Hi there! Lovely to have you here .😊

I wrote another letter to my friend James. He is always eager to understand how depression feels like, so he can understand it better. Perhaps someone else can also find some useful answers here.

Dear James,

I know you are always curious about how depression feels like. There is a question, that I get asked now and then and although you personally never ask me, I want to tell you about my feelings and thoughts about it. The question is: “What is the difference between depression and sadness?”

To be completely honest that question always baffles me. As a long term sufferer of depression, I never think about it as being sad – not even the slightest. But when I go back memory lane, I find incidents, where I might have thought, that I was sad – that was before I knew, what I actually suffer from. A time, where I didn’t know, that I have an illness, and went through horrible self-doubts. A time, where I didn’t know, what was going on in me and couldn’t communicate my struggle. You know, that my struggle started, when I was only seven years old. So I was a kid back then and when I remember correctly, I used this term to describe my problem: “I am so sad, but I have no reason for it.”

But depression is so much more than being sad. Depression takes away your energy. Everything gets very exhausting. And it slowly drives you into a state, where you are just surviving and not living anymore. At the same time it messes with your integrated reward system. So, to do things gets more exhausting, but you don’t get the reward of feeling good about your achievements. You lose your motivation, you forget the reason for your existence – that things that used to give you drive. A strong depression even messes with your basic instincts. Getting food can be too exhausting. Your hunger gets nothing more than a memory. It is not nearly strong enough anymore to get you moving. You can lose all interest in your surroundings and with that all energy is lost. When I am that deep in depression I feel nothing but pain. There for sure is no room to feel an emotion like sadness.

But even when I am not that deep down, sadness is not one of the main symptoms to me. Yes, when I was younger, I cried a lot when depression got stronger. I could cry for days, but I don’t think that was sadness. For me crying is a way of processing emotional stress. No matter if the excitement comes from a positive emotion or a negative one – if it is overwhelming, I will cry. It can be sadness, of course, but it can also be fear, desperation, happiness, love or in my case most likely – exhaustion.

It took me a while to find out, that exhaustion has this effect on me. That is also the reason, why I asked you so often, if you would accompany me on hikes. I would love to hike in the mountains, but it will be exhausting and overwhelming and I will probably cry at some point and then it is good to have someone at my side, who has some experience in getting exhausted depressive people back on track. Depression puts you in a state of endless exhaustion. You run your marathons, you will know, how exhaustion feels like. But you can sleep and feel better afterwards. If you have depression you can’t reload that easy.

Sadness has a reason. Usually an obvious one. A loss, a broken heart, a missed opportunity… It is fixable through distraction, new goals or in bad cases only through time. The reason for depression is depression. It does not need fuel from real events, although its greatest trick is to hide behind real problems. Depression can let sufferers themselves think, that their problem is sadness. Depression plays a cruel trick on the minds of its “victims”. It is the reason, why people with depression very often don’t realize, what they are actually suffering from. And the reason why it does not go away through being comforted (although being comforted is great ☺️). But that is for next time. I need a rest.

I hope, that brought you some insight and fed your curiosity.

Best wishes,

Sibylle

One thought on “Why depression is nothing like being sad – How to understand your depressive loved one’s struggle

  1. I don’t know who decided to call this illness depression, but I do know they were wrong. Maybe something along the lines of ‚Walking around feeling twice your weight while everything is twice as difficult as it should be, with no end in site‘ would have been a better name. Not quite as catchy though, I suppose.

    Liked by 1 person

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