Bereavement, Mental Health, Opinion

What Depression Looks Like

In the wake of celebrity suicide there is always an initial push on social media encouraging those who are living with depression and/or suicidal tendencies to reach out if they’re considering taking their life. But, the problem is it’s just not that easy. While it’s a really nice sentiment, most of the time if you’re able to reach out and talk to someone, you’re probably not yet at death’s door, but close.

Both times I attempted suicide I hadn’t told ANYONE I was that close to doing something to harm myself. But, I was exhibiting behaviors indicative of someone in my position. So often we’re screeching out that we want our depressed friends to tell us when they’re hurting like that, but there are already tells present, if we just know what to look for.

I’m very fortunate that I married my best friend and we have been together for 11 years. This time together has taught them my tells and together the two of us built this list to give you a glimpse into the signs that I personally display when I’m in a dark place.

*Disclaimer: I am not in any way a medical professional. I am speaking from my own personal experience. If you think you or someone you know is dealing with depression/suicidal thoughts, please seek out professional guidance.*

1. Sleep

My sleep patterns when in the throes of a particularly depressive state are erratic. I’m awake all night but exhausted and sleepy all day. I sleep a LOT when I get in a bad way. My sleep schedule stays destroyed until I force myself to sleep with medicinal sleep aids, and even then it can take up to a week or more for me to get back onto a proper sleep schedule.

2. Hygiene

When I’m lost in depression, I begin to ignore my own hygiene. I bathe less, I don’t brush my teeth, and my hair gets incredibly unruly and tangled. It’s not that I can’t tell I’m a mess; it’s that I am incapable of caring.

3. Diet

The joke about sad women eating ice cream while they cry is actually total bullshit. While some people do overeat when depressed, overwhelmingly the people I talk to about their depression say they just stop eating. This is true for me as well. When I’m in deep depression, I just don’t eat. I’ll have maybe one meal a day and that’s usually in the evenings when my partner comes home from work and “threatens” to force feed me if I don’t do it myself.

4. Solitude

I’m an introvert, so this one is tricky. I already enjoy being alone. I LOVE being alone. I am my own favorite company. But, when I’m severely depressed it’s even worse. I will avoid leaving the house or seeing friends at all costs. I remember in the lead up to my last suicide attempt I would lie and tell people I was sick just so I could avoid leaving the house and facing the world. I just couldn’t do it. So, I didn’t. The only social interaction I got was at work. Once home, I would just shut down completely.

5. Cleanliness

I will tell you right now: I am not an organized person. I’d like to be. But, I’m not. My house is never “company ready”. Ever. All my laundry is NEVER done. The bathrooms are NEVER spotless. And there are always at least a few dishes in my sink at any given time. That’s pretty much my norm. But, when I’m deeply depressed, the whole house is a wreck and stays a wreck. It’s like I don’t even see it anymore. I move from destroyed space to destroyed space in a haze, like I’m blind to what’s around me. Largely because I am. It’s all just blanked out. And it is so hard to pull myself back into reality.

6. Mood

And finally, my moods and how I engage with others is completely different when I’m very depressed. I’m a generally cheery person, but when depressed I’m sullen, withdrawn, quiet, and extremely sensitive. I’m more likely to become angered by things that usually wouldn’t bother me. I’m also more likely to end friendships and say hurtful things that are completely out of my character. In a sense, my “give a damn” is broken. And how I react to others is then guided by that brokenness.

And those are my personal signs that I am struggling with very difficult depression. Thankfully I’ve gotten “better” over the years, in regards to how deep I allow myself to get into my depression, and I haven’t had a suicidal fantasy in about 3 years. The last time I attempted was over 11 years ago, but unfortunately the fantasies and the urges to self-harm don’t always just go away. What has helped me is that my partner knows the signs and is very involved in doing what they can to pull me away from the edge.

I know we mean well when we say, “If you’re considering suicide please talk to me!”, but it really isn’t that easy to talk about. So, I encourage you to educate yourself on the various signs of depression and suicidal thoughts and not wait for your friends displaying those signs to come tell you. Go to THEM first.

What my partner does when I’m starting to show the signs of a deep depression is they physically hold me. They drop everything, get into bed with me, and hold me. No pressure, no talking, just physical closeness.

If I haven’t been eating they gently ask me what I want to eat. They don’t ask IF I want to eat. They ask me WHAT I want to eat. It’s a subtle difference that indicates they know I need food and I need to eat regardless of how I feel. My answer will pretty much always be, “I don’t feel like eating.” At which point they gently push for what I would eat.

“Okay, but how about I pick something up anyways. Just in case.”

This always works on me. And if I still can’t commit to eating, my partner goes and buys my favorite comfort foods anyways. On more than one occasion I’ve refused to commit to eating, only to smell them cooking my favorite comfort food (mashed potatoes). Suddenly the smell of my favorite food is enough to make my body overcome my brain. And then they bring my food in and I eat.

These little things (holding me, making food for me) are love in action. These actions help me remember how important they are and how important I am to them. It doesn’t make the darkness go away, but it gives me a little nightlight to hold onto as I ride out the pain.

But each person’s needs will be different. While holding me and feeding me works, those things may not work for your loved ones. This is why you need to go to your friends first. Talk to them. Intimacy is so terrifying to so many people, but in an age where the suicide rates are climbing and people are experiencing record highs of loneliness, avoiding awkward feelings is no longer a luxury any of us can afford. Send text messages. Send DM’s. Tell your friends and loved ones you love them and they matter to you.

The week Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain passed away I repeatedly texted one of my best friends to tell her I love her because her brother lost his battle with depression a few years ago and I wanted her to know she was seen and she wasn’t alone. I didn’t wait for her to tell me she was hurting. I went to her first.

So, stop being afraid to tell people how you feel about them and how important they are to you. Gone are the days of tiptoeing around our feelings. We need each other. We are all starving for connection. Be that connection to life your depressed friends need and I promise you that in time you will find that if ever YOU are the one needing someone to pull you back from the edge, they will be there for you.

Go forth and be love in action. We need each other. Desperately.

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