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Writing Mental Health: Depression



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Fri Apr 19, 2019 12:46 pm
Jaybird says...



One of the protagonists in my novel has depression. I want to make sure I realistically portray it while also avoiding any stereotypes associated with people who have depression, so I thought I'd ask about it here.

If you have depression, know someone who has depression or have done research on writing characters who have depression, please tell me all about it here. Any help you can give would be greatly appreciated!
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Fri Apr 19, 2019 4:28 pm
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ShadowVyper says...



So, same as with my anxiety answer, I know that depression has a vast spectrum of manifestations, and my depression is an extremely mild form. I'm not currently on medication for it -- though in the recent months it's been getting worse and starting to affect my quality of life, so I am thinking of talking to my doctor about it soon. But just a disclaimer because I don't know what severe clinical depression is like.

My most common manifestations of depression is just extreme discouragement that spirals out of control. Like it's normal to be disappointed after a test that goes badly. But my depression takes it a step further. It's not just a failed test -- it's a reflection of me as a person. So I used to be like oh no, I'll study even harder for the next test to bring my grade up. Now I'll be like meh, I guess that's only to be expected since I'm a stupid, worthless, idiot. I don't know why I bother trying in the first place. Clearly my best isn't good enough so I may as well not even try at all.

This past week actually, I got a bit lower on a test than I'd been hoping for. I spent 13 hours on the take home test and used the textbook as a reference (I was allowed to lol) and my professor marked me off for something I got from the book he assigned so I went to talk to him. And he's known to be a jerk, and rationally I know that I shouldn't let what he says bother me, but Tuesday I went to talk to him about it and instead of him hearing me out he informed me that he wouldn't "reward me for copying from the book" that I "lacked all critical thought" and was "acting like an undergraduate with no ability to think on the graduate level" and... it was a rude, untrue thing for him to say. It was completely inappropriate to be sure. But it launched me off the cliff of despair.

I have so much work to do it's not even funny -- but when I went home and tried to work I just started crying. So I curled up on my bed and watched Netflix for a while. And then I tried sleeping and started crying again because my mind just kept going "you clearly don't belong in grad school" "you're stupid" "you lack all critical thought" etc. and every single time I tried to do something that entire day my mind would just beat me down and I couldn't accomplish anything at all. Like there was one task I /know/ how to do, and I can do it well, but every single move I made on the task my brain kept telling me I wasn't able to do it on a grad level and so therefore shouldn't touch it at all because I was going to screw it up.

The next day I had to teach lab and it was fairly hellish because every time a student would ask me a /simple/ question that I /knew/ the answer to I started second-guessing myself, because clearly if I'm not performing at a graduate level then I have absolutely no business teaching college biology. I also couldn't bring myself to work on my big project because my mind kept being like "what's the point? You're not going to do well no matter how much work you put into it, so why even try? You're clearly not capable of giving a graduate level presentation anyway."

I keep getting woken up in the middle of the night dwelling on my own stupidity. And I also keep having nightmares about the professor/situation especially but also just grad school in general and how I'm not qualified to be here. Yesterday morning I woke up at 6:30 (on my day off) to a bird crowing outside my window and then it stopped but I couldn't fall back asleep because I started worrying about the situation with my professor, and then I couldn't force myself to get out of bed for 8 hours. Like I went to the bathroom a couple of times but every time I stood up it felt like it took an incredible amount of energy, and I just don't have that energy anymore, and so I'd crawl back into my blankets.

Thankfully I have incredible friends and I was texting one and she said kind things about me and it encouraged me enough that I was able to get up and function and actually get a bit of work done in the afternoon and evening. But I am SO perpetually exhausted but I can't sleep anymore, and yet I also feel unable to get out of my bed some days because my body just feels /heavy/ and I can't think of anything motivating enough to get out of bed. Why should I get up? So I can fail some more? So I can show everyone how stupid I am? Nah, pass, I'll just snuggle under my blankets and watch TV.

So I guess the anxiety might play into a bit too. But I just feel worthless and stupid and beyond exhausted. I can't sleep, I can't work properly, and I feel like every speck of the joy that I used to find in science has been stripped from me. Everything is just drudgery and I'm frustrated and discouraged.

And the kicker is that MOST people don't know about it. I'm still going to class (usually, and when I don't I just say "I'm sick" not "I feel like I've been beat by a bat and then tied to my bed because I'm a whiny jerk"). I'm still teaching. I'm still turning in assignments. I'm still answering texts and emails. By all casual appearances I'm fine. I don't announce that I'm depressed -- but it makes my every day life substantially harder than it used to, or need to, be.
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Fri Apr 19, 2019 7:59 pm
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queenofscience says...



I have depresson. Ask me anything.
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Sat Apr 20, 2019 10:37 am
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AvantCoffee says...



Props to Shady for giving such long, helpful answers to all three threads.

