Chances are the first thing that comes to most people’s minds when they think about depression is depressed mood, right? But while depressed mood is often a major part of depressive illnesses, sometimes it plays a minor role and other times it’s not present at all.
Major depressive episode symptoms
The symptoms of depression are (must have one of the first two):
- Depressed mood
- Significant loss of interest/pleasure in almost all activities (anhedonia)
- Significant change in appetite and/or unintentional weight loss/gain.
- Disruption in sleep, which can be either insomnia or sleeping excessively
- Objectively observable changes in the speed of movements, either slowing (psychomotor retardation) or agitation.
- Decreased energy
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt that are out of proportion to the situation
- Problems with concentration and decision-making
- Suicidal ideation
For me, the most consistent symptoms over the last three years are the anhedonia and the cognitive effects.
My guinea pigs are pretty much the only thing that can crack through the anhedonia, although not always. Blogging is cognitively stimulating and meaningful, but emotionally it’s quite neutral. I’ve always been pretty cerebral, so I’m fine with cognitively stimulating.
The things that I used to enjoy doing are not the least bit appealing. Travelling used to be my passion and I was always excited about planning my next trip, but that fire has died. I went on a trip to Italy last fall hoping that it would rekindle the fire, but nope. All the stuff that I would’ve been gaga over in the past were just meh.
I’m very organized and that allows me to compensate to some extent for the cognitive slowing, but it’s an ever-present challenge. Decision-making is problematic. I have a very hard time processing multiple pieces of new information at once, which is something that I used to be quite good at. Spontaneous thought is difficult, whether that’s answering an unexpected question someone asks of me or formulating a thought-out response to someone’s blog posts.
I also have problems with sensory overwhelm, mostly with visual stimuli. I notice that a lot when I’m at the grocery store. Even when the store is quiet, visually it’s just a lot for my brain to process.
Effects on movement
I’ve had psychomotor retardation for the last several months, and it worsens when my mood drops. It’s like walking through molasses. It’s been a lot more consistently present this year than it has been in the past.
It doesn’t take much in terms of external triggers to make my mood drop, but when things are chugging along at status quo my mood isn’t all that much of an issue. It never ventures at all into good mood territory, but it’s not smacking me in the face with negativity, either. It’s more a feeling of being detached and emotionally turned off.
So yeah, I’m depressed without an especially depressed mood a fair bit of the time. Illness can present itself in many ways. Those of us with mental illness know that, but I suspect a lot of non-mentally-ill people don’t realize just how much variability there can be within a given diagnosis.
Are there ways that your illness doesn’t fit with stereotyped expectations?