Depression Sometimes Comes in Disguise
by Paul Asay
I wasn’t depressed. I was sick.
That’s what I thought when I woke up at 2 a.m. and felt the waves of nausea circle me like water down a bathroom drain. I’d been having trouble with my gut for weeks by then. But this time, it all felt different. My stomach wasn’t just grouchy: It was rebellious—ready, it seemed, to find the nearest exit and crawl out to start a new life on its own.
It’s not like I’d never been sick or nauseous before. People get sick. And what do people do when they get sick? They stay in bed, eat some dry toast and, in a day or two, get better. But I couldn’t afford to get sick. Not now. I worked as the editor of a sports trade magazine, and my staff and I were late in the weekly production cycle: Stories needed editing, pictures needed cropping, and the week’s issue needed to be put to bed. I had to go to work.
But I knew as I sat crouched on the basement bathroom floor, I couldn’t make it up the stairs, much less drive to work. Sometimes your body just says no. So I called in, made my apologies and said I’d be in tomorrow. And I assumed it was true.
Still, the call drove home the feelings of guilt and worthlessness I’d been struggling with for months now. I’d lay awake, obsessing over my felt failures.
And yet, I didn’t think I was depressed. Before that morning I was still functional. I could still cope. Sure, maybe my suicidal thoughts weren’t normal, exactly. But maybe for folks like me—the disappointments, the failures—they were deserved. I was just sick, I told myself. I’ll be fine tomorrow.
But I wasn’t. Not the next day. Not the next week. I spent the next three weeks on a couch in the basement. My daily bread: A couple of crackers, if I was lucky. My daily sleep: Perhaps an hour or two between 3 and 5 a.m. My daily entertainment: Infomercials. I couldn’t deal with anything that had a plot of any kind.
It was only in the months that followed, when doctors and specialists couldn’t find anything wrong with my gut, that I got the real diagnosis from a psychologist. I’d been smacked upside the head with a severe bout of depression.
Depression impacts more than 264 million people worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. That number seems to grow significantly with each passing year. Depression, in fact, is one of the leading causes of disability in the world.
And yet, many experts believe that depression is often underreported. Men, especially, may often go undiagnosed: Even when they do know something’s not quite right, many men will try to ignore it, assuming it’ll go away. Man up, they’ll say. Push through. Don’t be a whiner.
But, as happened with me, sometimes you can’t push through. Sometimes you can’t even get off the couch. It’s like playing quarterback behind a terrible offensive line: You can try and try to lead your team to a win, but it’s hard to do when depression keeps throwing you flat on your back.
Be mindful of the symptoms. In my book, Beauty in the Browns: Walking with Christ in the Darkness of Depression, I listed several:
• Feeling overly sad or irritable, especially with little or no cause.
• Losing interest in activities or hobbies that used to bring a great deal of pleasure.
• Changes in appetite: It might be a loss of appetite, leading to a great deal of weight loss. But it could also be an urge to overeat—assuaging the numbness and sadness with food.
• Losing sleep.
• Feeling fatigued much of the time.
• A sense of guilt and/or worthlessness.
• Trouble concentrating or thinking clearly.
• Having suicidal thoughts or feelings or, especially, plans to do yourself in.
And as was the case with me, often depression can come with physiological symptoms: headaches, muscle aches or—in my case—unexplained stomach ailments.
The good news, of course, is that depression isn’t the end of the story—even if, at times, it can feel like it is. In my three-week stay on the couch, I felt like I was done: worthless, helpless, hopeless. But eventually, I was able to get off that couch and, if not completely conquer depression, at least quell it. We do have hope—even when we can’t feel it.
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