Not a happy title, but depression is not the same as sadness. I know from trying to explain it that like the sighted person explaining the color blue to a blind friend, depression is hard to fathom if you haven’t experienced it. Nor is depression just one specific mental issue as the reasons and triggers differ and the form it takes varies somewhat as well.
I can only describe how it manifested for me, but I’ve read and heard other descriptions and they resonated with my experience. The metaphors people use vary. I described it as the world turning grey, all the color drained out of life. Some have talked about swimming in grey goo, a good metaphor for how you react in terms of living.
In deep depression I was not motivated to do anything. Activities that once held great interest were devoid of meaning and enjoyment. Toward the very bottom of my experience I would come home and wait for sleep. I was entirely miserable.
Depression is, as you’re probably aware, a mental illness. Mental illness has lots of connotations, mostly not very helpful. There’s more than a little bit of victim blaming when it comes to diseases of the mind, which are often as somatic as any disease of the body. Depression is often the result of circumstances and biochemistry, so it was with me.
“Snap out of it”, sound familiar? There’s this perception that the depression sufferer is somehow wallowing in self-pity of some kind. She just needs some motivation in the form of an unhelpful and ill informed command and she’ll be right as rain. (yes, sarcasm)
Because mental illness doesn’t show up (at least primarily) with physical symptoms, there’s this notion that the sufferer is basically a malingerer. She just doesn’t want to get better. I had a GF at work express to me the opinion that in bad circumstances (think war victim, famine, etc) somehow the depression would be suppressed in favor of survival. I wasn’t happy to correct her, but I suspect most severely depressed people would just starve or commit suicide. I don’t think I could have saved myself at the depths of depression from anything.
They started me on Zoloft and over a period of several weeks I started getting better slowly. I got up to the point where I was somewhat functional. I thought at the time that I was much better – that wasn’t to really happen until about 18 months later.
It is the nature of severe illness that improvements seem so amazing, only to later be put in perspective for having been a small step on the road to recovery. I’m seeing this in my recovery from surgery, and I’ve seen it with regards to depression too.
Months after I started treatment for depression and had been getting therapy for my transgender issues I thought I was better. When I read now what I was writing more than a year after starting treatment I realize how depressed I still was. It took transition to lift the depression.
My depression started in earnest in my twenties. I remember being at my first job and feeling miserable. By all objective standards it was a great job. I had done menial labor working in a supermarket, I had worked in a factory and for a sociopath who had me doing all sorts of unreasonable odd jobs. I knew what a bad job was like.
In contrast I was working in clean, safe conditions doing engineering design, which is still something I love doing. I was also getting paid fairly well by any standard. But just ask my spouse and she’ll tell you how I was calling her almost daily to complain.
It wasn’t just work. I found all sorts of truly trivial things to complain about. One day I was visiting some work friends with my trivialities and one of them said “I really need to show you what you’re doing”. This fellow was more than an amateur comedian. He leaves the room and comes back dragging one leg saying “Oh me, oh my, oh libby” and starts with a humorous version of my complaints.
I’ve never been the same since, I laughed out loud and it truly a pivotal moment.
I contrast this with my current life. I am rarely motivated to complain and I cherish my blessings. When I do complain, such as my experience with my car being towed in Philly, it has to do with a genuinely upsetting experience that few would argue is trivial.
Was my depression because of being trans? I don’t really know. It would be reasonable to think that being trans was a contributor, but I had other real stresses in my life I wasn’t owning up to including conflict with my dad, and as above there was and is almost certainly a biochemical contribution.
Because of this I doubt I will ever be free of antidepressant medications. However, to me it’s a no brainer whether to take medications and be functional or not and not be functional or worse.