General Question

geeky_mama's avatar

Jellies who know: How is Depression (the mental health condition) different from feeling depressed?

Asked by geeky_mama (8386 points ) January 24th, 2013

Someone close to me is experiencing a change in mental health and has been diagnosed with depression. For this person it manifests as being anti-social and unmotivated to get things done, but also some occasional fatalistic/dark thoughts (e.g. “It won’t matter if I don’t get this done..I won’t be alive by the time it’s due anyways..”)

As someone who hasn’t experienced depression but occasionally has felt depressed (..and to some small degree, haven’t we all? Winter is dark, dreary and/or after sad life events feeling depressed is normal, right?) can you please help me try to understand how it feels differently to have clinical depression? Can you find words to describe how it feels to you?
Aside from medication, what has helped ease/resolve/prevent your depression most?

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16 Answers

Coloma's avatar

Have they experienced a crisis of some sort?
Situational depression is “normal” when life stressors rise beyond ones coping abilities but a few weeks or months of a situational depression is not even close to brain chemistry issues which are much more severe and longlasting.
Death, divorce, job loss, financial stress can all contribute to the occasional bout of the blues but it passes in a reasonable amount of time or when the problem or stressor is no longer present.
If ones mental state is constantly unhappy I think some intervention is a good idea.

geeky_mama's avatar

Hey @Coloma, no, unfortunately this was not brought on by any sort of crisis. It seems possible it’s related to adolescence/hormones/development—but no other major changes or stresses. There is intervention in place (counseling, and we tried medication but it didn’t seem to help / made things worse) – I’m just hopeful some of our resident Jellies can educate me on what it feels like..and what, if anything, I can do that would help.

anartist's avatar

It has no end without intervention.

phaedryx's avatar

Hard to describe, but I’ll give it a shot.

Say that stress is like getting the flu. If you have a regular, healthy immune system you’ll get sick with the flu for a couple of days, but you’ll recover and be okay. If you have a compromised immune system that same flu can be pretty devastating and last a long time. Depression is like having a compromised stress-handling system.

Depression feels like there is inertia working against every action you take. It feels like inescapable cloudiness in your mind. It feels like every moment of life is drudgery.

SadieMartinPaul's avatar

Depressed = exogenous = caused by events in a person’s life, such as a crushing loss or crisis. There’s a source of the sadness, and it can be indentified, isolated, and dealth with.

Depression = endogenous = caused by genetic or chemical factors. There isn’t necessarily a life problem, just a prevailing sense of hopelessness.

Sometimes, people believe that they have endogenous depression, when in fact they are just denying and hiding the real, exogenous causes.

anartist's avatar

The only way to get out of it is to somehow, with help if necessary, either fix the situation that has caused it or [as in the case of loss of a loved one] accept it.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

Clinical depression is different from sadness in many ways. The most apparent is a loss of motivation to accomplish even the simplest of everyday routines. At my lowest point, I could not even bring myself to brush my teeth. I didn’t feel worthy of the tiniest care. I had lost all energy.

There are constant thoughts of impending doom. These aren’t based in reality, and yet they cannot be brushed aside.

One of the other important symptoms is the inability to experience pleasure. I live in paradise, but there have been times on the most beautiful days when I hated it. It was burdensome.

I would caution anyone who has never had a diagnosed episode of clinical depression from telling someone they may be in denial of a simply sad event. I would encourage anyone to set healthy boundaries with a clinically depressed person but to love them just the same.

HolographicUniverse's avatar

Exogenous vs endogenous
That’s the extent of this question but not the extent of the disparities and even similarities

Feeling depressed is simply a response to a displeasing event, it’s a constant sadness but over a short period.
Whereas depression in itself is far more severe. Exogenous is a response to outside stimuli (i.e death of a relative, loss of a job, even a divorce) Endogenous is the intrinsic portion of depression consistent of chemical imbalances, genetic predispositions, flaws in prenatal development etc

Alternatively your friend could simply be dysthymic, depression is often associated with teenagers due to several biological and environmental factors… I highly doubt it’s clinical depression.

I feel others have done a great job with descriptions of how it feels

wundayatta's avatar

For me depression was like carrying a black hole inside my stomach. I could feel the gravity of that hole constantly sucking my heart and chest into it. It was like the weight on my shoulders and heart came from the inside instead of the outside.

The black hole, like most, was huge and endless. It felt like it was the size of the universe, and no amount of happiness could fill it up. It was endless. It was a hunger that wanted to eat me up endlessly and never offer me anything back. It was a pain that could not end, save with my death.

Another metaphor I use is a different kind of blackness. I felt like I was in a black haze all the time. I was struggling through air thick as molasses, only I was also underwater. At the beginning of my treatment, I was so deep under the surface, there was no light. After six months of taking pills and therapy, I could see there was light above me. Slowly I rose to about a foot under the surface and there I remained forever. Nothing I did seemed to bring happiness.

