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    Posted December 31, 2013 by
    AtheistMD
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    The written word: Your personal essays

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    How Does Depression Feel?

     
    For the millions of people who suffer with depression, we don’t need an explanation of how it feels. How, then, about those who are affected only because their friends and loved ones suffer with the disease? How can they understand and empathize with an illness that they can’t see, feel, or touch? The patient may seem like a ticking time bomb, fine one minute and nearly bedridden the next. Conversely, the patient may be incapacitated for very long periods of time even though physically there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong. Their personality may change drastically and explosions of anger may be common. It is no wonder that people used to believe that evil spirits caused the disease, when the person you used to know seems buried within themselves, unable to get out.

    Let’s try an exercise to help put you in the patient’s shoes. This works best with someone reading to you in a dark room with your eyes closed, but you can get some of the effect reading yourself if you really take the time to put yourself in the following situation. Imagine yourself alone in a very large room which is previously unknown to you, but contains all the “normal” furniture one would expect in an area this size. Suddenly the lights go out and you find yourself in a darkness so thick it feels as though it is palpable…and malevolent. There is complete silence in the room yet you can feel another’s presence following you…taunting you (imagine going into a dark basement, etc.). You sense movement and feel sure a demon is standing right in front of you even though you know, intellectually, there is nothing there. Now, imagine one of your loved ones being taken from your memories and placed in the room with you (this could be a parent, spouse, child, etc., as long as you care deeply about their safety). You are only too aware that it was your love that brought that person close to danger and you have to find them immediately! Suddenly, you feel an air pressure shift, as if a door opened somewhere, and you sense another malevolent force has entered the room…unseen and unheard. As the darkness consumes you, you are acutely aware of the danger of harm to yourself and your loved ones, yet your enemy is invisible and you are unable to fight. You must get out of this prison, but you remember others whom you brought with you who live only by the hope that your warm hand with happen upon theirs on the path to safety. You can’t move and can’t scream. You are drowning with no way out. The demon takes this chance to enter your brain and torments you with unbearable anguish that permeates you to your core. You find that physical pain can help mute the mental pain, so you cut yourself and feel a little better as the blood runs down your arms. You also plead for permanent escape, at the same time knowing that your death will cause unbearable pain to your loved ones. Eventually the pain gets so bad that you can’t take it one more minute. You hope your family and friends will forgive you, but you know that you have no other choice now…you feel better, caressing the knife blade in your hand.

    What emotions did you experience during the story? Did you feel the fear and anxiety, or even reach the edges of terror? Could you sense the guilt, hopelessness, and impotence? For sufferers of depression, the feelings invoked during this scenario are no less real when we awaken. . Many depressed patients feel angry at having been afflicted with this condition to begin with. We feel terribly isolated, even with dozens by our sides, because the demon is ours alone. We feel rage as we retaliate and eventually arrive at hopelessness when our impotent attacks leave the beast unscathed. Finally, there is terrible guilt for the effects our depression has on our families, yet we feel completely helpless to change.

    You have now reached the depths of depression. You are unable to feel joy or to appreciate activities you used to enjoy. Work is usually affected due to difficulty concentrating and absenteeism from numerous physical symptoms that occur intermittently, and relationships suffer because the patient is unable to commit the time and effort to nurture them. Even the most basic tasks seem insurmountable.

    Fortunately, not all people with depression will reach these depths, and we have treatments which are usually very effective at decreasing these symptoms. Medications “turn up the lights”, making your obstacles more visible so they are not as scary. counseling gives you the path to the door, and once through, helps so you don’t return. Other treatments such as exercise and positive thinking are also very helpful, especially when used with meds and counseling.

    Now, imagine the feelings invoked during this scenario followed you EVERY…DAY…OF…YOUR…LIFE. This is how depression feels for many of us. I know it because, like many, I have been near its depths for most of my life… just hoping for a glimmer of the sun.

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