who’s constantly crying at parties, who just can’t show happiness at anything. My name is Joy for goodness sake. I also feel a tremendous amount of guilt about people doing nice things for me when it doesn’t help my mood; despite their best efforts. I also often feel guilty for being ill, like I’m a massive burden to everyone.
Face #8: Shame
I feel this links to guilt, too. I don’t think anyone should have to feel ashamed about their mental health, let’s face it, we didn’t flipping choose to be ill did we? However I do sometimes feel ashamed to have a mental health issue. My main reason for feeling ashamed is being off work at the moment. I hate it. I see all my friends working hard, doing some incredible jobs. And it hurts. It hurts to see that and not be part of it. There’s nothing I want more than to be able to go back to work full-time. I feel ashamed I’m not working due to mental health. I know I shouldn’t, but I do. No one but me has made me feel this way, no one has questioned me being off work, everyone knows it’s for the best at the moment, but it doesn’t stop me from beating myself up about it.
Face #9: Fear
It’s scary waking up and feeling empty and lost. It’s scary being in the dark and never knowing when you’ll next see light. It’s scary wondering if things can get any worse.
Face #10: Numb
Numbness is one of the worst symptoms of depression in my opinion. The feeling of numbness is intolerable at times. It’s like I can’t feel love. In my deepest depressions I have experienced such a sense of numbness I could not even feel love for my partner, family, friends or dogs. There was just nothing there. Just a dark blank space. I knew I once loved them, but I couldn’t feel that. When I’m feeling this way, nothing brings me any pleasure. Things I used to enjoy, like listening to music, just became nothingness to me. I completely lose my sense of self, my personality and anything positive.
Face #10: Happiness
It’s a common misconception that people with depression feel no joy whatsoever. I must admit that for me it is little and rarely, but it does occur. A cuddle with my dog, a walk along the beach, a hug off my partner or a friend; these are all things I’ve felt happiness while doing. Although such of my happiness is faked, I’m happy to report genuine happiness does happen. I think I’ve felt it three or four times in the past few months, which I know doesn’t seem a lot, but at least it’s there. When this mood lifts, I will feel it more and more. Until then, I need to hold onto every second of happiness I can. It reminds me there is hope.
If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.