The happiest sad person around

So what’s it like having depression…

I wrote these next few thoughts while going through a minor depressive episode some time ago.  It wasn’t bad enough that I couldn’t function, but the depression was apparent enough that I felt it worthwhile to document what’s going on.  Normally when things are really bad, it’s not possible to communicate what’s happening and I don’t fully realize what’s going on until its over. So for those of you who haven’t experienced depression, here’s a very brief taste of the ‘magic’.

“Frustration”

This is the most noticeable thing I felt today.  What’s the frustration from?  I’m sure it’s a combination of various things.  But ultimately it feels like it’s from nothing at all, which in itself is… frustrating.

Where did this feeling come from?  Why am I feeling it?  How do I make it go away…

These are a few of the many things I ask myself.  Just as with a bad headache, you want it to go away but the more you focus on it, the worse it becomes.

“Solitude”

This is the second thing that comes to mind as I write this.  During these winter months, many people would love to jump on the next flight to a comfortable sunny beach in the South.  The same feeling for me comes in a desire  to settle in with my own thoughts and not invest energy in other people.  The thought of a comfortable, predictable, and lonely environment sounds really good right about now.

A lonely environment doesn’t seem so lonely right now.  I am more comfortable within my own thoughts now than ever.  The idea of having any external stimulus is a bit stressful.

“Control”

I need control right now.  I’m at a point where this depression will usually take a turn for the better or worse, but rarely stays put for more than a day or two.  It feels like I’m sitting in the back seat of a roller coaster, and I can’t see or control what’s ahead.

Will this ride take a steep nose dive?  Will it level out into an easy glide for the foreseeable future?  Will it start climbing high so I can get a better view of exactly where I am?

I may not have direct control over how I’m feeling this moment, but I can control my environment to make sure I give myself the best possible chance of crawling out of the hole with only minor scratches.

“Motivation”

This is something that is time and time again so critical for climbing out of depression, yet it’s the one thing that is very difficult to come by.  At some point, you need to get off the couch and do something otherwise you sink further and further into the abyss.  Thankfully, my body has become so conditioned to the routine workouts that it doesn’t take much motivation to get out the door.

Coping with these feelings

Depression sucks.  Not just for those suffering from the symptoms, but the impacts ripple through each and every person who interacts with a sufferer of depression – whether it be a friend, family member, colleague, or significant other, relationships are inevitably impacted.

You ask yourself… “so what if my colleague is having a bad day, I don’t really interact with them. How does that affect me? Why should I care?”

In many cases, depression and other mental health challenges aren’t going to directly impact you to a noticeable degree when it isn’t someone you interact with on a regular basis. This may be true, however the amount of people directly or indirectly impacted by depression is staggering.  Almost everyone I have talked to about depression has shared a story about themselves or a loved one that has had an experience with mental health, majority being depressive symptoms.  How is this possible that almost everyone in the room has dealt with this elephant and yet no one ever talks about it.

Think about these situations unrelated to depression that most people have experienced:

You are going through puberty and weird things happen.  Everyone in your age group is super awkward and doesn’t want to talk about these changes.  You feel like you don’t belong.

This is such an isolating feeling. Fortunately, there is some help in the form of education in school and conversations had between family members. These changes are completely normal. It may not make things 100% better, but hearing that you are normal, when you are in a really awkward and vulnerable time in your life makes your quality of life just a little bit better.  These reassurances lead to an incredible amount of relief and comfort.

You just failed your first university exam.

This is such an embarrassment!  If you can’t pass one exam how are you ever going to complete an entire degree?!?!?  It’s alright though, you get some confirmation from your peers that you aren’t a complete failure.  It happens to the best of us.  Don’t worry too much, these feelings will pass and you can move on with your life.  You’ll be successful in the long run.

You get a serious flu and have to miss work for two weeks. You get better, and now it’s time to go back to work and get caught up.

You are going to be behind in everything.  You missed deadlines and meetings; you are completely out of the loop. Thankfully, others were able to cover for you.  I mean, after all, you can’t always control getting sick.  Your colleagues will understand and cover for you. This happens to everyone at one point or another.

The common denominator in all three of the above scenarios is feelings of fear, isolation, and stress. Your initial fight-or-flight response is telling you to go hide in a corner and never come out.  There is no sense of belonging.  The interesting thing is that you can pick out parts of my entry on depression and see a reflection of these feelings from the more common scenarios I’ve described. Frustration, wanting to hide, needing to get a grip on your life so you can move forward.  Thankfully, you’ve got support in most cases to help you through these feelings and come out knowing that you are not alone.

More often than not, these reassurances aren’t available with depression and it feels like there is no logical reason it’s happening to you. Some of us are lucky enough to have understanding individuals in our life such as friends, parents, or significant others (like my wonderful girlfriend Cassidy!).  But for most people there is either no support available, they don’t know how to seek it out, or are too afraid to talk about their challenges; even if friends and family want to be supportive, most cannot empathize if they don’t understand your symptoms.

If I modify the previous scenarios to something that may happen with depression, you get a completely different perspective.  Let’s also take out the supportive statements as these are rarely available for someone dealing with mental health challenges.

You are going through an unexpected depression and weird things happen.  No one wants to talk about your symptoms.  

This is such an isolating feeling. Unfortunately, help and support is hard to find. Coming up empty on finding support makes a really awkward and vulnerable time in your life just a little bit worse.

You just failed your first university exam because you slept through your alarm due to a bad depressive episode.

This is such an embarrassment!  If you can’t wake up for an exam how do you expect to function in the real world?!?!?

You get a serious bout of depression and have to miss work for two weeks. You get better, and now it’s time to go back to work and get caught up.

You are going to be behind in everything.  You missed deadlines and meetings; you are completely out of the loop. No one covered for you.

Is it really all doom and gloom?

I’m not one for sensationalizing experiences; the feelings evoked by the above situations are real, however there is more to it.  A philosophy I try to live by is to look for the lessons and positive experiences gained from any predicament I find myself in.

I’m constantly assessing how I’m feeling and where I’m at.  If I ignore what my body is trying to tell me, I have a good chance of unexpectedly finding myself in a bad depression. Not only is this self-assessment approach helpful for managing depression, it’s a great approach to making sure I’m as happy and healthy as I can possibly be in all aspects of my life.

Since starting to focus on managing my challenges with depression, I’ve gained a better sense of who I am, what makes me happy, and how I need to live my life to get the most out of my experiences.  I would not be the same person I am today if it weren’t for the adversity I have faced in the past and will continue to face in the future.

I’ve always been told I come across as a happy individual, and I pride myself in this. Depression may hinder my enjoyment of life at times, but overall I strive to be as happy as I possibly can be. The pursuit of happiness is truly what I’m about, and I don’t plan on letting a little bit of The Blues change that.

I’d like to announce that I’m dedicating this season of training and racing to mental health awareness and the pursuit of happiness for those that struggle with mental health challenges.  I will be partnering with the Calgary branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association to help bring awareness to this initiative.  More details to come very soon, stay tuned!

Happy Trails!

-Greg

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