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Don't 'Believe In' Depression? This Is What It Feels Like

This post was originally published on Nick's personal blog and an edited version is shared below with his permission...

I hope, by sharing this, to build on the fantastic work that CALM are doing at the moment, in raising awareness of things we (particularly men) simply don’t talk about, leading to much bigger problems further down the line … or to it simply being ‘too late’. If this post gets one person to look at a friend / family member and think, 'they're not quite themselves - maybe I should talk to them', it's done its job.

I’m low. I have been for about three weeks. Actually, I’m more than ‘low: I’m depressed. It’s okay, I’ve been here many times before (hence the reason I can write it so easily, know how to handle it, and can tell the difference between ‘low’ and depressed) and this is only a mini-episode. It should run its course.

Already, I can sense that some people – including close friends of mine, if they’re reading – are rolling their eyes at my previous paragraph, and / or closing this blog post… which brings me neatly to the first issue.

Some of the closest people to me, will think (and have said):
‘I don’t really believe in that [depression], mate’
‘I don’t really get all that’
‘Can’t you just think positive, like everyone else?’
‘I think people just want to give a label to stuff, to be honest’

Actually, what you’re saying – whether you like it or not – is:
‘I don’t believe you’
‘Because I’m not prone to it, I don’t think it exists’
‘I think you’re trying it on a bit / making excuses’
‘I think you’re being lazy’

I have a couple of questions for those who ‘don’t believe in depression’ (or mental health issues in general), or, in effect, just think it’s a load of bollocks:

Do you believe it when people like Stephen Fry say they have depression (and do TV programmes on it), but not a ‘normal’ person? If so, why? Because Stephen Fry has more credibility?

Do you believe in more ‘exotic’ mental illnesses, like bipolar disorder / schizophrenia, and consider them to be medical conditions?

Why am I so angry and defensive about all of this?

Because it’s these very attitudes that stop people from speaking out or looking to get help; particularly men. It’s these very attitudes that stop people speaking out… and what good is it believing in depression, or any other mental illness, once that person is already dead? Nothing reverses a suicide.

It’s not about ‘just feeling a bit low’ or ‘you’re having an off day – we all get them’.

I can tell you the difference between the two, because I get / have had both (and like everyone, I’ve also joked that ‘I feel a bit depressed after that’ when I mean that something momentarily made me sad).

Put it this way: There’s a world of difference between the downbeat, cynical, narked chap I play on this blog, and genuine depression.

Here’s a few things I feel when it all ‘kicks off’, and this can last between 2 weeks and 6 months. Tell me if my symptoms of depression sound like one of your ‘off days’:

- Absolutely knackered, every day, as if I’ve not slept for 2–3 days straight… even if I had 7 hours good sleep the night before

- A fight to lift myself off the bed in the morning, no matter what I have to do that day, and how important (even if it would involve losing money)

- A constant burning pain in the middle of my chest, day in, day out

- Heavy sighs, or huffing and puffing, out loud, which I’m often not aware of ('til someone says ‘what’s up with you? Why do you keep sighing?’)

- A feeling that everyone is talking about me behind my back (but my post-rationalising allows me to think, ‘why would my friends, in the middle of the day, be on the phone talking about me? Even if they were on the phone, there’s a million and one things they could be talking about – I’m not that bloody important!’)

- A feeling that, if I’m out, if I step out in front of bus, or accidentally trip in front of one, it would be a good thing

- A feeling that I’ve achieved absolutely nothing in my life, that everything I’ve ever done is pointless

- This is a tough one: Crying without realising it. You’ll be sitting there, and you’ll suddenly realise that your face is wet – you’ve been crying, for no apparent reason, and you don’t know for how long

- A permanent (or semi-permanent) feeling of grief – or even doom – despite nothing seeming to have happened. It feels like you’re bereaved, low and quite close to tears …yet you’ve no idea why

- Dismissing all praise as nonsense. With my work, I can function just fine and produce copy / writing (my brain seems to have a separate part for ‘work’), but I believe that everything I’m producing is rubbish, even while I’m writing it. I’m astonished if I then get client praise

- And one of the worst parts: Every thought is followed up by a correcting thought, then a thought to correct that. It’s exhausting. Imagine fighting with your own mind, all day. Imagine if every thought of yours produced two more to fight with it?

…This also results in being locked inside your own head, which means you come across as quite selfish – you’ll forget things like birthdays, or only talk about yourself.

- Hiding away from human company. Ignoring phone calls, texts, and emails (in fairness, I’m bad at this regardless of how I feel!) – not wanting to communicate with people

- The feeling that you’ve let down everyone you’ve ever come across – friends, family, colleagues… you’re a waste of space, worthless

I’m lucky. I come from a family that loves to talk (or simply shout over one another), is warm, close, and very open, so I do talk about things openly. I’m also a writer and a bit arty farty (or so I like to think), so I’m happy expressing feelings.

And… I’ve had a shit-ton of therapy, which allows me to be more candid (as per this post), and to post-rationalise some of the more bizarre thinking that goes with depression (effectively, your mind trying to give you a false impression of things).

But… not all men (and women) can speak about these things so easily. I don’t want to keep reading the statistics about male suicide (or suicide in general). I don’t want to see anymore tragic tales about someone who just ended it all, before talking to someone. Have a look at CALM and the work they’re doing, and – more importantly – look out for your friends and family. Have a think about whether someone’s been acting strangely recently. Try and get them on the phone. It could be the most important chat they’ve ever had.

If you're worried about someone, click here for some tips on how you might approach the situation. If you need to talk, CALM's helpline and webchat is open every day from 5pm until midnight. It's free, confidential and anonymous, and staffed by professionals - and it doesn't hurt to give it a try.

Photo credit: Rashaun Black