Depression. The word has been used right left and center to define from a simple lack of energy to a clinical mental health issue passing by any emotion of sadness or blues.
What is depression? From a medical perspective depression has well-defined symptoms which can vary from mild to severe and can include:
- Sadness & Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
- Changes in appetite
- Changes in sleeping patterns (Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much)
- Loss of energy or increased fatigue
- Increase in purposeless physical activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observable by others)
- Feeling worthless or guilty
- Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
- Thoughts of death or suicide
(American Psychiatric Association)
Every experience is different, yet the result is painful and draining emotionally and psychologically to the depressed and their surroundings. Depression creeps in silently, inconspicuously, without any visible signs at first until it becomes excruciatingly painful to the point of becoming dysfunctional, leading to suicidal thoughts and sometimes suicide. Can the others relate to the depressed experiences and understand the extent of the suffering? Doubtful. Every meaning is filtered and screened through one’s own life experience, and each person’s reality is different.
Even if the depression is manageable enough to maintain a façade of “socially operational”, it can affect several areas of your life. It can interfere with the level and quality of interactivity, and productivity which will eventually have consequences on your personal and professional life.
Depression might somewhat lead friends, personal and professional relations to avoid the presence of the depressed, to escape the negativity and the “Debby Downer” effect.
On the other hand, the depressed themselves might shut down and withdraw. And their withdrawal is for a valid reason; they are exhausted from their internal battles and struggles.
In a split second, thoughts of hopelessness and helplessness hammer you: What will happen in the next minute? Where will the next thought take me? Why am I not strong enough to make it? Why isn’t the day over? Will sleep be a relief? Will the next drink numb the pain? Why can’t I fix myself? Why are my thoughts so incoherent? Why is there so much pain? Why am I so jaded? And the series of “Why” questions is the downward spiral of the negativity and finding more reasons to be depressed, sad, validations, etc.
The hopelessness and helplessness go on making it worse as if taken by an undertow, you lost your grip, you’re trying to hold on to anything that keeps you afloat, alive for that matter, and you find none. Your train of thoughts of the moment finds none. All your positive references and memories are buried under layers of negative emotions. As if they needed to be dusted away, and as if you needed a constant reminder or post-it notes about the good times, the happy memories, the gentle words, the loving actions, the kind gestures, the tender or passionate looks. In brief, you need to be reminded when you were alive not merely breathing.
The whirlwind of negative ideas batters you so harshly that you’re left panting on the shore like old driftwood.
You want to take control, alas your levels of energy are so depleted, which lead to a round of self-loathing for not being able to make it and not being strong enough to pull through it. You give it another shot. Yet you have to make sure that everything looks normal to the “untrained eye”. Another round of failure? Can the abyss get deeper?
Thoughts of death and suicide become comforting; they bring the long-awaited peace and detachment from the futility and the uselessness of the struggle.
And then what? What’s going to happen next? What are the options?
1- Stay as is, in a state of complacency, choosing the slow death and counting days on the calendar. Losing whatever is left of professional and personal relationships, friends, acquaintances, and family. There is as much as people can tolerate from you.
2- Give yourself (or someone else) a mental slap that makes you snap out of the lethargy you have been bathing in. But that will entail that you become alive, not just breathe, that you are the author of the memories, not the spectator.
So which option do you choose? Because your choice is affecting your brain chemistry and your neurotransmitters which in turn are responsible for the next action you take.
Depression has been linked to imbalances in the brain, specifically with the neurotransmitters serotonin, adrenaline, dopamine, and glutamate.
The neurotransmitter serotonin is involved in controlling many critical bodily functions, including sleep, aggression, eating, sexual behavior, and mood. A decrease in the production of serotonin can cause depression in some people, and more specifically, a mood state that can cause some people to feel suicidal.
Recent studies show low levels of serotonin trigger a drop in adrenaline levels, which then leads to depression. Adrenaline helps our bodies to recognize and respond to stressful situations. People who are vulnerable to depression may have an adrenal system that doesn't handle the effects of stress very efficiently.
The neurotransmitter dopamine is also linked to depression. Dopamine plays a key role in controlling our drive to seek out rewards, as well as our ability to obtain a sense of pleasure. Low dopamine levels may, in part, explain why people with depression don't get the same sense of pleasure out of activities that seem pleasurable before the depression.
Last but not least, glutamate, found throughout your brain and spinal cord. Glutamate has many essential functions, including cognition, learning, and most importantly memory. Memory that seems to be fleeing during the depression; no recollection of events, activities, simple tasks....
Therefore, with the brain controlling the dashboard of neurotransmitters and the mood of the day all there is to do is to increase the neurotransmitters that are lacking, and we get a fix. Recommendations everywhere from popping pills, to targeted diet to increase your serotonin, to exercising to increase the serotonin and the dopamine, to getting more creative that increases the dopamine; the list is endless. Is that the solution? If you’re looking for a temporary fix, then yes by all means, if you’re looking for a long-term solution, then you’re seeking something else.
What you’re seeking is what will get your neurotransmitters off the roof, the sense of purpose that gets you moving, that gets the sparkle in your eyes back, the little voice in your head that motivates you, the “Why” that gives meaning to your life unlike the one that sent you spiraling down, the “Why” that makes you feel limitless.
Once you have found it, you will feel invincible, with a strong urge to live the unlived life, to catch up the wasted time, and most importantly to love your life and the people who are in it with you. To love especially the extraordinary ones who were by your side when you were spiraling down, and thank them for their love, patience, and acceptance, because without them you wouldn’t have found your way, without them you wouldn't have come back to life.