Ways to Know It’s More Than Just Being Sad
Everyone is sad sometimes. But how can we know if we’re just experiencing a long bout of sadness or if it’s actually something more, like depression? This article discusses some of the warning signs of depression, and can help you sort out whether you’re just sad, or if you might be in the middle of a depressive episode.
Can’t Bounce Back
It is normal to feel sad or disappointed after a setback. If you lost your job, didn’t get the promotion you wanted, or experienced the loss of a friend or family member, you may feel sad for a while and you may even experience grief. Maybe even for a long while. But if the sadness is constant, if you feel it every minute of every hour of every day, that is not just sadness or grief. Sadness comes and goes — it is interrupted by laughter, by thoughts of other things. Depression does not allow these interruptions. It is like a constant dark cloud that pulls you down into a hole from which you can’t escape, no matter how hard you try. Sadness and depression are both painful experiences, but one comes and goes, and the other stays…and stays…and stays.
Nothing Seems to Matter
When you’re sad, you still care about things — and people — in your life. You know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how far away it may be. You understand that even though you’re sad, life is still worth living. Not so with depression. Depression tricks your brain into thinking that nothing is important, not anymore. Like the low self-esteem from which it can stem, depression drains your self-worth until your stores are depleted. When you don’t care about yourself, it is difficult to care about others — at least to the same degree you used to care. This is why people who experience depression often go through a breakup during their depressive state. The person they were before depression would have fought for their partner and their relationship. The person they are during their depression does not value themselves enough to fight for what or who they love.
People who are sad may be pessimistic about how soon things will change for them, but they are not devoid of any hope that things can or will get better. Sadness, they understand, is a temporary state that can change with time and distance from the triggering event. Depression may not have a triggering event (though it can). People experiencing depression have very little hope, if any, that things will change for them. They think they are doomed to feel badly, and worse, they do not think they deserve to feel better.
Negative Thoughts Feel Out of Control
When we are sad, we may think negative things, such as, “I will never get another job,” or “I will never stop missing my mother,” or “there is no way I will find another guy like him.” While these thoughts may sound final, a sad person will often be able to counter these thoughts eventually. At some point, they will think, “‘never’ is a strong word to use…maybe it isn’t as bad as that.” That is, someone who is sad can eventually see the other side of the coin and understand that even though “never” may be true in their particular situation (such as missing someone they lost), it does not rule their lives. People who are sad are able to control their negative thoughts, rather than having their negative thoughts control and overwhelm them. This is largely because people who are sad still think they are worthy of happiness, and they know that eventually they can be happy again, even if they will always retain some sad feelings about a particular thing, such as a breakup.
On the other hand, people who are depressed cannot control their negative thoughts. They constantly experience a stream of negative thoughts about themselves, their performance, and their worth — both to themselves and to the people who care about them. Feeling depressed means that negative thoughts seem to invade your every waking minute.
Some, but not all, people who have depression will see it accompanied by a constant tiredness, and a feeling that they could sleep forever and it still would not be enough rest. This may be a symptom of something called atypical depression, which may also include symptoms of increased appetite, oversensitivity, and a feeling of heaviness in the body, particularly the arms and legs.
Sadness may make us tired too, as we may feel exhausted by grief or by the stress of dealing with our sadness. Depression, on the other hand, is a sadness that lives deep in our bones and does not go away with rest. It may also be coupled with insomnia, or general upset in our sleep patterns. That is, some people with depression are tired all the time because they cannot sleep or have trouble resting.
Nothing is Fun Anymore
One of the hallmark symptoms of depression is the loss of enjoyment in activities that used to be fun for you. For instance, bookworms may lose interest in reading, extroverts may lose interest in going out with friends, etc. People who are sad may experience this somewhat, but not to the same extent as people with depression. Sadness may mean you seek comfort behaviors, which may mean smaller gatherings with friends or television shows instead of books, or perhaps an extra few bites of chocolate for dessert. Depression, on the other hand, means comfort behaviors are out of the ordinary for you. For instance, bookworms may turn into binge watchers, while extroverts refuse to see anyone, even close friends. Again, this all stems from a lack of feeling “worth it” — when one has feelings of low self-esteem, one does not think that one is worthy of experiencing the joy that comes from doing activities we love.
These are just a few of the ways depression is different from sadness. Remember, if you are experiencing thoughts of wanting to end it all, or any sort of suicidal ideation, contact a doctor as soon as possible.