Sunday 22 January 2017

Doctor's Orders: Just what is depression?

Relentless and irrational self-criticism and self-loathing with a dose of apathy and nausea

Ciara Kelly

Published 12/10/2015 | 02:30

Depression: The effects of depression are horrible. 'Low mood' doesn't really cover it.
Depression: The effects of depression are horrible. 'Low mood' doesn't really cover it.

What does it actually mean to be depressed? We hear lots about it - but what are the actual basket of symptoms that people experience?

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We've made some progress on the 'accepting depression as a genuine and difficult condition' front, and we're now largely supportive of people with it, as a society - but is that true of us as individuals? Much like many victims of sexual abuse are supported by strangers but not by their loved ones, those who suffer with the symptoms of depression don't always find their immediate circle hugely supportive. And I wonder is that sometimes because of how depression affects us.

Because the effects of depression are horrible - and many people who are depressed don't name it as such - because 'low mood' doesn't really cover it, and they don't always realise what they're experiencing is actually depression.

But what I've learnt is that much of the overriding feeling is one of self-loathing and self-criticism. People judge themselves harshly and criticise themselves in a really pointed fashion, homing in on their own deepest insecurities in a way that even the cruellest bully would never do.

The narrative inside their heads is that they're a bad person, worthless, useless. And it's relentless. The fact that they know that no one is 'all bad' is irrelevant. They view themselves in this way and it makes them feel sick. They feel physically ill-at-ease and even nauseated by the waves of intrusive self-loathing that they're experiencing.

Sometimes, when I hear people who are depressed talk about themselves and the way they describe themselves - as a mess, a loser again and always as bad - I sometimes wonder am I hearing someone else's words? I wonder if how they are describing themselves as adults is how they heard themselves described as children - usually by their parents. Because apart from yourself there's really no one apart from a family member who would ever speak to you in such an unguarded and insulting way. And there's a link between criticism in childhood and depression in adulthood. Something worth bearing in mind when we're talking to our kids.

The other thing you don't hear enough about is how depression affects your relationships. When you feel down and negative and hate how you are, you aren't always very nice to those around you and aren't always the best of company. You bark at people. Say cutting things. Sometimes you belittle people you care about. And they don't always appreciate the fact that depression plays a role in that. They don't blame the condition. They blame you. So while society is all for being good to those who are depressed, their loved ones often are running out of patience and that is fed back to the depressed person - confirming what they already thought - which is that they're bad and no one likes or cares about them.

And then there's the apathy. The fact that all of the above is going on - but you find it hard to care. Because what's the point? The future's bleak, anyway.

This is the kind of stuff that goes on in your head when you're depressed. So if this is you, you need to recognise it and do something about it - do something even if you don't much want to right now. Because it gets better. This can all change.

Visit your GP. It's a good place to start. Or if that's too much right now, I'd suggest having a look online at aware.ie or alustforlife.com, which is Bressie's new website about mental wellbeing. If ever there was proof that struggling with your mental health doesn't mean you're worthless - someone like Bressie is it. You may think while you're struggling, that you're a bad person - but those of us on the outside looking in, know you're wrong. Please take action now. @ciarakellydoc

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