Everyone's darkness looks a little different. Here's how I caught mine — before it did me in.
Every time I slip into a depression, it feels a little different.
My first truly brutal depression hit when I was about 18 years old, and it was terrifying.
It followed the more traditional signs of depression, so it was easy to diagnose, but I remember wondering if I'd ever be happy again or whether I might be losing my mind. I had panic attacks, general anxiety, and cried a lot. I didn't want to leave the house, and I couldn't focus on school.
I tried every medication the doctor suggested, and finally found one that worked. Thank God. After two or three weeks, it felt like I could breathe again, and my skin suddenly didn't hurt anymore. I hadn't even noticed that it was hurting in the first place.
I was on the drug for years, then off of it for years, and I felt okay.
But then the darkness snuck up on me again just recently, and I wasn't expecting it at all.
Because I'd been off meds so successfully for so long, I thought I could somehow out-run the signs of depression sneaking up on me. I was wrong.
My dog passed away after only a week of being sick, and the grief was sudden and excruciating. Gretel was a Jack Russell Terrier and poodle mix who had been with me for more than fifteen years. She was a huge personality who won over everyone she met. It was impossible to imagine being without her. I wondered if I could ever be happy again.
Anyone who doesn't understand how a person could be that sad about a dog never had a dog like this.
After a while, the pain became more bearable, and I thought I would be happy again soon. But, instead of healing, I felt like I was slowly sinking into the earth. Like someone was putting heavier and heavier weights around my ankles when I wasn't looking. My entire existence felt heavy.
I wasn't okay, and those words kept running through my head: I'm not okay. I'm just not okay.
Looking back, I can now see so many signs of depression that I just hadn't seen. I was too depressed to recognize them.
Now that I'm feeling better, I think it's important to share what my personal signs of depression were, so that other people might be able to recognize their own and know to ask for help. Because asking for help is EVERYTHING. I'm so glad I did, because it helped get me to a place when I can finally remember what it's like to be happy.
Here are the ten most obvious signs (in retrospect) that I was incredibly depressed:
1. My Spotify playlist got super, super grim.
I know this seems silly, but, with every passing day, my Spotify playlist got darker and darker.
My formerly mellow playlist went from quiet love songs to what Cher Horowitz calls "complaint rock." This was some minor-key shit. And the more of these sad songs I added to my playlist, the more sad songs Spotify would recommend, so it became a rabbit hole of misery.
I listen to that playlist now and I'm like, "Holy crap, this should've been a major red flag!"
2. Friendship seemed like WAY too much work.
I'm one of those women who has a few really great friendships that I work hard to maintain, and a bunch of really awesome women in my life who form a powerful community.
But, as the depression crept in, the idea of being with even my best friends became overwhelming.
You know that feeling like you've had a horrible day at work and all you want to do is get into bed with Netflix? That's how I felt every single day. I even tried to avoid people if I saw them in the grocery store or at school drop off.
They say when you're depressed, you need your friends more than ever. But I was so depressed, I wouldn't have even known how to ask for help from them. Luckily, once I stopped avoiding the people in my life, they were there for me.
3. I felt like I was never going to be in love again, and I didn't even care.
For perspective, I'm that annoying woman who thinks my husband is basically the hottest and greatest guy on the planet. I moon over him and count the minutes until he comes home. It's sickening, I know, but it's just the truth.
So, when that disappeared, and I finally realized that things were bad.
4. I stopped noticing the quietly wonderful things in life.
My depression wasn't marked by big bouts of crying, and I was still able to laugh with my coworkers and crack up at the new Ghostbusters.
But I stopped feeling bliss in the simple moments of joy, like I feel when I would see my sons in their twin beds both reading quietly, or when I heard their laughter and plotting when they would go outside to catch lizards.
Now that my happiness is back, I realize what a strong sign of depression it was that I could no longer find the grace in those lovely, everyday moments.
5. I lost a whole bunch of weight without trying (or noticing).
Some people might see this as a great thing, but it was a big sign of depression for me.
I wasn't trying not to eat, I just felt full quickly and nothing tasted all that great.
It wasn't until I needed to buy a new belt to keep my jeans on that I even realized I'd lost weight. And, after decades of disordered eating and body image issues, to have lost weight without noticing was a major indicator that something wasn't right.
6. I disappeared into crowds.
This one is hard to explain, but now that I'm happy again, it feels really powerful.
I'm the kind of woman who takes up space. I have a loud laugh and I'm not at all shy. I make friends in line at the grocery store, and everyone at my neighborhood Starbucks knows my name, my drink, and tells me all the store gossip when I come in.
When I was depressed, nobody noticed me. Not just because I didn't reach out, but because people didn't even seem to see me.
Now that I'm back to myself, I feel connected to the people around me again. Strangers smile when I walk past, and I smile back. It's so simple, but makes such a huge difference.
7. My heart never stopped racing.
When my friend's mom died, she mentioned how the grief had made her feel like her heart was always fluttering.
I thought this was metaphorical or a reference to the very real pain of heartbreak.
But after Gretel died, my heart started racing and it never slowed down. Even when I was camped out in my bed just watching TV, my heart quietly fluttered in a panic in my chest.
I didn't have full-blown panic attacks. Instead I just lived in a perpetual state of low-grade anxiety that became so normal I barely noticed until it stopped.
8. Work became really, really hard.
I have ADHD, so focus is something that requires considerable effort from me on a normal day. But depression made it even harder.
At my job, I also worried about everyone being mad at me, that I wasn't up for the task, or that I was about to screw something up. I felt profoundly inadequate, even when I was doing good work.
Now I'm able to really enjoy my profession again, and it feels great. I'm so grateful for my job and my community of co-workers. Feeling valued and useful is so vital when you're fighting depression.
9. I lost sight of my gratitude.
Every day of my life, I feel grateful. Not just running through a checklist of things I know I should be glad to have. But a deep and quiet sense of recognizing what's good in my life.
It wasn't that I wasn't grateful when I was depressed, it was that I was numb to the sort of joy and love that reminds you of just how fortunate you are.
Gratitude isn't something that can be forced, which is the same with happiness.
The people who say we need to choose to be happy are full of it, just like the people who say that you can simply decide to be grateful.
Sure, it takes practice, but when you're depressed, sometimes you can't be grateful (or happy) until after you've sought treatment.
No matter how badly you may want to.
And here's the thing: Waiting for my signs of depression to fit a standard mold was never going to work for me.
That's why it's so important we all prioritize our own mental wellness, and to not be afraid to ask the people around us for some help. My mom finally stepped in and said she thought I was depressed, all while other people had no idea because I wasn't crying or moping or wearing all black or thinking about suicide.
I am happier now, and I hope other people can find the same hope.