Depressed human with a broken brain and heavy rain and dark clouds

A Beginner’s Guide to Depression

“Depression is feeling like you’ve lost something but having no clue when or where you last had it. Then one day you realize what you lost is yourself.”

– Anonymous

Someone once described depression to me as a creature. A creature so vile that it takes possession of you, sinks its claws into your body, and refuses to loosen its relentless grip. 

It follows you everywhere you go and digs its claws into you a little more each day. All just to remind you that it’s still there, it’s not going anywhere, and that this pain you feel is all that truly matters.

It was the first time I heard depression described this way. And after having suffered from depression for over 20 years, it was this simple illustration that left me captivated. The conversation left me wondering, “how haven’t I ever heard depression described so perfectly before? That’s exactly how it feels!”

I suffered from depression for years without realizing it. And sometimes I wonder, if I had known earlier, would it have made a difference? I believe it would have.

But that was a different time. And in the early 2000s, mental health wasn’t something that people really talked about. I knew something was off – way off. But I didn’t know how to describe it, let alone talk to anyone about it. 

Whenever I finally got up the nerve to talk about how I felt, it seemed that no one really understood, listened, or just basically didn’t know how to react. There were many people who thought depression wasn’t actually real and was just something made up. It left me feeling completely alone and misunderstood.

Entering my teenage years, I decided to take things into my own hands and began to scour the Internet for answers. After going through pages and pages of Google search results, I began realizing that I likely suffered from depression. And that is when my mental health journey began. 

I was finally able to put a word to how I was feeling! What I was experiencing wasn’t “just in my head”, but rather it was something that millions of people suffer from. I wasn’t alone.

My journey started with a simple understanding of what depression is. If I never questioned the way I felt, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Looking back – I remember how difficult it was to find reliable mental health resources. 

So, to help others on their own journey, I created a beginners guide on depression and what it means in simple terms. Within this guide, I’ll share some of the common symptoms, how one can go about treating depression, and some of the different treatment options that are available. 

What is Depression?

Before I answer this question, one thing to keep in mind is that depression is a very complex illness. While there are similar symptoms among all depression sufferers, it doesn’t always show up the same way for everyone. However, there are some commonalities that most people can expect to encounter.

First, I wanted to go through some of the things that depression is not. Depression isn’t just about sadness and lying-in bed crying all day. And it definitely isn’t about feeling sorry for yourself or just being lazy.

Simply put – depression is a common, but serious medical condition that causes individuals to struggle on a mental, emotional, and physical level. Depression impacts your ability to function in every aspect of your life and oftentimes, people suffer silently for fear of what others might think. However, if left untreated for too long, the outcome can become fatal.

What Can Cause Depression?

There is a wide array of circumstances that can cause depression. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) says that depression can be caused by trauma, genetics, life events, other medical conditions, drug and alcohol misuse, and that it can even occur spontaneously.

Depression can be something someone goes through once in their lifetime. Or it can become a chronic condition one may struggle with throughout different periods of their life. If you experience any of the following symptoms for more than two weeks, you could be suffering from depression.

Common Depression Symptoms

1. Anger/Irritability

It sucks to feel bad, no matter what afflicts you. When you feel bad, it’s easy to be cranky. And it’s no different when it comes to depression. I have caught myself getting snappy with the people that I love and for no reason other than struggling mentally.

2. Appetite Changes

This is one of those symptoms that show up differently for everyone. For me, depression decreases my appetite. I simply don’t have the energy to make myself something to eat. Whereas for others, depression may cause them to eat more.

3. Body Aches

Aches and pains are quite common with depression, but I was caught off guard when this symptom began appearing for me. Depression hurts. And not just emotionally and mentally, but physically as well.  

4. Body Weight Fluctuations

Because I’m not eating the best, I tend to lose weight when going through a bout of depression. But for someone else, they may gain weight. Especially if they find some comfort and satisfaction with food. 

5. Difficulting Focusing & Concentrating

Focusing on the task at hand while depressed can be extremely difficult. Anytime I was dealing with depression, I found it hard to concentrate on all aspects of my life, whether that was at home, work, or school. Most days I was in a “fog” as the days slowly creeped by.

6. Hopelessness & Extreme Sadness

All of us know what it’s like to experience sadness. But not everyone knows what it’s like to experience depression. Depression brings about sadness like you’ve never felt before. For me, it began with a complete loss of hope. 

7. Fatigue/Lack of Energy

Depression is exhausting. Most days you force yourself out of bed and go on with your day as if nothing is wrong. That alone can drain you. You may find yourself sleeping more to help deal with the exhaustion or just to simply sleep the day away.

8. Loss of Interest

This was the most confusing symptom for me. Everything I once loved, I no longer cared about with depression. I did not have a single ounce of motivation within me. It was as if someone drained out all my desires and ambitions.

9. Low Self Esteem & Self Worth

Depression gets to you. It knows how to get into your head and make you feel completely worthless. It can strip away all confidence you have in yourself and cause you to question everything you thought you knew.

