When most people think about depression, it might bring to mind some common traits that we associate with being sad: tears, frowns, a general sense of melancholy. I’ve certainly experienced all of those things with my own depression, but over the years I’ve recognized that it shows up in other, more surprising ways, too.
Let me tell you about the backache I get when I’m in the midst of a bad depressive episode. In fact, I’m lying in bed right now barely able to move because of it. For me, depression often shows up as muscle aches and pain. So, not only do I feel bad mentally when I’m depressed, I also get this neck and back pain that leaves me wishing I could search for a new body on Amazon (no, Prime does not deliver those).
Here are a few of the other strange ways that depression shows up in my life.
Depression is often closely associated with feelings of sadness, so you might think that means that being depressed means being overcome by your own emotions. That’s what I thought, too.
What I didn’t know is that I would feel a sort of emotional numbness because of my depression, almost a lack of feeling altogether. Sadness isn’t the most exciting emotion to feel, but at least it’s still an emotion. The numbness makes me feel like I’m broken in some way. That numbness can be difficult to penetrate, even during times of great joy or great pain. It makes me feel like a prisoner trapped behind glass watching while someone else lives my life.
My friend Dale, who also experiences this lack of feeling as part of depression, says, “I’m numb, and I don’t care about ANYTHING. Like, my house could be burning down around me and I’d just be like, can you leave the bed, please? Also, I’ll know I have things that need to be done, but I’ll refuse to do them: work, housecleaning, phone calls, showering. And it’s almost like I’m daring other people to call me out or force me to do something.”
I said it earlier, but it bears repeating: depression can hurt. Depression can show up in headaches, tight neck and shoulders, nausea, insomnia, and various other physical ailments. Sometimes the physical pain of depression will hit me even when I haven’t yet noticed that other symptoms are creeping in on me. If you struggle with depression, pay attention to your body — sometimes you can feel an episode coming on, and in those cases you can up your self-care practices or check in with your doctor proactively to help you weather the storm.
Sometimes, depression shows up for me with a short temper and just a general sense of grouchiness. One day I picked up the phone and bit the head off of someone who had invited me to dinner for no reason at all. A dinner invite is a nice thing, right? Not for me that day. In my mind, the idea of having to use so much energy to shower, get ready, and then engage with another person sent me into a rage. Needless to say, neither of us went to dinner that night, and I owed someone a big apology.
My friend A.M. shared a similar experience: “I’m extremely irritable and can become easily bored rather quickly. Some people say that I’m rude because of this, so I tend to stick to myself.”
Before depression, I was a people person. I loved being around other people, making them laugh and smile and having a great time. I still love to be around people, but now I find it draining in a way that it wasn’t before. It’s like I have limited physical energy and need to go easy or take lots of breaks. People just wear me out. Because of that, I frequently find myself isolated from the people in my life.
Michaela shared with me how isolation gets to her, saying, “My depression makes my introverted side take over. I stop doing things with friends, then I stop going to the grocery store and things, then I stop leaving the house and, then if things get bad, I stop leaving the bed.”
There’s no good way to spin it: depression can impact us in many ways that we might not expect. The important thing is not to give up. Depression can be very strange and it takes time to learn how to deal with all of the signs and symptoms. Keep learning everything that you can. Keep working with your doctor or mental health specialist to manage your symptoms — if you haven’t already taken this step, reach out to your healthcare provide to find support. With the right tools and management plan, it’s possible to thrive with depression.
For more information on how to manage depression, reach out to your doctor or healthcare team.