Are You Depressed?
Signposts, Part Two of Four


by Dr. Dorree Lynn

Depression can feel as if you are walking around swathed in robes of lead that make you feel as if every step requires mammoth effort. It becomes easy to surrender to that too alluring "couch-potato" lifestyle, watching soaps and surviving on junk food. Time slips away. Getting out of bed, talking to anyone, even picking up the phone, seems like more than you can handle. Your breathing gets shallow. Perhaps your head, neck, or shoulders hurt. Your stomach may churn or ache. You may feel hungry, especially for sweets, or not be able to swallow a thing. You may ruminate about the same idea or event repeatedly or obsess about a feeling or action you thought was long past. You may get physically ill or develop an addiction or your temper may flare. Your sleep may be disrupted and your dreams become nightmares that insist on attention. Or, your breathing speeds up, your chest is so tight that it hurts, your thoughts get jumbled, you can't slow down, you feel like a mess and you are afraid that you really may "Go Crazy". 

Everything may get on your nerves and the slightest sound may seem like the screech of chalk along a black board. Love seems a foreign concept and making love is hard to do. You may wonder why you are alive or find yourself thinking of suicide. Sometimes, it's not actually killing yourself that comes to mind, but a kind of wish that maybe an accident will happen, a car crash seems appealing, or that you just won't wake up one day and your misery will be over.

Normal depression often occurs after a severe loss, if you feel helpless or hopeless about a situation or event, or if you are very angry and keep your feelings locked inside. Sometimes depression or a "mood swing" is due to a hormone imbalance, the side effect of a medication or mixture of pills, or it may be due to a genetic predisposition-something you are born with. In older folks, we have learned that what we used to think of as natural depression that comes with aging, isn't natural at all. More often, it is due to a poor mix of medications. Some studies claim that up to eighty-five percent of depression in the elderly is due to a reaction to medication. Other reasons may be illness, or just plain loneliness resulting in feelings of worthlessness and inadequacy.

Men and women who are workaholics, often get depressed if they stop and experience themselves with nothing to do. Or, someone isolated from contact and conversation, such as a mom at home alone with young children, may often find herself sad for no obvious reason. Women and men in marriages where communication has gone out the window, are often unhappy and either withdraw, become picky---nothing seems right, or flare up without obvious provocation.

Some individuals get depressed as a defense against other feelings. They sort of stop at the depression feeling, perhaps they even cry without knowing why, and never get to what is really bothering them. Depression has become a sort of habit that they have fallen into because they don't know what else to do, or how to reach below the surface to other emotions that may be hard for them to tolerate.

Sometimes it is hard to distinguish between fatigue and a downturn in mood. In fact, short-term blue moods can even be beneficial as they can lead to contemplation and exploration of ourselves and our values. We can even emerge with a sense of strength, greater clarity and increased resolve.

Clinical depression, on the other hand has no redeeming value. The psychological pain becomes so debilitating that life does not seem worth living. Studies suggest that depression is increasing and has been since the beginning of this century. We do know that the average age for the onset of severe depression has been younger with each successive generation. Depression robs one of joy. And without joy, it is hard to live a full life. 

This column's for you,

DR.D

Dorree Lynn, PH.D
Dr. Dorree Lynn, author of the forthcoming book Getting Sane Without Going Crazy, is a noted speaker, columnist, and practicing psychologist. Visit her at http://www.sanecrazy.com.