Sitting in her bed, she can feels her eyelids heavy across her eyes. She lays there still, reciting all the things she knows she should do, what she knows she would normally want to do – get out of bed, go for a walk, lay in the sun, reach out to a friend, meditate, eat a good breakfast.
She looks at her alarm clock, next to the head of the bed – 8.24am. She should be up by now, showered, ready to face the day.
She can hear her psychologist talk to her in her mind…the things they agreed that she should do, but now she is in the moment, needing to do them, they feel just that much further away. When she isn’t in the depressive episode, all these things feel easy, so achievable, it doesn’t feel like a hard thing to ask someone.
As she slides her body to her side, looking out the window, she knows why it is so hard. The numbness, the loss of feeling, the emptiness that envelopes you, makes you feel as though there is no reason to get out of bed.
She wishes others understood. They probably think I am lazy, she thinks to herself, taking a deep weighted breath.
The sense of self-loathing, guilt and shame sinks heavy onto her body, competing with the overarching the feeling of no energy.
She thinks back to a few years ago, when things didn’t feel like such a challenge – the feeling of joy, the feeling of pleasure, the feeling that gives you a reason for being. She closes her eyes to try and remember the feelings – but they feel like a distant memory, lost between the doctors appointments, the work meetings, the fear that this lack of not feeling pleasure will ever go away.
As she looks over at the photo frame beside the chest of drawers, her smiling face beams back at her, staring straight into her partners eyes. I just want to feel that again, as she closes her eyes again.
Her muscles are aching to get up, to live normally, to function like everyone else, but her body succumbs to the fatigue, the exhaustion of carrying this invisible weight that keeps her down.
She opens her phone to pull out the note her partner wrote for her when he wasn’t able to be there.
“Remember this feeling is temporary, it will pass, it’ll be okay and it is part of the process of being an amazing human being.”
She feels a tiny sense of relief, comfort, understanding.
And, in that moment, she throws the doona off her legs and places her feet onto the ground.
This will pass, it will be OK, just one thing at a time, she says to herself, as she steps her feet forward towards the door to have a shower.
Depression is a fairly misunderstood mental health condition.
Typically, when I ask a group of employees, “what is depression?”, the answer I usually get is prolonged sadness.
But, if you asked someone with depression whether this was a truly accurate description of what it feels like, I am not sure how many would agree.
The thoughts that many people think, who haven’t experienced depression, when they hear the word “depression”, are “lazy”, “unmotivated” or “unproductive”.
These perceptions stem from those experiencing depression having difficulties being able to focus at work, or be able to do what they would normally do, but what people misunderstand is why things become difficult for someone experiencing a depressive episode.
These descriptive words that we so commonly use are not choices for many people experiencing depression. They are side effects of not being able to feel anything.
One of the key symptoms of depression that we often overlook or misunderstand is a symptom called ‘anhedonia’ – the loss of feeling good things…joy, pleasure, excitement, enthrallment, engagement, desire.
If I try to explain anhedonia to someone, I encourage them to think about the feeling it would feel if someone took away their ability to feel good, to feel positive about your future, or to feel happiness, contentment, joy. What if someone just took that ability away from you?
Would you still find it easy to go for that run without the euphoric feeling at the end?
Would you still find it motivating to see friends if you couldn’t feel the belly rumble of a good joke or the kindness from a smile?
Would you still find it simple to get out of bed if someone took away the sense that today, or any day, will be OK?
The answer is usually no, because then they would just feel nothing. Which is exactly what depression feels like. The absence of something.
Depression can be a literal thief of joy, and understanding this part of depression in the workplace allows us to remove the judgement and the negative association that we subconsciously place on the experience.
Understanding facilitates empathy and kindness. It allows for us to remain in a place of curiosity rather than assumptions.
So, next time, someone shares “Hey, I have depression”, it isn’t about thinking those typical words we so often associate with depression, but perhaps next time say “Thanks for sharing with me, that would be tough. How can I support?”