A Personal Perspective on What Depression Feels Like
Content Note: This article describes experiences with suicidal thoughts. If you or a loved one are struggling, consider reading our mental health resources page.
Posy objects to those pseudo-heartfelt posts on social media that goad us to copy/share/say "Amen," whatever. They remind Posy of chain letters, and they are probably just gathering information.
It is so much more interesting to read someone’s heartfelt outpourings as found here on ParkinsonsDisease.net, rather than a stylized, deliberately triggering piece designed to suck in the reader to what is essentially a piece of persuasion marketing. In contrast, the writers here talk honestly about whatever issues they tackle, however daunting.
Talking about depression
Posy feels the need to talk about depression, whether experienced in a vacuum, or as a symptom of Parkinson’s. There are just too many people isolated and suffering quietly while other's do not understand this dreadful affliction.
The embarrassment and shame that is still associated with mental health issues piles even more suffering on top of what is already excruciating pain.
Coming off anti-depressants
In 2001, Posy completed 12 months of titrating down her antidepressants, initially prescribed to help Posy cope with her miserable divorce. The doctor’s reassurance that this drug was not addictive and would be a temporary prescription turned out not to be true. As the medication was decreased, Posy was confident that she could eventually manage without this prop.
However, when she was finally off the medicine, Posy began to experience depression. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, but she felt nothing except an all-consuming sense of foreboding in the pit of her stomach. Then, BOOM! She found herself coughing up cups full of blood.
Hospitalized for 2 weeks, she was treated for a serious strain of streptococcal pneumonia. The strong antibiotics and oxygen gradually helped, but the awful pain responded only to high doses of morphine.
Posy was terrified
Once discharged into the care of her wonderful parents, Posy could not think or eat. At 5 feet, 6 inches, she shrank down to 100 pounds. Inactivity seemed the only mode of living. Nothing mattered. She was terrified she was "going mad."
How had this happened? Posy had been an enthusiastic, diligent, thinker. She never sat still. She was busy 24/7. She had always been incredibly self-disciplined. She was not in control of her own thoughts and she was grasping at staying sane.
Posy’s mind shriveled. Convinced she was becoming a crazy person, she found she had no capacity to feel empathy, joy, or enthusiasm. Worst of all, she had no hope. She was an island of pure misery in a world to which she no longer belonged.
Breathing was daunting! Her mind was terrified, ashamed, tortured. She was worthless. Posy tried, oh, so hard, to hold herself together for her family’s sake. She had to picture herself as an angel flying above the clouds in an attempt to block the terrible black thoughts. The Angel grew elusive, then flew away. Posy had to face her demons alone.
No one understood the severity
Posy was at the bottom of a pit. This may sound metaphorical, but Posy could feel the uncompromising darkness, the unassailable depth. Why was no one reaching out a hand to help? Of course, they were, in their way, but no one understood the severity of her illness. This was not their fault. Depression was still somewhat taboo in 2001, and Posy was too ashamed to explain.
Every day she looked up, craning her neck to see the opening of the pit, but she just could not get a foothold. Oh! How she longed to feel the sun on her face! Or to be in Heaven. Just anywhere but here!
Detached from everything
Many nights, Posy lay in bed wishing she would not ever have to live another day. The idea of committing suicide hovered in the corner of her mind, but she had the sense to know how selfish that was. It would ruin her daughter’s life. God helped her to carry on ... somehow. Life was over.
Detached from everything, Posy was astounded that anyone cared about anything at all. Previously Posy had been an avid follower of the news, a lover of fashion, social events and being with friends and family. She had been a concert pianist, a church-goer, dancer, teacher, friend, mother, daughter. Now she hardly recognized herself. She was sinking. Her mind was spiraling out of her control.
Posy despised herself. She wanted to be almost anyone else. Perhaps this was who she really was ... just lazy? And yet she was fighting so hard to get out from under her duvet. The pain was just too overwhelming.
The impact on loved ones
Posy’s poor daughter! She was fortunate to be living with her grandparents, but, more and more, she stayed in her room. Posy forced herself each day to get out of bed to make her daughter breakfast, but couldn’t begin to imagine getting dressed, let alone driving her to school.
Worrying constantly for their daughter, Posy's wonderful family cocooned her with care and love. Her father took over the driving, just as he, unbeknownst to anyone, was losing his own eyesight.
Depression and Parkinson's
It is incredibly tough to admit to having depression. Posy knew that admitting to it would change her image from successful person to imperfect, incompetent, unreliable, weak, pitiful cretin. Surely the doctors would soon realize this and admit her to the hospital.
We are told depression is a consequence of serotonin imbalance, just as we are told that Parkinson's is a consequence of depleted dopamine. In retrospect, Posy's may have been brought on by the high doses of morphine, or the stopping of the anti-depressant. (Depression does seem to be a precursor of Parkinson’s. Posy would be diagnosed in 2017)1,2
What can you do to cope with depression?
To anyone out there going through this, you are not alone! Posy and many others really feel your pain. What can you do to cope with depression?
At first, just breathe Try to wiggle your foot. Wow! How marvelous if it still moves! Then, knowing you can always return to the safety of your bed, try to take just 1 step. Next time, challenge yourself to spend 1 more minute out of bed than before. Raise your arms. This is surprisingly liberating. Do 1 rep only! Tomorrow, try 2.
Emails and messages have probably piled up and now seem an impossible hurdle. When strong enough, you can always send a message to all contacts to say, "Apologies if you have messaged me recently, but I will not have been able to access it. If it was URGENT, please re-send."
Send 1 text to your Mom (or someone else who understands and is worried sick about your welfare.) "Mom, I have been in a very low place. I just can’t communicate yet, but I promise to resend an 'I’m okay' each Sunday!" Then make sure you follow through.
Create a nice environment
Tidy away 1 item. Maybe make your bed, put 1 thing away, wash up 1 cup, or pick some flowers to put in a vase, so that you feel good later. You deserve to have a nice environment.
People often try to get through this without medications, but many need something to start on their path to recovery. They can take a while to kick in and side effects can be off-putting. You may have to try different medications. Talk to your doctor about what options may be right for you.
Considering trying hypnosis with a trusted provider. Posy never felt actually "under," but it was Heaven to feel so relaxed! She was taught to follow certain imaginary steps to fall asleep. This was a game-changer.
By far, the hypnotist’s most life-changing suggestion was to create an image of a happy you in your head. This is not easy on your own, with so many bleak thoughts and convinced you will never experience joy again, but please, keep at it. Try to picture yourself smiling, radiating confidence, receiving love, admiration, acceptance (whatever you need).
Visualize this positive image of yourself every day. Posy had to try very hard to accomplish this, but with practice, her subconscious mind took over and made this a reality.
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