I am one of the 9.9 million Americans who will be diagnosed as having Major Depressive Disorder in one given year. Many of those will suffer just one “episode”, while others, like me, will battle for the rest of their lives.
Only the closest of my family and friends know when my MDD is kicking my ass. I’ve gotten pretty good at playing pretend when it comes to the apathy, lethargy, and all the other outward symptoms. It’s not uncommon for someone who has dealt with this disease for years to be able to hide it from those in the general population…and that’s a concern.
Mental illness should not be shameful. It should not be something that is swept under the carpet as being “no big deal”, either. And, recently, it appears that it’s at the root of a terrible, tragic shooting that took 6 people from this world and injured many more. It’s time to take a look at what “mental illness” looks like so that it’s not hiding in the shadows.
It’s not easy for me to talk about my MDD because there is shame involved. Why can’t I just make this go away? Why can’t I just “snap out of it”? I should have more control over my emotions!! However, I’ve learned over the years that it’s not a lack of control. It’s a medically verifiable issue with chemicals in my brain that causes my MDD to kick in and the best I can do without medication is to try to manage the symptoms. I will never “fix” what is wrong, what make me different. One of the things I can do, though, is trying to help other people to understand what my side of this world is like.
Symptom #1 – Lethargy. I naturally enjoy sleeping, but when my MDD gets going in full gear, I can sleep a full 8 hours, and then have to nap for 3 hours or more in the afternoon. It’s not just “I’d like a nap.” If I don’t go and sleep I will literally fall asleep in the middle of other things.
Symptom #2 – Insomnia Although it seems to make sense that if I slept less during the day I’d be able to sleep at night I will remind you that napping in the afternoon isn’t optional. Secondly, if I do manage to go the whole day without napping I will still be wide awake by 9pm and usually won’t be able to get to sleep until at least 2am. It doesn’t matter if I’ve napped or not…when the insomnia hits, it’s sleep when I can or go days (or weeks) with around 3 hours of sleep a night.
Symptom #3 – Sadness, fear, and/or inability to feel emotion (apathy) My MDD takes the face of apathy much more often than fear and occasionally more often than sadness. I recognize that I’m apathetic when it’s happening. I want desperately to “feel normal” and will usually be able to still help friends/family troubleshoot in their lives when they would like advice…but this is the time when it’s nearly impossible to get me on the phone, find me on the computer, or get me to respond with more than a few words in a text. It’s not that I don’t want to help or listen to what’s going on in someone’s life…I do. I am just reminded about how much I don’t care when I’m asked to do that…and it hurts me that I’m unable to give of myself the way I “should” be able to.
Symptom # 4 – Feeling/Fear of abandonment by loved ones As the apathy really gets in gear and I pull farther and farther away from people around me, I start feeling abandoned by them. “Why is no one calling? I have so few friends and now even THEY don’t want anything to do with me. My kids hate me. Why does my husband even bother to stay married to me?” These are common questions and thoughts for me.
Symptom # 5 – Agitation/Irritability/Anger This is probably the most embarrassing symptom for me. When in the depths of the darkness that is MDD I will snap about almost anything and although I realize what I’m doing, and even why I’m doing it, I’m almost powerless to stop it from happening. My husband bears the brunt of this symptom, usually, although my children do sometimes get yelled at for things that normally wouldn’t bother me.
Symptom # 6 – Loss/Lack of Concentration Irritating, to be sure…and then starts the thoughts of “I’m so stupid”, etc.
Symptom # 7 & 8 – Sensitivity to Noise and Inattention to Personal Hygiene Number 7 is pretty self-explanatory but number 8 I need to say takes different forms for different people and although it’s incredibly embarrassing to post…I wanted to be honest in what I deal with to give you as good of an understanding as I could. I still bathe regularly while my MDD is kicked in, but I’ll let my hair go a week without washing it, I’ll forget (or don’t bother with) deodorant for 2 or 3 days, I’ll go 3 days or more without brushing my hair and since I despise shaving on good days, I’ll just stop completely during an MDD episode. I can “get away” with this because of two reasons. First, I’m a stay-at-home mom by design. No work means that when an MDD episode hits, I don’t have to force my way through it. Secondly, I rarely leave the house when I’m in the middle of an episode. In fact, it’s like pulling teeth to get me to leave.
Those are my main symptoms, the things I fight each time an episode comes knocking on my door. There are other things, little things, that don’t always happen. I rarely have suicidal thoughts, although they do happen on occasion. I used to sob uncontrollably for hours and rarely do that now.
It should be noted that Clinical Depression (Or Major Depressive Disorder) is currently the leading cause of disability in the United States. That makes sense to me since I know how debilitating it actually is to live with this. I have been urged by members of my family to seek to be declared “disabled”. I refuse. To me, going on disability because of MDD seems like letting MDD win and I’m too competitive to allow that to happen.
I was diagnosed in my early 20’s…a few years ahead of “average” age. I have used medication in the past to get through exceptionally rough episodes but choose to remain un-medicated as much as possible. I’m not sure it’s the smartest choice, but it’s the right one for me. I live with Clinical Depression/ Major Depressive Disorder, I’m not alone, and neither are you, if you live with it, too.
If these symptoms are you, seek the advice of your trusted family physician. I am followed exclusively by my family physician instead of someone in the psychiatric community and have gotten wonderful, gentle, compassionate care in that way.
If these symptoms are someone you love, urge them to seek help. Let them know that they don’t have to feel like that, that it does get better. The one thing that helped motivate me (and man was I mad when it was first pulled on me!) was to tell me, “Remember what it was like to grow-up with a parent like that? Do you want to do that to YOUR kids??” But even through my anger, it made sense and I went to the doctor for the first time and they rest, as they say, is history.