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  • Writer's pictureDrew Kellough

Depression: The Paradox of Mental Health

Updated: Sep 17, 2023

Depression is a phrase tossed around a lot these days. It can carry all sorts of connotation. One of the difficult factors with depression is that the experience of depression varies among many people. Some people may have the quintessential experience of lethargy and having difficulty getting out of bed, completing tasks, and maintaining self-care. Other people can experience brain fog, numbness, or sudden bursts of energy that feel disorienting.

I wanted to write about depression to discuss some of the symptoms that are easy to miss, but also some things that can help. There is a lot of information about how to "fix" depression that I think misses the mark; it dismisses the paradox that is depression.

Depression reduces your levels of Dopamine, Serotonin, Oxytocin, Norepinephrine, Endorphins, Melatonin, and Cortisol, among a few others. All of these are responsible for regulating a person's happiness. The paradox with depression is that the chemicals and neurotransmitters that give a person the motivation and energy to heal and manage their symptoms are precisely the same ones that are depleted due to the depression. In short, the things you need to be doing to feel better are much harder to do, specifically because of the depression itself.

Depression can feel like climbing a mountain
Depression: The Paradox of Mental Health

Sometimes What Makes Sense...Doesn't

If you read someone's "how-to" on depression, there are a few things they may say about how to "fix" it:

  • Get exercise

  • Socialize

  • Follow through on responsibilities

  • Participate in your hobbies

  • Prioritize self-care

I mean, sure, those things are important for any human being's happiness, if you trust Maslow, anyway. What can be frustrating about these "how-to" lists is they rarely, if ever, communicate how hard it is to accomplish any of those as you are walking through depression.

It's hard to get exercise when you feel you are already running on low energy all day long. It's hard to socialize when you don't feel like getting out of bed. It's hard to follow through with responsibilities when you have brain fog. It's hard to engage in hobbies when you experience apathy and numbness about everything. And it's really hard to have some self-care when you feel like it won't make a difference anyway.

When therapists walk with their clients through depression, it is often multi-factorial and complex; there is no "quick fix". There is no catch-all "how-to" list to hack it. I think it is important to help clients understand that their experience is both unique to them and that they are not alone. Instead of quick fixes, I want to explore a more nuanced approach.

Symptoms of Depression That Are Easily Missed

  • You keep it together in public, but at home your living area is chaotic, disorganized, and messy. You may have dishes or clothes piled up that need to be washed that you just can't find the motivation to complete. Work responsibilities get taken care of, but you have a hard time taking care of yourself and your living space.

  • You are engaged and appear happy in social situations, but as soon as you get home, your body feels fatigued again and the depressed mood hits you hard.

  • You experience a lack of emotional regulation and get frustrated or angry more easily than you usually do.

  • Mentally, your personality becomes a blunted or numbed version of itself. Physically, you may experience slowed speech and your body may naturally move more slowly.

  • You begin to feel apathetic and cynical about things in your life and you believe that your cynical perspective is a more accurate representation of reality than your previous self.

  • You become disengaged with your friends and family, disappearing without explanation. You might have thoughts that your friends and family wouldn't want to see you anyway, or that they wouldn't want to be around you because of your mood.

  • You begin to engage in progressively more risky behaviors, and feel a sense of apathy about the risks themselves. You lack care about the consequences of the risky behaviors. You may have the attitude that "nothing matters anyway."

So Now What?

If managing your depression is the goal, don't try and fix it all at once. For example, if we know that the research supports that exercise increases Serotonin, Dopamine, and Endorphins that can help improve your overall well-being, we might start with a short walk per day. A short walk per day is a lot more manageable compared to starting an entire workout regimen. It's a lot easier to succeed at smaller tasks that can help you slowly increase your overall well-being.

If the example is to socialize, you may feel overwhelmed at the idea of going bowling with a large group of friends. However, inviting one friend over for a game night, might feel less draining or evoke less anxiety.

The key to these things is understanding your own threshold for progress. You have to do a little self-assessing to know how likely you are to achieve your goals. If the goals are too grandiose, based on your own self-reflection, then you aren't going to be as likely to achieve them.

Managing depression can feel like climbing a mountain. It seems impossible as you stare up at it from the ground, but the more steps upward, the smaller the mountain gets. If you would like to begin counseling services to focus on managing depression, contact me through the form below.


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