Hidden Signs of Depression
Depression isn’t always obvious, even to yourself.
During my sophomore year of high school, I made the unconscious decision to minimize my participation in life, reducing myself to a bit-player in my own narrative. I went to school and maintained my grades. (I did this largely because it took less effort than dealing with the consequences from parents if I didn’t.) I ate, and I slept. That’s pretty much it.
Variance in my schedule was nonexistent. I woke up just in time to get to school, and while I was there, I dreamed of sleep (sometimes literally). As soon as I got home, I went directly to bed, where I became blissfully unaware until 2 or 3 in the morning. At this time, I would get up and make myself something to eat, watch a couple hours of MTV and go back to bed. Rinse and repeat.
With the exception of attending Sunday morning services and being forced to go to Sunday night youth group, my weekends were even better. Sleep, sleep, eat, sleep, sleep. I didn’t see a problem with this. I wasn’t unhappy. I wasn’t sad. I was nothing. I was fine.
“We made you an appointment with a psychiatrist,” my mom announced one morning. What?!? Where was this coming from? I wasn’t staying out late, doing drugs, seeing boys. I was in AP and honors classes. My grades were fine. Why did I need to go to a doctor? Man, I thought, parents are dumb.
“Rachel, all you do is sleep. It’s not healthy. Your father and I think that you are depressed,” she explained. Since when is enjoying sleep a sign of depression? (Spoiler alert: excessive sleep is indeed a sign of depression.)
The impending appointment with mental health professionals prompted me take a real look at myself. Even without a fully formed frontal lobe, I began to put some things together:
- I may not have felt sad, but I definitely didn’t feel happy.
- I had no interest in anything, even things that I used to be passionate about.
- I was sleeping because nothing was worth the effort.
- The effort! Doing anything felt like moving underwater, against the current.
After a series of tests and appointments with a Christian psychiatrist and Christian counselor, and beginning medication, I began to feel better. It was only then that I realized how deep the hole was that I had been living in.
At the bottom, it’s dark and so far down that you can’t even see the sunlight from above. You start to forget that light exists. It begins to feel like this is the way that it has always been.
It was only when I had dug my way out, that I gained any real perspective on the situation. I had obviously been depressed—why didn’t I see it? Why could others see it, yet I was oblivious? Most importantly, how do I keep this from happening again?
For me, the answer to maintaining my mental stability has been constant self-examination and noticing my classic “tells” even if I’m not feeling depressed. I have learned from my bouts with major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder that if I’m not paying attention, I will again be looking around and wondering not how I got out, but how I got myself back down in that pit in the first place.
This is what self-care looks like for me: it’s anticipating a bout of depression coming on (like upping my antidepressants when the COVID lockdown began, when I felt my mood slipping). It’s talking to others and normalizing mental health issues. And it’s continued, life-long treatment from a doctor, even if I think I’m doing just fine.
When I tell people about my mental illness the response is almost universally, “You have depression and anxiety?! You don’t seem like that at all. I never would have guessed!” And truly, I wouldn’t have guessed it either.
Each of us has a unique story and journey with mental health. Yours may look nothing like mine. Mental health issues can be hidden or hard to spot, but if you or someone you love has concerns, I encourage you to seek help.
Looking for more resources to support mental health? Get access to additional FREE tools and tips from licensed professionals, here.