I could see happiness was possible. But I couldn’t get there, no matter what I did. I was kind of out of danger of suicide at this time, but I felt I could fall back or sink back deep under the water at any time, and if I did that, I was afraid this time I would end it. That was almost scarier than when I was so deep under I knew it would never end and there was no hope.

Having hope was almost worse. A very dangerous time. Of course, eventually, I got out of depression, thankfully.

When I think about what I wanted—the only thing that seemed like it would help was love. I wanted someone to fall in love with me and throw herself completely into me. Oddly, this happened—about six times in six months. Of course, it was an up and down thing, with the in love phase being very helpful and the breaking up phase being very dangerous. Of course, I was doing this at a time when I didn’t know what was wrong with me.

I’ve learned since then that most people in my bipolar group share my feeling about love. It is necessary. Although it is not something most friends can want or choose to give. They just want to be friends. Friends do help. They are important. But if they’ve never been depressed they can’t understand. I’m sorry. No matter how much I explain and no matter how much everyone else explains, you won’t get it until you experience it, and god forbid you should ever experience it.

It is good that you want to understand. That is important. But there are things you are going to have to accept that won’t make sense to you. Her behavior makes sense. When you are depressed, you can’t do anything. You can’t even sit up in bed sometimes.

When you are depressed, you are in an Alice in Wonderland world. You compliment a depressed person and they will tell you how wrong you are and how much of an idiot you are for thinking that and they will practically beat you up to get you to go away because you are trying to be nice and they feel like they don’t deserve it. Althought they want it more than anything. Why do depressed people fight so hard to push away people who give them what they desperately need?

I guess it makes us angry we have to explain. Part of it is self-hate. Part of it is that we don’t believe you really mean it. Where were you before we got depressed? Depression is no excuse to be loved. We should be loved all the time. We aren’t. We weren’t. So that must be the truth.

I think the disorder makes it difficult or impossible to feel love. The horror is that we want love desperately, and we can’t feel it. Can’t believe it. Can’t take it in. Can’t accept it. Yet we want it more than anything.

I know that in my case there are things you can do to prove you love me. Maybe we all have things we can trust to really mean love. I don’t know. It would be interesting to ask your friend. I don’t know if you could get an answer you could believe. But It is the hardest thing I’ve ever dealt with, and the pain of depression is far worse than any physical pain I’ve felt, probably because it goes on and on forever, and physical pain, even if you are being tortured, ends eventually.

So there you go. Depression in s Wundy nut shell. Of course, that’s where my name comes from—the way I got out of depression—wun day at a time.

geeky_mama's avatar

Thank you Jellies (especially Wundy, @Hawaii_Jake and @phaedryx) for attempting to explain the feelings. My hubby (who has had depression in the past, but is not suffering from depression at the moment) explained it as “icky black stuff inside” and that really didn’t help me “get it”.

What I’m seeing from her is a need for attention, love and validation (above and beyond what she used to need) but she also pushes us away. She’s always been relatively self-motivated and a good student up till now.. so that she hadn’t been doing any homework and her grades were suffering were clues to how unmotivated she’s feeling. I logically knew it wasn’t laziness (that’s not like her)..but it’s frustrating because punishing her for not getting good grades would SO not work in this instance.
So, I try to carry on as normal – but be extra gentle. I try to be sly with my affection so she doesn’t push us away. I try to slip in heaps of praise about how amazing and wonderful she is within conversations about other things (e.g. today she got a heap of college recruitment letters and I said: “Wow, recruiting you this young? They must have seen your amazingly good pre-ACT scores, huh? Way to go big brain!”)

I’m trying to figure out what I can do to be helpful and loving and supportive..but it sounds like such an internal form of torture (the inability to feel love, the unending feeling of darkness..)...I feel so…inadequately equipped to help, y’know?
That and I’m typically such a happy go lucky optimistic type person..but it almost feels wrong to be happy and go on with life as normal when life is anything but normal for her..and she’s clearly in such pain. <sigh> This is a tough one…trying to keep life “normal” when nothing is normal for someone you love.

Anyways, I am truly grateful for the insight you’ve offered. Thank you!

desiree333's avatar

I know this isn’t an answer, because I don’t have one for you. But, I think you may mean a-social, instead of anti-social. It’s a common misconception, but they are two very different things. The former includes hostility and antagonistic behavior, and usually act in a way that violates the rights of other people. A-social is just simply the avoidance of social situations. :)

wundayatta's avatar

WHen I was depressed, I couldn’t even organize my desk. Papers piled up and up and in a haphazard way. I had never been like this. I had always been superorganized. Now the idea of trying to file things seemed like trying to build a space shuttle. It was just overwhelming.

Sometimes, if I could stomach the shame, I could ask people to help. All they had to do was be there, and read things to me. I could do the work if someone else would pick up the paper and write the file labels and put things away. But imagine how much shame I felt that I couldn’t do these things for myself. How worthless was I? I’ll tell you. There couldn’t be a more worthless person on the planet.

