Do I have depression?

How to tell if you have depression

Do I have depression?

“Do I have depression?” This is a question you may well ask yourself if and when you experience periods of low mood and negative thought patterns. In this article Pinnacle Wellbeing Services looks into what it means to have functioning depression, and how you can help yourself. 

We all think we know what depression looks like.

It’s the person who struggles to engage with the outside world, who withdraws from their life. Someone who sleeps all day or who self-medicates with drugs or alcohol. It’s obvious and it’s unmistakable.

Well, yes and no.

Of course, for many people, at the more extreme end of the depression spectrum, that’s exactly what the illness looks like.

However, those symptoms are by no means the definitive list and if we assume that the description above is the only way of recognising and measuring depression, the chances are huge numbers of people who are experiencing milder or more uncommon symptoms will slip through the net and become progressively worse.

Depression is one of the most common forms of mental health issues; over the course of your lifetime you will likely come into contact with it, whether through your own experience, or through that of a loved one, friend, or colleague.

But, because depression is a great leveller, it won’t always be easy to spot. Firstly, because it can affect anyone, no matter how successful they are, or how many great things they have going on in their life. And secondly, because so many people fall into the category of ‘functioning depressive’.

“Do I have depression if i don’t act the way a ‘depressive person’ acts” – Uncovering Functioning depression

In private practice we see a large number of people who experience depression but who are nowhere close to the more extreme end of the scale. They still make it to work every day, they play with their kids, keep their house tidy, they eat well and hit the gym several times a week.

If there’s a checklist for ‘healthy’ or ‘successful’, they’re ticking every box

But actually, there’s a risk that they’re just going through the motions.

They’re capable of feeling negative emotions (and carrying on regardless), but they don’t necessarily experience life’s positive emotions. In other words, there is an absence of pleasure, which can result in feelings of emptiness, of numbness.

And that numbness is one of the hallmarks of depression

It’s the brain’s way of protecting us from underlying, uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, much in the same way as amnesia often protects us from uncomfortable memories. It’s almost as if the brain is acknowledging that we’ve experienced too much and we need to withdraw for a while.

If you recognise yourself in the above description, it’s worth asking yourself the question, ‘have I always felt like this? Or is this something that’s built up in more recent times?’

If it is, then the chances are that it’s depression that you’re experiencing. And, while it might not be depression in its most extreme form — while you might be managing to tick those ‘successful life’ boxes at work and at home — it still suggests that something in your life is slightly out of kilter and should be addressed before it builds into something more serious.

Seeking help

Despite the fact that depression is extremely common, many people are hesitant about seeking help because they fear that they’re going to be judged, or because they believe that it’s a sign of failure.

However, in my experience, people who experience depression are actually incredibly strong. They’ve been carrying their symptoms around for a long time, they’ve been through tough experiences, and they try to normalise it in order to keep going.

And it’s that determination to keep going without acknowledging these adverse experiences that often starts to chip away at people.

But, when you start to test the water, when you find the courage to share snippets of your experience with other people, you’d be surprised at how many people around you will admit to having gone through similar events or to having similar feelings.

Opening up — on your own terms

Of course, coming forward to talk about your experiences and your feelings can be a scary prospect. And many people find that when they’re depressed their natural inclination is to isolate themselves, to withdraw from the people around them.

However, one of the most significant factors in reducing your symptoms of depression is having the love and support of the people around you so, as hard as it may be, it’s definitely worth trying to overcome that desire to withdraw from social contact.

Rest assured though, you don’t have to take a huge leap out of your comfort zone; even baby steps can relieve your symptoms and help you rediscover your zest for life. Sharing just a little bit of how you’re feeling on a particular day and getting a sense of how receptive people are to what you’re experiencing can allow you to start building up the confidence to eventually go into more depth about what you might be experiencing.

Easing your way out of your comfort zone

Essentially, you need to force yourself to have regular contact with other people. You should do this even if it’s so hard that you can only manage a very short period of time. It is an effective way to start breaking down that depression barrier. 

Take social occasions, for instance. If you’re invited to a social event your immediate reaction might be to desperately think of a reason not to go.  You’re washing your hair, you have a dentist appointment, the Queen is coming round for dinner! Anything that gets you out of having to go!

You can start to overcome that instinctive resistance by realising that you don’t have to socialise on ‘all or nothing’ terms. If you’re going to RSVP, you’re under no obligation to stay for the entire event. You don’t have to be the last man/woman standing at the party.

So, the next time an invite hits your inbox, why not pledge to go for half an hour — even if you really don’t want to go at all. Then, at the end of that half hour, if it’s as bad as you were anticipating, you can make your excuses and leave.

In doing so, you break down the brain’s natural inclination towards the ‘all or nothing’ approach. You’re also coaxing yourself out of your shell in a gentler, more comfortable way. This will make it easier for you to start interacting with the world again.

Do I have depression? Understanding thought patterns

Opening up to loved ones, or easing your way back into your social life isn’t always going to be enough to address your depression. You might also have to start asking the difficult questions; ‘Why do I feel the way I do?’ Often it’s easier to do this with a professional.

Usually, we experience depression because of things that have happened to us. Or because of the behaviours and the thought patterns that we use in order to deal with the world. You may have been through some extreme situations; you may have some unprocessed thoughts and emotions around that. Or it might be that the coping mechanisms that you’ve relied on for a long time are no longer giving you everything that you need.

In these instances, working with a professional is a great way of starting to expand your toolkit. It can enable you to have a more comprehensive way of dealing with the world. The most obvious way of doing that is to start to look at your thinking patterns.

Unconscious thought patterns

You see, we all have a series of unconscious thought patterns we apply to situations. These are patterns that we’ve often picked up and rehearsed from a very early age. Many we adopt from observing other people; we’ve picked up on the ways that our parents and other influential adults deal with things. By the time we’re seven or eight, they will have become integrated into our way of dealing with the world; they will become our own internal voice.

We become so used to these thoughts and reactions that they feel like part of who we are. Or we just assume that that’s the way everyone else deals with the world.

However, there are a million different ways of interacting with the world. There are a million different ways of viewing and responding to situations. Sometimes, working with a professional is a great way of exploring alternative viewpoints and thinking patterns. With help, you can build a bigger repertoire of responses. You can learn to make more informed choices that allow you not to deny the reality of the world. Instead you will be able to react differently to certain situations.

Greater choice – more power

With greater choice over your responses, you can, over time, become more empowered. You will be more resilient;  more capable of dealing with the everyday challenges the world represents.

I hope you found this useful. As ever, I’d love to know your own thoughts and experiences on this topic. And if you have any questions, or need help with anything I’ve talked about here, please do get in touch.

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