Disability Concerns Canada Winter 2022 Newsletter: On Confusing Depression With Sadness

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This article in a part of our Disability Concerns Canada Winter 2022 newsletter. You can find the rest here: DC Canada Winter 2022 Newsletter

Some time ago I realized that I was going through a depressive episode. When many people hear that, they think I’m sad—not necessarily. Sadness is a normal life experience, but many people who live with depression describe it as the anti-feeling. Basically we’re either numb or grumpy, or whatever else other people may experience.

When I talked with my psychiatrist’s secretary some weeks ago, she asked me a number of questions among which were: did I sleep at night? To which I answered that it might take me some time to get to sleep, but that once I was asleep, I slept fairly soundly apart from bathroom trips.

Another question she asked me was if I still engaged in self-care. I do. I still put on makeup. I still have my nails done. These things are important to me, because they boost my morale. My psychiatrist agrees with me that those things are good for me despite the fact that they take up money I might use for something else, whatever that might be.

After a conversation lasting about fifteen minutes, the psychiatrist’s secretary and I agreed to leave things as they were, because she felt, and I agreed, that the situation was far from dire. I had no suicidal ideation, I was willing to make efforts to help myself, and the medication I take for my schizophrenia also controls the depression to some degree, which prevents it from getting so bad I would end up in an emotional abyss.

Now, I’m fully aware that my experience is not necessarily representative of those of others who live with depression, but I’ve never claimed that about schizophrenia either. I know, and I have often said, that I had a severe enough form of the illness to know what I’m talking about, yet mild enough to be able to speak on behalf of those whose illness is too severe to be able to articulate what they experience. God gave me the ability to write fluently both in French and in English, and he gave me a subject to write about: mental health and the lack thereof.

Since the onset of this depressive episode, I found that I have been numb and irritable. I lose it about the slightest thing. I get mad at clothes for falling off a chair or papers for falling off the table. I’m impatient with my dog, etc. I’ve also regained some of the weight I had painstakingly lost since last year, because I’m craving sweets, things I enjoy normally to try and boost my morale. This is not necessarily a good thing because I have Diabetes Type 2, and sugar is something I should seek to avoid, but life is complicated.

Ideally, I’d only have to deal with diabetes. I would probably do the things recommended such as exercise more, have a more balanced diet, and so on. And if I had only depression and schizophrenia to deal with, I would find ways to cope with them without worrying about diabetes. Unfortunately, I developed diabetes as a result of taking antipsychotics because those meds cause a significant weight gain, and what follows weight gain if not diabetes?

I don’t know what will come of this. At nearly 63, I doubt that I will develop healthier coping mechanisms. The fact that I try to counterbalance the less healthy ones with others aimed at improving my appearance should alleviate the damages. I hope so anyway. Even though I love painting, finding the gumption to start a painting is difficult. All I want to do most days is scroll down on Facebook, because it requires little effort on my part. After about a year since the depression began there are days when I think I'm getting better, but then we get bad weather and I realize I'm still grumpy, so I'm not sure about the recovery. 

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I think you make an important point that depression is not simply feeling sad. "Non-feeling" or "numb" are good descriptions.  I attend a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illiness) support group for people with mental illness and family members and find it helpful.