(Mis)Diagnosing Depression

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash I was at a literary event recently when the conversation swung to depression. It started when a man presented a poem about this state of mental health and suggested that ‘a smile, a hug, and some love’ could get people out of their depressed state. For the most part, the poem resonated with people because it was relatively well written and delivered, and being a sensitive topic, people could relate; or so I assumed. While I was processing the words of poem, someone mention that it was important to note that depression was not ‘having a couple of bad days or being sad. It is a clinically diagnosed illness and must be treated that way.’ In the past, I would have nodded my head in agreement. I understood the sentiment and the need to be sure that people weren’t misdiagnosing depression when in the real sense, they were briefly unhappy or in a funk. But, my idea about depression changed a while back. Before I get into what caused the switch, let me share a train of thought that I followed through as I listened to the debate. Have you ever had a blinding headache? Those things can be the worst! You can’t think, you can’t sleep, you can’t eat, you think you head is about ready to split, and if it is really bad, you are almost crippled from the pain. When you go to the hospital, the doctor may diagnose a headache, migraine or something worse. In essence, the doctor is affirming what you already feel. You know the intricacies of the pain you are feeling. What the doctor does is to give you a ‘fancy’ name for what you are dealing with, and hopefully, a medical solution. So, let us say that you don’t go to the doctor. Do you still have the symptoms? Yes. Can you tell that you are in great pain? Yes. Do you know that something is wrong with you? Yes. What you may not know is the technical term for what you are going through, but you knowthat something is wrong. In some cases, you know that if you can just sleep, you may be better for a bit. In other instances, you know that seeing a medical personnel and taking some drugs can help you get better. And while you may want to take that option, you know that sometimes, there are a number of factors that may prevent you from seeking that help. So, you sleep. Or eat. Or rest. Or just lie down because you know that it would get better…until the next bout comes up. In this case, does the absence of a medical diagnosis negate the existence of your headache? I think the answer is no. The same is true for depression. People who are suffering from depression know that there is something wrong with them. They knowthat the gnawing emptiness they are feeling is a symptom of something bad. They understand that those panic attacks are not normal. They realize that their appetite – whether they are eating very little of way too much – is a sign of something troubling. They wish they didn’t have to sleep so little…or so much. They get that their complete lack of desire for anything, and sometimes, their only desire which seeks to end it all, is a product of a situation that is…bad. They know this. They also know about the days when pretending to be fine is the wall they need when their entire essence is crumbling apart. They understand the need to reach out, and the countering need not to be a burden. They can taste the fear of not knowing whether they would be understood or dismissed, or the hope that someone would see through their façade and help them. They also remember all the times when the voices in their head tells them, ‘didn’t I tell you? Nobody cares about you.’ They know this. What they may not know is the fancy name for what they are feeling. A little over six years ago, I began to feel sad and unhappy about my life. I didn’t seem to be making much progress for the timelines I set for myself and I started having this feeling that I was failing at this thing called life. It was a gnawing feeling that seemed to be here today and gone the next. However, I noticed that, with each session, the sadness seemed to take deeper roots. It felt like I was in quick sand and while I was only ankle deep, I couldn’t get out. As the years wore on, I continued to descend into the abyss until it got to a head a little over two years ago. I lost my mind. I started having repeated panic attacks, and once, when I could feel my heart closing up and my lungs refusing to draw in enough air, I thought I had come to the end of the road. When it passed, I felt empty. For one week afterwards, I didn’t have a shower. My bedroom was a dumpster; filled with plates from days before, wraps from junk food, bottles and clothes strewn everywhere. I was listless and couldn’t feel anything beyond the overwhelming emptiness of what was my life. I was depressed. And guess what? It started with a couple of days of sadness. It started with some unhappiness. It started with days when I was in a funk.  Which is why when people say, ‘depression is not having a couple of sad days and being unhappy’, I shake my head. Only a person having those feelings can tell you what they are feeling. Only a person having those feelings can tell you how deeply lost they think they are. Image from Twitter It is important to note that people who are depressed do not share the extent of their listlessness with other; one, because explaining it is hard, and two because, there is

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