August 13, 2015

A Non-Depressed Person's Experience With Depression

Over the years, I've seen more than a few friends and family members suffer from depression. I’ve seen and experienced the devastation that depression leaves in its wake.

Intellectually, I understand depression. And, like any human being, I've had my share of the blues because of the natural downs that happen in life. So I thought I understood what depression was like. I figured that "depression" was like the blues I'd experienced from time to time - but just longer, and maybe a bit more severe.

And - loathe I am to admit this out loud - but I've always carried around a bit of negative judgement on people who claim to suffer from depression. Although I understood that it is a serious illness, a small part of me still believed it was a character weakness of some sort - that perhaps the person suffering from it wasn't trying hard enough in life.

But then, a few weeks ago...

...I got a 10-day taste of what clinical depression is really like.

And I would never, ever wish it on anyone - not even my worst enemy.

Antibiotics: The Unexpected Depression Trigger

I’d had a persistent low-grade sinus infection for some time, and I tried everything I could to cure it to avoid using antibiotics, but eventually it became necessary to take them.

Amoxicillin. Yikes.
A couple of days into the treatment, I felt extremely sluggish and tired, and also inexplicably sad. I thought I was just having a "down" day.

Whenever I’ve felt sad, it’s meant that there was something in my life I needed to pay attention to that was bringing me down - things like relationship issues, dissatisfaction with work, financial troubles, or family troubles.

I couldn’t think of anything wrong that was making me feel sad and empty. 

Historically, when I’ve felt sad, and haven’t been able to find an immediate root cause, it’s meant that there were deeply-buried unresolved emotional traumas/issues from the past that were bubbling up. But over the past few years, I’d honestly faced all these and resolved them, so it couldn’t be this.

Then I began to get sad, because I was sad. Why was I sad? I began to get anxious because I couldn’t figure out why. What was wrong? I just wanted to feel content and happy again!

The next day, I went online and began reading up on Amoxicillin. And I was surprised at what I found.

Depression, anxiety, and other emotional/mental health issues can arise temporarily during treatment with Amoxicillin.

Once I realized that the onset of my blues coincided with my beginning to take the Amoxicillin, I began to feel sane again. Finally, I could see a logical root cause to what I’ve been feeling.

That my depressive episode was caused by the medication was further validated when I accidentally forgot to take a dose one morning. In the afternoon, I was wondering why I was feeling chipper and energetic and hopeful again, and it only hit me then that I’d forgotten to take my morning dose of the antibiotic.

The next morning, after I’d taken my previous night’s and current morning’s doses of the medication, the depression had come back, like clockwork.

What was depression like?

I'm what you would call a "non-depressed" person. I've never really been prone to clinical depressive episodes. If you'd asked me a few weeks ago what I thought a depressive episode was like, I would have said something like, "Oh, I imagine it's just feeling a bit sad for a longer-than-usual period."

But it goes far, far beyond that.

I felt absolute hopelessness.

That nothing would ever bring me joy again. I had no desire or energy to do anything. I felt irritated by the people I love in my life. I questioned whether or not I loved my boyfriend. I questioned my choices in my life. I felt an absolute lack of confidence. I felt that no matter what I did, I was going to fail, and that people would see me as a failure.

Spending time with friends and loved ones had me pretending to be happy and having a good time. It was disconcerting to be doing things that I normally enjoyed - but to feel nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I felt that no matter what I did, I’d be stuck forever in this hole I’d somehow found myself in, with no way of escaping.

And then I understood…

...that if I felt like this for months on end, or possibly a few years, I might very well get to a point of wanting to end it all.

I felt a total loss of control over myself. I’ve always prided myself on being able to grab life by the horns and to make things happen, to change my circumstances in the face of challenging obstacles.

But this depression? It felt insurmountable. It felt like someone had reached into my brain, fiddled with the knobs that control the levels of my brain chemicals, put a heavy padlock on the controls, and then thrown away the key.

If someone came up to me while I was experiencing this medication-induced depressive episode, and they said, “Oh, you just need to think positively,” or, “You just need to fix A, B, and C in your life and you’ll be fine...” 

I’d want to punch them.

I can see how depression, left untreated, could over time drive someone insane. It's maddening because of the emptiness, and because you no longer can trust your emotions. It's like you can't even trust your own mind. I get it now.

Back to normal after 10 days

After the course of antibiotics was complete, within a day and a half, I started to return to what was normal for me. But boy, I will not forget what those 10 days were like for a long time.

I will never, EVER, use the phrase, “I’m so depressed!” ever, ever again. 

I might say, “I feel sad,” or, “I’m feeling really down today.” But I will never ever again say that I’m “depressed” if all that’s really going on in my life is sadness due to some a life event for which it makes sense to feel sad.

To anyone out there who's suffered or is suffering from clinical depression... You now have my total and complete understanding and empathy in a very real, visceral way. I now understand that you cannot snap your fingers, change your circumstances, and just be happy.

And I'm sorry I ever thought that way.

I now understand that true depression is something where your mechanism for joy and happiness has literally been disabled, and that you feel no hope of ever bringing it back online.