The way that I always think of it can be sourced back to Terry Pratchett, the author of a number of my favorite novels. He brings up this paradox in a few of his books: “Open the box with the crowbar you will find inside.” That’s what the numbness portion — by which I mean, the vast majority — of depression is like. Your emotions, normal reactions, motivations, positive thoughts; these things are inside of a box, and also inside of that box is a crowbar with which the box can be opened. It’s a frustrating situation, although, of course, it doesn’t feel frustrating when it’s happening, because your ability to feel frustrated is inside the box with everything else. Instead, you mostly feel like it doesn’t matter because you mostly feel like nothing matters.
6) You can be depressed without knowing it
Yes, it’s counterintuitive. Yes, it sounds impossible. Still, the fact remains that it’s true. The thing about the overwhelming numbness of depression, the constant certainty that nothing at all matters, is that it can blind you to changes in your mood and behavior. Even if you’re tracking those things, if nothing matters, then they don’t matter either. I’ve been depressed, more than once, without having any idea that that’s what was going on. I’ve also realized that I was depressed in the middle of periods of depression, rather than at the beginning, and only realized the full extent of things in looking over the weeks and months prior.
The people in your life can be hugely helpful on this front, especially if they know what to look for because:
7) Depression can be visible
It can also be invisible, of course, but the idea that it’s always invisible is just not accurate. Depression often erodes one’s abilities to complete basic tasks that wouldn’t be a problem in a healthier, less depressed period, and personal care and hygiene are very much included in that list. When I get depressed, my clothing, hair, and physical appearance all tend to suffer, not to mention the cleanliness of my apartment (which I must admit is not what you’d call spotless at the best of times).
If you’re someone who knows they are prone to depression, taking the time to sit down with the people in your life and ask them to keep an eye out for this kind of slippage can be really, really helpful in catching a depressive period before you’re all the way at the bottom of the hole. Conversely, if there’s someone in your life you know is prone to depression, it can be a good idea to keep this point in mind. I’m not, of course, advocating screaming, “YOU’RE DEPRESSED!” in someone’s face if you notice that they’re not looking fantastic one day. But in the event that you see slippage for a few weeks at a time, it may be worthwhile to (gently, kindly) ask them if they are feeling all right, and if there is anything you can do to help. It can be really, really difficult for a depressed person to reach out and ask for help — remember, depression is a liar and a bully and often insists that asking for assistance is selfish and wrong. Your taking that first step can mean the world to someone who is struggling.
8) Depression responds to routine and structure
No, really. It does. When you’re depressed, it doesn’t feel like it’s going to. When you’re depressed, the idea of maintaining any routine, following any structure, or, indeed, getting out of bed often feels borderline insane. But the fact remains that this is true. Conversely, long periods without routine and structure can be depression’s breeding ground; this is why unemployment and depression are common bedfellows.
I’m not, by nature, someone who is much for either structure or routine; in fact, if I’d been born neurotypical, my life might well be a nomadic one where I followed my whims, or the remaining members of the Grateful Dead, or both. As it is, I’ve figured out a variety of little routines and structures that I can apply to my days, weeks, and months, and which help immensely in keeping my head above the depression waters. I’m not going to detail those routines here, because depression management is a very personal thing, and works a little differently for each person. But it is manageable.