Boy, if you tried to be perky around me like that, I probably would have killed you. Heaps of praise—just wrong. I can’t hear that stuff. It makes me feel like even more of a liar than I normally am. I just couldn’t let you go on saying that stuff without correcting you.

If you must praise, then be very precise. Give me three different reasons why your praise is justified. But do it in a low key way. Not like you’re trying to persuade me, because I am un persuadable. Rather just slip it in.

My daughter and son are a bit like me (surprise surprise), although mys on is worse. I can’t praise him at all without a denial. I feel guilty about this—like I trained him to be this way wihtout knowing it, or I gave it to him with my genes. But it’s important for him to have a realistic sense of himself. I can’t over praise or exaggerate. But I do hold back on the praise, because I know it makes him want to deny, and I know, from personal experience, that when I deny, it gets worse for me. It’s like feeding a jones. I want people to praise me so I can deny it, and feel worse. So the best thing to do is not to praise me. Or if I have actually done something well, to praise a very specific thing, give three reasons, so I can not deny it. So I have a chance of believing it. You have to tell me a story that makes me believe what you are saying is something you truly believe.

It’s tricky. It’s worse with children, because they don’t have insight into what their brains are doing. They don’t know what it’s like to be normal. I was lucky in getting depression so late. I had some normalcy to compare it to. When it starts young, you never know what its like to be normal. She probably can’t remember happiness. She probably isn’t sure what happiness feels like.

And if she’s a teen, it’s worse. High school shit. It’s the worst. I hope my kids don’t have that and in fact, I’ve been trying to prepare them with tools to cope all along. But I can see it’s more powerful than anything I can give them. So all I know is talking about myself and sharing a bit about what I go through and how I cope. Even that there is only so much I can say because I do’t want them to freak out or think I’m being too self-involved.

So what I try to do is a balance between setting high expectations, and letting them know I will love them no matter how I do. This is excruciatingly difficult because I know they are very capable, but I want them to feel when I praise them it means something and to believe it. I want them to know I expect a lot. I want them to know it doesn’t matter if they meet my expectations. I love them and think they are wonderful. I just want to be with them.

My daughter is taking on a lot. This week she had mid terms all week. Saturday is the SAT. She’s taking a course at a University (in existentialism, no less), and she is in rehearsal for hours each day after school for the musical which will be performed in April. I want her to do all these things. I am proud of her. I think they are important for her preparation for life, and I think it is too much.

I want her to test herself and challenge herself. I want her to get all As. I want her to get 100s on her exams, But I am also not that impressed because she’s been doing well, and so there is more to ask of her. Also, I don’t believe that tests are good ways of tracking things. I’m more impressed by her reports of daily activities, but she doesn’t give those that much.

So maybe I’ll drive her crazy. Or maybe I’ll get the balance right. High expectations, but love, no matter what. My parents didn’t make me feel loved. I never feel loved. What kind of idiot am I to think I could make my children feel loved? Yet I want to do that. I think I can do that. And I have to do that.

Dunno if this helps. I know it must be hard to love someone you don’t know how to understand. But love them you will. My heart goes out to you. This disorder is so cockamamie and backwards and inside out. Whatever you think is right, try reversing and pulling inside out before your do it. If it still makes sense, go ahead.

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geeky_mama's avatar

@wundayatta – yes, that does help, tremendously. My husband (who, based on personal experience just understands what she’s going through better than I do) has started providing that help you mention.. they’ll work on stuff together. I am doing exactly what you mention – the balance between setting high expectations (because she CAN do so much, she’s tremendously intelligent) and letting her know we’ll love her even if she does fail a class.

High School is definitely a piece of this. I am seriously concerned that her particular school is a toxic atmosphere. It’s had a high number of suicides among other indicators..it’s like there is no place for kids that don’t fit the very narrow “ideal”.

Anyways, I’ll watch how I offer praise and continue do it on the sly or precisely so that she can really “hear” it and not push it off or deny it.

wundayatta's avatar

School is a big deal, but it is so hard to know how it is going. They often don’t tell you what is really going on, until things blow up. It was kind of ironic this year. I knew my daughter hated high school, and we discovered there was a program where she could apply for early admission to a college. She could go straight from Jr. year.

We offered her this, and she said she didn’t want to leave her friend (such as they are). That was the beginning of the year. Of course, last night, she said she wished she had tried to apply for this program. She is sick of high school. She just wants to go to college. I can’t say I blame her. Hmm. I wonder if it is too late? Of course, I don’t actually want her to go yet. Sigh. But I do want her to be as happy as possible given how old she is.

LostInParadise's avatar

Depression seems infinite and inescapable. You might be able to distract yourself from it for a short while, but it quickly returns. Things that got you excited or that previously brought you joy no longer have any effect. You are helpless to do anything about it, because there is nothing that you can point to as being the cause. You just keep wishing that it will somehow go away.

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