I debated getting involved in this, for reasons I'll explain (because I think those reasons are helpful). Just a heads up that I won't be beating around the bush with anything here, meaning I will bring up suicidal thoughts, self-harm and other relevancies – because I feel they are important when considering depression. Late last year I made a thread about depression that focuses more on the medical side, which is something I don't have personal experience in, so you might find the answers there helpful. What became most clear to me when making that thread was realising how many different types of depression there actually are. This wouldn't be a full list, but here is a summary of each main type of depression. Major depression is what is generally thought of when most people picture depression, I would think, and it's what I've experienced before (I'm not sure how severe or mild it would have been classified as, since I never saw a therapist or anyone about it).

Anyways, in this post I'll only be speaking from my own experiences, so by no means does this reflect on other people's depression. This is what is realistic for me.

General:
Spoiler! :
Firstly I want to speak about denial, which is a reason I was hesitant about contributing to this. Something that can go underlooked when considering depression, or any mental illness, is the doubt that happens when someone begins to show symptoms (and continuing). Depending on the type of person (in this case your character), a person could dismiss and belittle any signs of depression, and therefore resist getting help or telling others about it.

When I was in about grade 8 in school and beyond, I noticed that people my age would seemingly idealise depression as if it made someone "deeper" and more "mysterious" (I wish I was kidding). I also got the impression that some people falsely used the label of 'depression' as an excuse to wallow in negativity and self-pity instead of trying to grow out of bad feelings, or use it to draw public attention to the fact that they had problems, yet not necessarily problems related to mental health. For right or for wrong, these observations caused me to not fully acknowledge or communicate my own depressive symptoms because I didn't want to disrespect people with "genuine" depression by labelling myself falsely.

How I see it now, depression (or any mental illness) is genuine when it affects someone's life negatively for an extended amount of time (the official time is two weeks), with examples being not getting out of bed, not participating, not talking, having little energy etc. I found it was really hard to be aware of these struggles as anything more than unremarkable, since culturally (at least for me) we're told to push through and stay positive and not whine about our individual problems – because whining is selfish. Even when I was self-harming and suicidal I didn't acknowledge or communicate any major problem (in some ways I couldn't see myself). Even now I don't think I've ever actually admitted to being depressed or to having anxiety to friends or family or face-to-face strangers – only online like what I'm doing here. That being said, over the years I have more or less been able to admit to myself that I have been depressed. It's not something that I want to be.

Uh, moving on, one of the experiences I've had when depressed (and more recently anxious for different reasons) is that everything seems harder to do. Making a phone call, having a shower, going outside – when it gets more severe, it all seems like energy I don't have, that I'm incapable of. Even seeking a school counsellor or therapist would seem like a million miles away. My experience of being depressed is not necessarily ongoing thoughts or a feeling of sadness... it would feel like it went beyond that, like I had become an empty weight, as if my bones were hollow but my chest and limbs were full of heaviness (that sounds really emo but idk how else to describe it). I didn't necessarily need to feel "sad" to experience it – I could just be going about my day neutrally. The heaviness wasn't the case all the time, but when the depression got worse the heaviness (or 'flatness' I suppose) would become constant. Nothing inside me would feel bright or bold; it would feel like a lack of vitality. My whole perspective of reality would take the same dull shade.

Here's the thing: it is possible to be happy while still being depressed. I could still laugh, smile, be entertained... when this happened it would feel to me like the happiness was skimming the surface, but not penetrating the deeper core/layers of how I felt overall constantly (which was the flatness).

Arguably the number one thing that made depression so hard to "break out of" for me was the feeling that it was more real than not being depressed. Overtime it felt like I'd woken up from the "illusion" of everyday living and enjoyment. Because of this I would think or behave irrationally when it came to ordinary tasks because these things everyone does seemed ridiculously pointless (examples could be skipping class, losing the effort to be socially acceptable, not making healthy choices when it came to self-care). I had a "what's the point" attitude with almost everything.

I would think about death regularly, specifically my own. It became normal for me to think about dying in some form or another at least once every day, for a good few months of each year when I was depressed. This is going to get heavy, so be prepared for that – I won't be sugarcoating, but I will spit these out quickly. I could be walking over a high place, such as a platform or bridge, and very easily think "I wonder what it would be like to jump off the edge right now" and muse over it happening. I could look at a packet of painkillers and think "if I had a ton of these I could kill myself". I could see accidents on the TV news and wish it had been me. I could be a passenger in a moving vehicle and imagine the vehicle crashing violently around the next road corner. This way of thinking became completely normal. If life felt like an illusion, death felt like the only real thing.

I won't be going into self-harm in too much detail, but I think what is another often underlooked consideration is the subtle ways people self-harm. Things such as intentionally allowing yourself to freeze in cold weather, or jaywalking without really being sure of traffic safety, or eating really bad food, or even accepting drugs and/or smoking despite health risks. Because this thread doesn't specifically ask about self-harm I'd rather not go into it, but don't feel like you can't ask me about it because I'm open to answering. ^^

Lastly, I'll talk about triggers and neural pathways. My mum works in welfare, and I always remember her saying "Be careful how you think because you'll create permanent neural pathways". What that essentially means is that by thinking really negative, intense thoughts over an extended period the brain creates a neural pathway to that level of negative intensity. So then the next time something in my life goes significantly wrong or there is a 'trigger' my mind could skip the normal level of feeling and shoot straight to the intensely negative state. I wouldn't say I'm depressed or that I have anxiety right now (I'm overall happy), but there have been times when I haven't been depressed and then suddenly I'm right there in it. Same with anxiety, which I only started experiencing after I graduated high school. Not everyone who has been depressed will be depressed again in their life, but for me I know that I can relapse, so that's something to bring up.

