I wrote yesterday about my particular experience of depression. I didn’t say everything I might have done about it. I just mentioned some of the stuff that happened to me. There is lots that could be said about the suspected causes in my case, the value of various therapeutic approaches offered to me, the different forms of medications I was given and their respective efficacy. Perhaps most significantly – though I am deeply conscious of it, and continue to feel guilty about it, I don’t really feel I am well placed to comment on it – the effect of the illness on my wife and family. But those are all things for another time, perhaps even to be written by people who aren’t me.
But it is not uncommon to start self-diagnosing oneself after reading such things. I have something of a hypochondriac streak in me. I don’t go to doctors every week to try and get diagnoses for entirely imagined illnesses or anything like that. But I do recognise my tendency to hear about different illnesses and afflictions and immediately, for some stupid reason, begin to fear I may have it. I suddenly find every itch or freckle is some serious, malignant problem even though there is next to no possibility I could possibly have the illness. Watch enough news reports about it and, though there is clearly no grounds on which I could possibly have it, I can convince myself I might have ebola.
To avoid that sort of extremely unhelpful hypochondria, here is a list of 10 things that depression (of itself) is not:
Feeling a bit sad
Fact is, we all feel a bit sad every now and then. Sometimes with very good reason. But a few tears now and then, or feeling sad about some stuff that is obviously very sad, is not necessarily symptomatic of depression.
Some people revel in being morose and dour. If that is a basis for diagnosing depression, large chunks of Yorkshire and Scotland need a mass diagnosis! Being a bit grumpy or having a bit of a negative outlook is not depression.
We all get tired. And when we get tired, we are prone to being a bit miserable and grumpy. It’s amazing how many illnesses manifest with tiredness. But getting tired, of itself, is not depression.
Again, whilst there are some confident souls who never seem to worry about much, that is frankly not the reality for most of us. If it were, Jesus wouldn’t have seen fit to warn us against it. But worrying about stuff coming up, and it occupying your thoughts for a bit, is not depression.
Not wanting to do stuff
It is hard not to overstate this one. Simply not wanting to do certain things is not depression. We all have things we’d rather not do, and we can all concoct reasons not to do them. When you worry about them, it’s easy to push it down the to-do list. But not wanting to do stuff is not depression.
Enjoying time alone
You might find that you like time on your own. Being with people may tend to sap your energy a bit. You might find it hard work being around people all day and prefer your own company. That is not depression, that is introversion. The latter of those is neither an illness nor a problem to be fixed.
I’ve never fully understood what people mean when they say they have an ‘artistic temperament’. I’ve always taken it to mean they are prone to extremes of emotion. More usually, as far as I can see, it tends to mean they are happy to let their emotions show a bit. If I am understanding it rightly, this isn’t depression either. Getting angry and shouting, getting upset and crying and such like is not the essence of depression.
We are all prone to discontent at times. We all have a bit of ‘grass is greener’ thinking in us. There are plenty of times we take our eyes off Christ and look to something else to content us, whatever it may be. We have a sense of lack, a feeling that things are just not as good as they could or should be. But a sense of discontent is not depression.
Having any dark thoughts
I am fairly confident if I start talking about the times I tried to kill myself, quite a few of us inevitably start thinking about what that might be like. We might even start to think what it might be like if we were to do that to ourselves. But that isn’t depression, that is a natural response to hearing somebody talk about a thing. Ever having dark thoughts – whatever they may be – is not a symptom of depression. If those thoughts are persistent, intrusive and you find it impossible to think about anything else, then you ought to be concerned. But having a fleeting thought or two about suicide is not, of itself, a sign you are depressed.
We need to be very careful that we don’t draw a straight line from our guilt to a diagnosis of depression. If you have done something wrong and haven’t properly repented or sought forgiveness, it is hardly surprising that you feel guilty about it. That is not an issue of depression; it is an issue of having done something wrong and regretting it. We need to be careful that we don’t associate all feelings of guilt – even ones that we perhaps oughtn’t to feel guilty about – with depression. For sure, depression will typically lead to deep feelings of guilt, even at things you had no level of involvement with at all, but feeling guilty of itself is not depression.