Bethany writes about noticing the difference between the symptoms of depression and general sadness, and what this means for someone's mental health.
- Bethany Lipka
I had a friend recently ask me how a person can identify the difference between temporary sadness - or feeling blue - and depression. He was going through a rough time after a breakup and feeling low, and wondering if his mood state was possibly reactive depression.
I told him that if he is noticing that day after day the things that are supposed to feel good don’t, he should probably give his doctor a call.
This is the one symptom of depression that to me seems to be common to all sufferers, no matter their variation of the illness: that we lose the ability to experience joy. And after a few joyless days, or weeks, or months, it can become very easy to forget what it even feels like.
This is probably the most tragic symptom of depression, because of what it takes from us. Days that should be filled with meaning and positive feelings, end up being vacant and unbearable. I was depressed for the months surrounding my wedding, and so much of what should have been the most exciting time of my life was shrouded by my illness. I didn’t even make it to my rehearsal dinner; I was curled up in a ball under a pile of blankets in my bedroom the dark, trying to muster up the energy I would need for my wedding day.
Since starting treatment for my bipolar II disorder, depression has stolen fewer and fewer days from me. But there are still times when things in my life that are supposed to feel good, don’t. And that’s the difference between sadness and depression, that’s when I know I need to see my doctor and re-evaluate my treatment plan. Because when I’m sad, I can pick up a guitar, or play with my dog, or go for a walk in the park and feel better – at least a little. When I’m depressed, none of those things bring me any enjoyment.
So if you are on the fence about getting help for mood symptoms, and you aren’t sure if what you are experiencing is depression or just ‘feeling down’, the joy test is a good metric. Ask yourself: when was the last time I really enjoyed something (a good cup of coffee, a book, a meal with a friend), or had fun? If you can’t remember, and if all your recent memories are of painfully monotonous days, you probably want to make an appointment with your doctor.
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