Though there is much helpful information about mental health, and a barrage of hashtags on social media, there is still a stigma attached to it and many misconceptions. I have struggled with bouts of recurring depression for over 20 years and yet if I ever admit this to people they are often surprised and some do not understand at all, diminishing the condition entirely with lines like, 'I get a bit down sometimes too'. Feeling a bit low is not the same as experiencing the overwhelming, persistent and oppressive, despairing sadness of clinical depression. Recognising this, and talking openly about mental health, not only raises awareness but helps to give a voice to those struggling to express what they are feeling and that's the reason I finally published this post - not for attention or pity but just in case it helps someone else.
Each person's experience of depression is, of course, different but there are three main ways that depression affects me, and many others. I have summarised these under the headings - distortion, disengagement and dissociation - all appropriately enough beginning with the negative prefix 'dis':
Firstly, depression affects cognitive processes - it hijacks your ability to reason objectively and distorts your reality. Almost everyone experiences these types of thinking errors at one time or another but with a depressive disorder the thoughts are constant and, for me, include:
Emotional Reasoning - an entirely subjective viewpoint where you think that if you feel something then it must be true. For example, you might feel that you made a bad job of something - a task at work maybe - and so because you think this, it must be true. You can't apply any logical reasoning but rely on emotional judgement instead.
Mental Filter - the feeling of gloom and hopelessness dulls everything around you so you can no longer see any light or pick out any colour. Everything darkens and the only details of any situation or event that you can focus on is the negative and you will dwell on this exclusively. Like Alice, you fall down the rabbit hole but instead of seeing Wonderland you just see the hole.
Mind-Reading - where you make negative assumptions and conclusions about other people's actions without any real evidence to support them. For example, if a friend is busy and can't make a get together then you might wrongly conclude that they don't want to see you at all; someone delays answering your text, or gives an unusually brief response - they must be angry or upset with you. You don't question your mind reading ability or bother to check out your assumptions.