Right, I suppose that's enough overly personal information for now. I don't know if you noticed but when talking about this stuff it's easier for me to get more factual and aloof about it. I also just realised that I didn't really go into specific thoughts and feelings themselves like Shady did, but if you want me to just let me know. If you have any questions about anything related to this I'm happy to answer c:
Last edited by AvantCoffee on Sun Jun 02, 2019 6:42 am, edited 6 times in total.
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Sat Apr 20, 2019 11:31 am
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Fantascifi66 says...



For me, it's constantly feeling selfish. I feel like I'm selfish for eating, because there are so many other people that need food. I don't really care about myself that much. I try to do as much for people as possible, but often the thought "Why bother, what's the point?" comes into my head. I constantly find myself wanting people to not care about me and just have fun, but at the same time I want to have fun too, and therefore think I'm selfish. Then, there's self-harm. I know a lot of people cut them self, and I've been too scared to try it myself (although I've thought about it before), but I have kinda my own method of selfharm. It's something I do, both unintentionally and intentionally, if that makes sense. Now, this may sound a bit gross and messed up, and I've tried to stop, but I rip my nails off (this is a bit of a sensitive topic for me, so I'd appreciate if you don't talk about it). I'm pretty self-conscious, especially of my fingers, stomach and toes. As I said earlier, I don't really care about how I look, so this may sound confusing. I don't care about how I look, no, but I don't want people to care about how I look either. I'm not really eating that much, so my ribs are showing, and I just don't like my feet.
Also, social interaction. Now, for me, I try to smile as often as possible, even if I'm sad, and I even leave notes for me to find where it says "Don't be selfish, smile you idiot!" and stuff like that, so I always seem happy. I don't bring much to conversations, and spend most of the time by myself, often reading books. The fact that I'm alone, is often used as a weapon by my own mind. Stuff like "Why would they enjoy being with a weirdo like you? It's not something to be proud of (people often called me weird, so as a defense I kinda adopted the word, and often try taking pride out of being so)!" And "You're such a loser and an insufferable know-it-all! You should go kill yourself! No one would cry if you did!"
I have actually thought about killing myself a few times, but I know I couldn't dare to ever do it.
Hope this helped at least a little bit!
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Sat Apr 20, 2019 1:23 pm
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Jaybird says...



Thank you for the help, everyone. <3 I don't think I have any specific questions to ask right now, but I'll make sure to tag you when I do come up with some.
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Mon Apr 22, 2019 7:34 am
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AvantCoffee says...



I forgot to mention one other thing, and that is the optimistic side of depression. Perhaps another stereotype of depression is that everything about it is doom and gloom (and yeah, when it's bad it really feels that way), but it has also allowed me to appreciate happiness and the goodness of others so much more when they appear. Hope and the joys/beauty of living feel like miracles to me after going through a dark state of mind, and I'm able to notice and be grateful for a lot more. Feeling alone has enabled me to really be aware of others and actively bring empathy to them, because I know that's what I would have wanted. I guess I also don't really sweat the small stuff when I really think about it (although anxiety tries its best), because I could be, for lack of a better term, dead – so it's only up from there. There is so much variety to life in the present moment, and that mindfulness can be peaceful. I couldn't really see these things when I hadn't been depressed, so I dunno.
Last edited by AvantCoffee on Sun Jun 02, 2019 6:43 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Tue Apr 30, 2019 8:46 pm
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Toboldlygo says...



I think it's important to remember that while many people have both depression and anxiety, they are two different disorders and you do not need to have one to have the other. This matters because many people try to write about depression and often end up writing about anxiety, instead.

Depression can be serious enough to be disabling, but it can also be mild. People with depression work and go to school, although some need reasonable accommodations (ie, extra excused absences from class). It's a spectrum. Often, depression causes extreme fatigue. Imagine sleeping soundly all night and then being exhausted all day the next day, no matter how many naps you take or how much you rest.

It often involves staying up at night full of self-doubts and fears. You believe you won't be accepted to college or grad school, or get a job, or find love. You believe you will never amount to anything.

You know with all certainty that people would prefer not to know you. You distinguish between someone being friends with you and you being friends with them. You mentally apologize to everyone you meet for coming into their lives, no matter how briefly. You kick yourself for referring to someone as a friend. You feel guilty for being in someone's line of sight.

People who are often by themselves, or "weird," or unpopular often have depression. It's easier for non-depressed people to have dance-a-thons or wear tshirts supporting people with depression than it is to actually talk to someone with it. Often the people who smile brightest are the ones who have it. The emo, crying kid who makes cryptic statements is a harmful stereotype.

Please feel free to ask me for any more thoughts or ask any questions!

Toboldlygo
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