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What IS depression anyway?

Posted by O'Maolchaithaigh on October 26, 2010

Just what the fuck is depression anyway?  I tried researching it, after experiencing it for a few years.  Got medication simultaneously with counseling. I was definitely depressed.

Depression, which doctors call major depressive disorder, isn’t something you can just “snap out of.”

Symptoms

  • Agitation, restlessness, and irritability
  • Dramatic change in appetite, often with weight gain or loss
  • Extreme difficulty concentrating
  • Fatigue and lack of energy
  • Feelings of hopelessness and helplessness
  • Feelings of worthlessness, self-hate, and inappropriate guilt
  • Inactivity and withdrawal from usual activities, a loss of interest or pleasure in activities that were once enjoyed (such as sex)
  • Thoughts of death or suicide
  • Trouble sleeping or excessive sleeping

Major depression disorder, according to the Mayo Clinic, is when a person has five or more symptoms of depression for at least 2 weeks. In addition, people with major depression often have behavior changes, such as new eating and sleeping patterns.

Depression can appear as anger and discouragement, rather than as feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. If depression is very severe, there may also be psychotic symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions. These symptoms may focus on themes of guilt, inadequacy, or disease.  It is thought to be caused by an imbalance of brain chemicals and other factors.

However.  Hmmph.  However, none of this says what depression is, or where it comes from. Obviously, trauma can bring it on: the loss of a loved one, a pet, a friend, or the end of a marriage, love affair, or even a job. Many things can trigger depression.  If it is caused solely by a chemical imbalance, then it would be entirely random, in my opinion.  People in all walks of life would be depressed for absolutely no discernible reason, whereas most of us can attribute those feelings to something that happened. Everyone deals with these things in different ways, and, in fact, it is common for everyone to be depressed at some time.  So, to follow the medical opinions, I should talk about major depressive disorder, that thing that just doesn’t go away for some people sometimes.

I think I know what it is, and where it comes from.  I’m not a doctor, neither an M.D., a psychologist nor a psychiatrist.

Now, Wikipedia says: “The biopsychosocial model proposes that biological, psychological, and social factors all play a role in causing depression. The diathesis–stress model specifies that depression results when a preexisting vulnerability, or diathesis, is activated by stressful life events. The preexisting vulnerability can be either genetic, implying an interaction between nature and nurture, or schematic, resulting from views of the world learned in childhood.”

Blah, blah, blah.

I think it is nothing more than our reaction to pain.  Pain, as many of us know, decreases in intensity after we suffer it for a time.  Runners, torture victims, accident victims, and victims of disease know what I’m talking about. There may be a variety of things involved, but we all commonly think about endorphins kicking in, numbing us to pain after awhile.

Endorphins (“endogenous morphine”) are endogenous opioid peptides that function as neurotransmitters. They are produced by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus in vertebrates during exercise, excitement, pain, consumption of spicy food, love and orgasm, and they resemble the opiates in their abilities to produce analgesia and a feeling of well-being.

Well-being after sex, yeah, I know that one pretty well. I also like chile, red or green, and sure enough, a blast of really hot spicy food brings about a lessening of the hotness after a short time. I can then eat hotter chile, but I pay for it later.  So, one thing to notice is that this morphine-like substance we produce in our bodies doesn’t last very long. But, we can produce it over and over again, in response to various stimuli, including stress.  Some of us experience stress daily, so we must also be producing endorphins daily.

Here’s what I think: depression is our bodies’ response to psychological pain.  Depression is our psychological morphine, producing analgesia.  We go numb in response to psychological pain.  We cry, or grieve deeply, sometimes feeling an overwhelming crushing weight.  We can’t function that way.  We have to go to work, or continue our normal routines, so we have to push those feelings aside just enough to function.  Depression is the result.  If it was a relatively minor pain, we may work it out through continuing our normal routines.  Sometimes, however, the pain was severe, or was perceived as severe, and continues to recur. We may keep brushing it aside.  I think this is a normal mental defense, allowing us to continue our life until we can deal with the cause of the pain, similar to the production of adrenalin or endorphins, which give us temporary options for survival.

But, it has to be dealt with sooner or later.  Just as an injury can be ignored while adrenalin or endorphin pumps through our bodies, eventually the injury must be treated.  Depression is our temporary defense against psychological pain, but at some point, we have to deal with the “injury” that produced the depression in the first place.  How we deal with the injury is what our mental health industry is all about.  Alcohol and other central nervous system depressants slow normal brain function. In higher doses, some CNS depressants can become general anesthetics.  Temporary.  These measures are temporary, and can actually worsen depression.

An interesting tidbit I gleaned from the research literature is that endorphins attach themselves to areas of the brain associated with emotions (limbic and prefrontal areas).  Perhaps endorphins are involved in the onset of depression? I do not know, nor care.

Do I know how to “cure” depression? No.  Various treatments, combinations of certain drugs with counseling, are said to allow our minds and bodies to slip out of depression long enough to allow us to reprogram ourselves out of it.  The length of treatment, types of drugs and types of counseling vary widely. The results vary widely.

Having just come out of a three-year long depression (at minimum), I have some observations:

1.) Depression is temporary.

2.) It does not occur 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

3.) In all likelihood, we prolong our depressive state ourselves.

4.) Whatever caused the initial depressive response must be overcome.

Yeah, I hear you: Overcome? How? Beats me.  Drugs and counseling will help in some cases.

My best guess?

Here ’tis.

1.) Recognise that one is depressed.

2.) Trace the cause. This may take medical and psychological help.

3.) Eliminate the cause. This one is tricky.

I know that there are techniques often applied, common sense approaches, that may or not be accepted by all.  For example, I have read that grief cannot be overcome unless one goes through various stages, like denial, and anger, leading to acceptance.  I’ve found this to be true for depression.  One cannot wish depression away – that is simply denial. Accept that one is depressed. And then get angry.  Avoid violent solutions, because the depression will worsen, and be prolonged, but anger? Anger is good.  Get really fucking angry. Maybe one thinks it was all their own fault. Let me tell you, getting angry with oneself doesn’t do a whole lot.  What hurt you badly? What was the thing that drove you over the edge? Was it your boss, your spouse, your ex, your lover, your sibling, your parent?  Hate them. Your injury? Hate it.  Give it all you’ve got.  Hate your boss, your spouse, your ex, the negligent driver, the government regulation, the politician?  Hate them.  Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate.  Give into it.  Feel the vindication, the release, the shifting of the pain from yourself somewhere else.  When you’ve gotten the focus off of you and onto the cause, let it go.  Forget? No.  We can never forget.  But we can let the anger go, and the pain goes with it.  Then focus on change.  Get away from the source of the pain if you can, or confront it. Attempt to change the situation that caused the pain in the first place.  We all know what we have to do.  If we don’t, the pain will hit us again, and we will be depressed again.

In my opinion.

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