10. Self-Harm/Suicidal Thoughts

In extreme cases, you can begin to experience dark thoughts about hurting or killing yourself. If this is you, please don’t delay seeking out help. Get help right away! I promise you – it will be worth it.

Treatment Options

If you’re ever questioning if you have depression or what steps you should take next, always speak with a mental health professional. It’s so important to seek out help even if you’re unsure.

Depression isn’t something that you can just wish away. And while there is no cure, depression is treatable. There are several effective treatment options available. What works for one person, may not work for you. 

Do keep an open mind. You may find yourself incorporating all or a mixture of treatments at some point during your journey. The below list is also just a few of the many treatment options available today.

1. Psychotherapy

Also known as “talk therapy” or just simply “therapy”. Psychotherapy is when you talk to a mental health professional about your depression. Therapy completely changed my life. I finally had someone to listen to how I felt without any judgment. They were simply there to listen to my pain, help me navigate my way through it, and gain coping skills along the way. 

There are several different therapy options available. You can choose from individual therapy, group therapy, or even couples/marriage counseling if needed. And thanks to the pandemic, it’s now easier than ever to seek out therapy. Telehealth has become the new norm and we can now talk to a counselor from the comfort of our own home just by using a smartphone, tablet, or computer.

There are also several different approaches to therapy that you can try. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) points out several different methods, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), interpersonal therapy (IPT), and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EDMR).

2. Medication

I was hesitant about using medication to treat my depression and resisted the idea for quite some time. I hated taking medicine for anything and I just didn’t want to be on something for the rest of my life. However, there came a point where I felt like I was just stuck. And so, I finally decided to give it a try. 

While medication helped me, it may not be right for you. If you ever find yourself in a pickle and can’t decide if medication is the next step, talk with your therapist to learn more prior to taking the leap.

If your therapist is unable to prescribe medication, they likely can point you in the direction of someone who can. You can also speak with your primary care doctor if you don’t have a therapist established.

These days, there are many different medications available. Your provider should be able to help you determine what is best for your needs. Research the medication before committing to it. Find out any symptoms the medication may have and discuss any concerns with your doctor prior to taking any medication.

3. Exercise

This can be a tough one for people who loathe to exercise. But time and time again, exercise has been known to lift people out of the depths of depression. Personally, when I look back to some of the happiest periods of my life, exercise was a part of my normal routine.

The best part is that there is so much you can do that can count as exercise. Get out and enjoy nature. Take a walk, go for a hike, swim a few laps, or mow the yard. Heck – housework counts too!

Maybe even consider doing something both new and fun that you’ve always wanted to try, such as tennis or dance lessons. And who knows, maybe exercise will end up being something you can’t live without!

4. Yoga & Meditation

While these are two different things, I like to put them together as I sometimes incorporate them into the same session. Yoga and meditation can be life changing, but both require patience and an open mind.

Yoga incorporates a series of stretches, also known as poses, that are accompanied by different breathing techniques. The awesome thing about yoga is that most people can easily practice it, no matter how active they are. Yoga is often recommended to those who suffer from depression. According to the University of Rochester Medical Center, yoga can reduce stress and help you become more focused and alert.

If your energy levels are low, then consider integrating meditation into your life. Meditation is focusing your attention to the present moment and letting your thoughts come and go without judgment. Oftentimes, your breath is the focus and the one thing to keep coming back to when distraction sets in. Meditation has been in existence for thousands of years and has been proven to lessen the symptoms of depression.

5. Hospitalization

In extreme cases, hospitalization is needed with depression. Sometimes it just becomes too much for one person to handle – especially if they find themselves unable to function or if they are thinking about or already are harming themselves. 

However, many people don’t seek out help because they are afraid of what people will think if they check into the hospital for depression. Being hospitalized for depression is nothing to be ashamed of and shouldn’t deter you from seeking out help.

Your life is precious and is absolutely worth saving. Depression is a real disease and like many other illnesses, treatment at a hospital is needed.

Mental Health Resources

If you’re learning about depression for yourself or for someone important to you, below are some handy tools to have in your toolbox. These resources have been invaluable to me over the years.

Many of these sites can help you learn more about mental illnesses, as well as help you locate mental health professionals in your area.

2•1•1Mental Health America
American Psychological Association (APA)National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Center for Disease Control (CDC)National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)
MentalHealth.govSubstance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA)
Mental Health Resources

Wrapping It Up

I know there is a lot of information here to digest, but I hope this guide helps you understand depression a little bit better. And hopefully it’s something you can refer to time and time again. 

I am definitely no mental health professional but have personally lived with depression on and off for over 20 years now. I know first-hand how important it is to understand depression, whether you are suffering yourself or have someone in your life who is struggling.

Please don’t ever hesitate to get help – no matter what stage you find yourself in. We all will struggle at some point in our lives with our mental health. Seeking help shouldn’t be something we put off as we are all worthy of living our best lives.

I’m curious – what has been the best way depression has been described to you? Or how do you see depression through your eyes?

Share the love! ❤️

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *