Depression comes in many forms and hits different people in a variety of ways. There are, however, similarities and one of the ways to explore it is by answering the questions that get raised.
1) Isn't it just a chemical imbalance? The simple answer is yes. After that you have to consider the human body, then realise that nearly everything we do and feel is a chemical reaction. The movement of our muscles, falling in love, any thought, the transfer of oxygen to the bloodstream. It's all chemicals reacting and changing the body. The brain is home to a huge number of electro-chemical reactions every minute. We are walking, talking chemical reactions.
It's also why pills work so well. I'm on citalopram, 20mg. It doesn't have me leaping around with joy, it just stops the lows getting too bad, preventing me from mentally falling off the edge. But not everyone reacts the same way to the same pill. Because of subtle variations in our individual body chemistry, what works for one person will cause a vomiting reaction (or worse) in another. It's why there are so many different types of drug out there.
So, yes, depression is a chemical imbalance, but as we don't really understand the mind or the brain, it's difficult to pinpoint with any accuracy what exactly needs to be done to correct it.
2) I thought depression was just another word for sadness. In one sense it is. The difference is that sadness passes, whereas depression hangs around like an annoying relative. Imagine being sad every day for several months or years. How would that feel?
After a while it becomes more than sadness. I've had mornings where I've woken up but been unable to move. Literally unable to move. It was as if my limbs had shut down and refused to operate. Compared to that, not wanting to leave the warmth of my bed, as happens most mornings, is mild.
Depression grabs hold of you and sucks the life out of you. As I explained above, it's a chemical reaction, but it's out of control. It blinds you to peace and happiness and isolates you from others.
3) What are it's effects on your life? I can only talk about what it's done to me as others will be affected differently and to a greater or lesser extent
As I've grown older (and fatter and balder) I've learned to accept my depression. I stopped fighting it many years ago and when it hit hard I let it have it's day or two, then waited as it ran out of energy. Now the downs last only a few hours, sometimes as long as a day. I've also stopped trying to do everything at once and pushed out of my life the people that were using my depression to manipulate and control me.
It has isolated me to a great extent, but the semi-isolation I have is far preferable to being used and abused for other's entertainment or sense of self-esteem.
I also forget things, am unsure if the things I've remembered are correct, while small jobs, like taking the rubbish out, can seem like training for a marathon. There is a lethargy about life, where even sitting down and doing nothing can feel like a chore.
4) How do you cope on a daily basis? Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I want to curl up in a corner and die quietly. Over the years I've learned to put on an act, drawing on my natural exuberance and cheerfulness, remembering myself as a young child. I would dance and sing and do silly things because it made me happy. Now I do the same, but not in public.
I try and enjoy good company when possible and chat with pleasant people. Around those people I can be happy and cheerful and come away feeling good. Not because they have done something wonderful, but just because they're who they are.
Today, depression is not an ugly word and although the mental health
of an individual is treated as less important than their teeth, it's at
least recognised as a serious problem.
With time, I hope, our knowledge
of mental health will increase, but until we fully understand the mind
and the brain that it lives in, depression and other mental illnesses
will not be as effectively treated as some cancers, TB, smallpox and
See you on Friday.