In the season of taxes and overcast skies, life can already feel bleak enough.
But often, our battles with depression are not rooted solely (if at all) in finances or gloomy weather. Although they may play a role in aggravating depression, such concerns can present as mild or practically nonexistent annoyances when juxtaposed with the heavy burdens we carry within.
What causes depression in the first place? Sometimes, it seems from our vantage point that there is no apparent cause for depression at all (or anxiety, for that matter). It just appears out of nowhere and stays for as long as it pleases.
And then, in our weakened state, all it takes is a slight tipping of the balance to push us somewhere we thought we’d never go…or at least never go again.
Perhaps you’ll find that our stories are very similar or very different. Maybe some of both.
Depression in My Life
Much of this is very hard for me to write about, though I’ve mentioned or alluded to my struggles before in various corners of my blog. But I think it makes sense to share it in this season, in the hope that someone might read it and know that they’re not alone. Maybe that someone is you. <3
One common misconception is that depression must be caused by a serious or stressful life event. Depression is often mistakenly equated with sadness, the thought process here being that sadness is typically caused by significantly painful or stressful life events, therefore, if depression = sadness, then depression also must be caused by significantly painful or stressful life events. However, while the two do often overlap, they are not synonymous.
It is possible to be depressed but not “sad”, or to be sad but not depressed.
From my piece Platitudes and Cliches You’re Probably Tired of Hearing:
Sadness is not depression. You can be sad that you lost your wallet, but you’re probably not depressed about it. You’re likely worried, and pretty frustrated about the hassle that will ensue, but once your accounts and cards are restored, you’ll be happy again. Sadness is typically circumstantial.
Depression is also frequently circumstantial, but not always. Sometimes, it comes out of nowhere. Other times, the cause is extremely covert. And often, you don’t even know you’re depressed. You’re going through the motions of life – numb, visionless, jaded. Depression can disguise itself as erratic sleep patterns, overeating, chronic fatigue, and general lethargy.
In my experience, depression doesn’t always have an obvious trigger (although recently I’ve learned some patterns and correlations to watch for). It is often just a mode of being. I stop wanting to be around people so much. Their conversation and laughter begins to sound louder and more annoying. I answer people’s questions more briefly or even defensively or critically (though I may not think I’m being critical or have the intention of sounding that way. I just notice problems more (or at least find the same issues to be more problematic or overwhelming than I normally would)).
My depression is often aggravated by overcast skies, but it is not entirely dictated or controlled by that. Often, if the weather is gray and cloudy, I will be depressed, but excessively sunny skies can cause similar reactions in me. My favorite weather is rainy weather (which, yes, involves overcast skies, but the clouds are actually yielding something healing and refreshing and not just hovering ominously over you). Rain melts the ice inside me and evaporates the numbness. It reminds me that I have skin, hair, a face that can get wet. It reminds me that I’m still alive. It caresses me like a timeless friend and tells me that I still have a reason to be here.
To summarize, depression does not always have an obvious cause – in terms of life events. However, there are many factors – seen and unseen – that can play a role in the onset or perpetuation of a depressive episode.
For me, depression can often be traced to nutritional deficiencies. (So still a cause, but not a readily apparent one.) I’ve found that I struggle if I don’t get enough vitamin B6 (I really notice a drop in sleep quality, skin health, and mood).
While depression may not always have an obvious cause, suicidal thinking/focus typically does for me.
If I am not already in a state of mild depression (at least), I’m unlikely to entertain suicidal thoughts when struck with an adverse life event or severely impacted emotionally. However, if I am already in a weakened state (mentally, emotionally, nutritionally), I am much more likely to respond to such pain by desperately scrambling for a way to escape the pain which I have no physical, mental, or emotional strength left to handle. If I am feeling vulnerable already, much less of a hit is required to knock me to the ground or throw me into a deep, dark place.
I’ve been seriously suicidal twice (to the point of ideation and attempted implementation) and “mildly” suicidal many other times (where I at least wanted suicide to be an option, or didn’t want to be here). Note: “serious” and “mild” are poor choices of wording on my part. All suicidal thoughts fall into the category of “serious”.
Both “serious” episodes involved situations in which I felt completely helpless. I had an unsolvable problem. Something obviously beyond my control, with no obvious way of escape.
I’m not going to get into the gory details – the triggers or my methods.
All I will say here is, were it not for timely intervention and the tremendous love and care of my family and God, it’s quite possible that I wouldn’t be writing this today.
But what’s really weird is that days or even hours prior to both episodes, I wouldn’t have seen myself reaching a point this low. Minutes or hours before, I was interacting with the public and likely smiling – though whether I was doing so out of social obligation or innate desire I don’t recall.
This is not to say that life wasn’t challenging and trying. Prior to these episodes, I was emotionally vulnerable and in pain, and I felt physically unwell much of the time. Stress from various areas of life was wearing me down. In retrospect, I was most certainly fighting depression in both cases. And unknown to me at the time, I was dealing with some deep-rooted (genetics-based) health problems (which I’ve now linked to many of my physical symptoms and mental/emotional struggles).
In spite of all these struggles, I still saw my situation as partially manageable, or had a glimmer of hope within – even up to a few hours prior to completely collapsing.
But it didn’t take much – in those two Februaries – to snuff out that little bit of light remaining. All it took was some “mild” thunderstorms (which seemed more like golf-ball-sized hail storms at the time).
This – even the vague bit that I’ve shared here – is not easy for me to write about. “Depression”, “mental illness”, “anxiety”, and “suicide” are terms that evoke a lot of emotion and personal pain in some and a lot of criticism from others – particularly some of those who have never personally experienced depression (sadness, for sure, but not the clinical, chronic, bone-deep depression that transforms you into a different being).
But if, on average, one person somewhere around the globe dies by suicide every 40 seconds, then there is still more action to be taken. There are more stories to be shared and hands to be extended. More resources to be created and awareness to be spread.
So here I am, sharing.
Until awareness is increased, the stigma, fear, and misunderstanding will remain alive and well.
More than once, I’ve been in a situation where I was drowning beneath the waves of depression. Most of us, when stranded and sinking in the water, forget how to swim and instead begin to panic and drown.
Right now, maybe that’s you.
You’re trapped inside a terrifying or heartbreaking situation from which you see no escape. A problem for which there seems to be no solution.
No solution except to end it all.
You’ve endured all that you possibly can.
Death has never looked more appetizing or enticing than it does now.
Or maybe…dancing with death is all too familiar for you.
And as always, you are more than welcome to email me for a listening ear (but please do not treat correspondence with me as a substitute for professional help.)
What’s Helped Me
Note: I am not a doctor. I’m just sharing my story. Please research things for yourself and seek the help of a medical professional and therapist for any and all health and mental health concerns. See full disclaimer.
Some things that have helped me with depression:
- Vitamin B6 (a key component in the production of neurotransmitters, and in which I’m naturally constantly deficient [see What is Pyroluria, and Do You Have It?])
- Eating optimally for my body
- Getting adequate amounts of sleep (when I can, which is more likely when I’m consuming enough magnesium and vitamin B6)
- Pacing myself. Not biting off more than I can chew (I used to do this a lot)
You are loved.
<3 <3 <3
Please see disclaimer.
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