Having struggled with numerous severe and enduring episodes of depression over the last five or so years, I feel as though I’ve built up an in depth understanding of the illness. A lot of the educational material online about depression focuses primarily on the classic symptoms which would lead to diagnosis. However there isn’t as much available material on some of the consequences and symptoms of depression I feel are some of the hardest to cope with.
Here are four things I find hardest about depression:
1. Loss of identity.
Depression is a cruel illness that can cause a person to lose their sense of self. This can happen in a number of ways and usually is a result of a combination of factors such as going on sick leave from work, having to leave your job completely, isolation caused by inability to participate in social events, increased anxiety, pushing people away and so on. I felt a complete loss of identity when I became unfit for work, which subsequently meant I lost my job. I didn’t have the motivation or energy to participate in anything social, and therefore became a bit of a loner. I didn’t want to be around friends or family because I didn’t feel worthy of their love. My anxiety levels became unbearable and at one point I struggled to leave the house or my room when I was in the psychiatric hospital. I had no idea who I was anymore; the happy, outgoing, fun and loving person I once was had disappeared. This new version of me was not a good replacement.
2. Impact on relationships.
Nobody really tells you or prepares you for the earth shattering impact depression can have on your other half. Sometimes they change roles from being your lover to your carer, and romance takes a back seat. I’m yet to meet a moderately to severely depressed person who has sex with their partner as often as they used to. For a couple that has been together for many years and once had a healthy sex life, this “dry” spell, which could last weeks to months or sometimes years, understandably has an impact on the relationship. The sense of closeness and attraction can completely disappear, and it can almost become as though the romance was never there. I shouldn’t put words in others’ mouths, but I suspect there was a lot of hidden frustration and resentment going on through the worst of it. However it’s not all doom and gloom, going though depression can bring couples closer and strengthen the bond even further.
I don’t see much literature on guilt being an issue for people with depression. Although there is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of or to feel guilty for, the fact is guilt still occurs and there’s no point ignoring it. I’ve never felt such strong guilt in my life before depression hit, the guilt I felt exacerbated my self-loathing to a whole new level. Here’s a few thing I felt guilty for: not working, claiming benefits, not being able to keep on top of housework, not going on long dog walks, not having an interest in sex, putting my loved ones through the sadness and worry that comes with loving someone with depression, staying in bed, only having one shower a week, not going to church, not going out with friends, not doing my volunteering role, not cooking and if I’m honest, I felt guilty I was alive and people had to witness the ongoing death of my personality.
Thankfully I was saved by the continued love and support of my partner, friends and family. While I was in hospital I did come close to losing myself completely in mind and body, and without the admission which was forced upon me, I wouldn’t be alive. Slowly I became human again and started to eat and drink properly, my medication was changed and I had regular chats with the occupational therapist on the ward. After a lengthy admission, I was able to return home to my wonderful partner and my beautiful dogs. Sadly recovery isn’t an overnight process and because I had gone so deep into depression, I had to relearn the basics and build up my stamina. I’m not exaggerating when I say opening a tin of dog meat was absolutely exhausting. Over time I built my strength up and I have to say, it was one of the most frustrating processes ever. I still struggle with mundane things today and I’ve been out of hospital for over half a year. I still find cooking, cleaning, self-care, exercise, being sociable and enjoyment really difficult. And it’s so annoying, for example, when simply washing a pot is so hard. Why can’t I just do it like everybody else manages to? I don’t even work, and the minute I do I’m still too exhausted to do it. Recovering from a severe episode of depression is a long, tiring and frustrating process, but I fully believe it’ll be worth it.
These are the struggles I have faced, please remember we are all unique and experience symptoms and challenges differently. Some of you reading this may relate, and some may think it’s nothing like what you experienced with depression. Whatever stage you’re at in your illness, please remember there is hope and it won’t always feel this bad. Keep going and don’t give up.