When we say someone ‘is depressed’, we are describing a set of symptoms visible to ‘the outside’. However, just like with so many other conditions related to brain chemistry, this is a bit of the old ‘can’t-put-weight-on-foot syndrome’: a single set of symptoms is the only visible result of a number of various and quite different things which are going on deep within the brain.
What I wish to address here is what medical doctors often refer to as ‘garden variety depression’: not a manic-depressive, bi-polar disorder (though, there is a distant parallel, it is not the same thing), not another type of mental illness (like schizophrenia) which may, at times, cause depression-like symptoms, nor am I writing about a natural grieving process.
Having said what I am not writing about, I find it difficult to start – there are so many really important points to make, things which people who are near and dear to those who may be suffering from depression (as well as the sufferers themselves) need to know…
Imagine having a sinus infection: your nose is so stuffed up, you cannot smell a single thing. Even if the smell-receptors were not gucked up with mucus, preventing them from functioning, your whole nasal passages are so filled with solid-seeming stuff that no air can enter them. Now, imagine that you are eating your most favoritest food in the world!
What is it like?
The food – though as good as ever – will not evoke the same experience in you as you eat is as it does when you are well.
I could go into a long description here – but I trust I don’t need to….suffice it to say, the health condition is physically interfering with one’s ability to fully experience the food.
Depression – however it is triggered (there are many ways to ‘get there’) – is a little bit similar: the ability to experience emotions – all emotions – is severely depressed….hence, ‘depression’…. Like in the above example, the health condition is physically interfering with one’s ability to fully experience life.
In other words, ‘depression’ is not ‘feeling sad’ or ‘feeling sorry for oneself’ – depression is the physical inability to ‘feel’.
Of course, there are various levels – from mild to severe.
But, the underlying problem is the same.
It is based on a chemical imbalance in the brain. It is a physical problem, which cannot be solved by ‘positive thinking’ or ‘pulling oneself together’ or ‘having friends’ or any such common misconceptions…
And a problem it is: there is nothing more horrible for a human than to be unable to ‘feel’.
It is worse than death.
Unless one has experienced it themselves, it is impossible to fully comprehend the devastation of the desolate existence: one does all the things that made one feel alive – and can no longer ‘feel’ them!
Oh, just like with the food: one can ‘recognize’ the taste and texture is there – but it is not the same, it is not experienced fully, it is not ‘living’.
You can mechanically sense the physical experience – but the brain is lacking the proper chemicals to fire up the ‘sensation’ centres, the ‘feel good/feel bad’ areas of the brain, so the experience is hollow and not properly ‘felt’!
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This inability to feel is not limited to one area of sensations: it is an all-encompassing numbness.
This ‘feeling’ things – from the love of those around us, to the pleasure of seeing a pretty sunset – these feelings are the colouring of our life-experiences which defines each and every one of us as the individuals we are, it makes us unique, it makes us ‘us’. That is why loosing the ability to experience this facet of experience is so devastating to people: it strips us of our ‘self’.
It is as if your body is going through the motions of life, but your self/soul is in a coma.
People who are suffering like this will do just about anything to recapture their ability to ‘feel’, to wake up from this walking coma.
So, many people who are slipping into a depression will go to great lengths to do the things which, before they were depressed, made them ‘feel’ with the greatest intensity: from risky and destructive behaviour, perhaps seeking a lot of sex or drugs or even abusive relationships, to eating food they liked, and so on. By doing the things which made them ‘feel’ the most intensely, they are attempting to recapture at least the echo of ‘feeling’.
This is not going to work for long: they can feel their pulse rise, the physiological reactions in the body will be there. But, if there isn’t enough neurotransmitters in the brain to fire up the pleasure/fear centres of the brain, their experience will not be ‘felt’ and will leave them more empty and hollow than before!
Other people will try to avoid the situations which remind them that they are not ‘feeling’ things like they used to. They will avoid friends and places that made them happy, because they cannot face remembering what it was like to ‘feel’ – and that they can no longer do it.
Either way – depression is a serious medical condition with real, physiological causes. Medical professionals are the ones who are trained to sort through the symptoms and find the best way to treat it. Getting medical help is essential for one to beat depression!