Throughout the bouts of depression I’ve suffered, I have found on every occasion it descended like a storm cloud over my entire life.
To be clear, two of my significant depressions emanated through deep, dark life-changing grief. In another significant season it was as a result of an abusive relationship, and not being able to extricate myself from what I had experienced as a toxic situation. And my most recent bout, a few years ago now, was because of work that I didn’t enjoy and wasn’t good at, which indicated how important my work is for my mental health.
I have found depression descends two ways — acutely, without warning, and slowly and subtly over time. I’ve experienced both, the former many times and the latter enough to know.
The acute form is scary, and it leaves you anxious for just how subtle it creeps into the present moment collapsing your hope and crushing your self-esteem. I can recall times where things seemed okay, say in the morning when I woke, but by mid-morning the shroud of contempt would descend within an hour or even minutes. Or, I’d get through the day, and the still of evening would reveal my lonely inescapable reality. Instantly at these times I’ve felt like I’ve been drowning in a paradox of emotions — not able to control them, yet unable to feel them apart from the pain. Utterly untenable and unfathomable. It’s probably the scariest thing I’ve ever experienced because it is completely an inside job, where your world feels like it is imploding, worse than dying. That’s how it feels.
When depression descends gradually over the weeks or months, it is scary in a different way. It comes with a great deal of confusion, which is deeply disconcerting. It’s like you’re searching for answers and they just don’t come. Something’s wrong, you know it, but you can’t do anything about it. I always found unexplainable bouts of either irritability or worthlessness (both at different times) was the tell-tale sign I was in the fog of the black dog. Sometimes I’ve seen in others unresolved grief that remains dormant within them, which turns them inside out, making them into who they weren’t, but there is good news…
The good thing about depression symptoms is they indicate where we’re at. I always found it more a relief to acknowledge: “Wow, yes, that’s it; I’m depressed!” It was always a relief to acknowledge that I needed help. It was always a relief to my wife and children also when I put my hand up and said I need help.
The fact that we can say “I need help” of itself inspires hope, because it is an admission that we believe help is available. Having made such an admission, life and hope and purpose isn’t far away, but of course, this is also dependent on other conditions. For very many people, there are chronic conditions that envelop them. For very many people their mental health is just part of the picture, and it becomes but an effect of other more intrinsic causes.