Depressive episodes vary in length. One person may experience the symptoms of clinical depression for a month, whereas, for another, the episode could last a year. The real cruelty of depression, however, lies in the fact that the very nature of the condition makes it difficult to recover from. I describe depression as the ultimate thief. I use this metaphor because depression can take away everything that gives you vitality.
When you experience a depressive episode, especially if it’s severe, you are robbed of all the things that aid recovery. For example, your levels of energy and motivation may plummet. Doing anything beneficial or ameliorative takes a huge amount of effort. It’s as if you have to constantly wade through treacle or walk around with a heavy lead weight on your shoulders or in your chest. Exercise benefits depression. But getting to the gym or going running can seem like an insurmountable task. So too can leaving the house to socialise with friends.
Since it feels like too much effort to meet others, be around people, and just have a simple conversation, you will tend to isolate yourself, which exacerbates the depression. The unfortunate catch-22 of depression is that, when you’re alone, you want to be around others, yet as you surround yourself with others, you will feel the pull to be alone again. In social situations, you may feel even more isolated, cut off from the separate reality that everyone else seems to be smoothly participating in and enjoying. Depression tends to breed isolation.
You really have to force yourself with every fibre in your body to be with others, trust that it’s better than being shut off from the world, and fight the urge to retreat back into your room. When you lock yourself in your room, you remove the chances of positive interactions and being listened to and appreciated.
In the throes of a depressive episode, many people experience an inability to feel pleasure in activities that they used to enjoy. This can include things that give your life meaning, such as creative and personal projects, or your career path. The symptoms of depression are often connected. As you lose the ability to enjoy or care about anything you used to, feelings of pointlessness and hopelessness may arise. And when you are hopeless, you lose the motivation to recover.
A lack of self-worth is also a common symptom of depression. This frustrates recovery because, if you don’t afford value to yourself, it’s hard to genuinely wish yourself well and behave accordingly. As well as believing you can’t get better, you may start to think you don’t deserve to get better. Guilt and self-criticism often accompany a depressive episode and can derail any attempts at self-care.
Depression obscures your vision and rationality – you can’t see a happy past or imagine a happy future. You are certain that you will always be in pain. The world feels bleak, flat, and grey. That’s just how things are. When your logic becomes warped, you may also start to think that you’re a burden to everyone around you. It really does take a tremendous amount of effort, dedication, and patience to find a down-to-earth and rational perspective – a voice of wisdom – and bring that to the surface in order to counteract your cognitive distortions.
As we can see, a depressive episode includes symptoms that can easily tend towards self-perpetuation, a vicious cycle, and a downward spiral. It’s a daily battle trying to recover from a depressive episode. It is something that requires every ounce of strength and determination you have. Judging depressed people – or yourself, if you experience depression – as weak or lazy is at odds with the true hardship involved.
Lifting yourself out from the dark fog of a depressive episode can be extremely challenging. But what you may find, as many people do, is that when you come out the other side, you will carry the boon of increased resourcefulness, compassion, and wisdom. A depressive episode can be a valuable teacher and fertile ground for growth, even if it at the time it feels like all meaning has been lost.