Appearances can be deceiving. Just ask Melissa Drake.
The 50-year-old author and counselor from Southern California says she’s been doing well, owning a home, and raising an amazing son. From the outside, her life seemed pretty good. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Inside, Drake was in a life-and-death struggle with major depressive disorder — a diagnosis she received at the age of 20.
She admits that it’s hard to explain what it’s like to live with the condition. “I often describe depression as ‘everything and nothing at once,’ because there was nothing there truly Wrong, but that’s it Poetry error at the same time.
Drake is not alone in her feelings.
People often say there is no reason for them to be depressed, but they are, says Shauna Newman, MD, a psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. She adds that some describe severe depression as if they were living under a cloud or walking through mud.
But a closer look reveals identifiable clues that could point to major depression.
Symptoms of major depression
Depression is not just a feeling of sadness or gloom. Newman says it’s normal to feel bad about losing a job, the death of a loved one, or any other sad event. The difference is that the symptoms of major depression last at least two weeks, are very deep, and are not at all normal for you. Here are some changes you may see in yourself if you are suffering from major depression:
Melancholy, emptiness, or nervous mood. You don’t seem to shake a bad mood. You may also be nervous. If you’re usually cheerful and you’re constantly turning weirdly cranky, it could be depression.
loss of interest You may turn away from friends or loved ones, or stop doing things you used to enjoy. You may also lose interest in sex.
sleep problems You may find it difficult to sleep, or you may toss and turn throughout the night. On the flip side, you may sleep more than usual or take naps during the day.
A change in eating habits. You may lose interest in food and lose weight, or you may start eating a lot and gain weight.
Lack of focus. Work may become difficult because you cannot focus on it. Many people describe this as “brain fog.” You can also see this loss of focus in your home life, social life, personal relationships and conversations.
changes in energy. Extreme weakness and fatigue may make it difficult or impossible to peel yourself off the couch or get out of bed. In contrast, you may be full of energy and feel restless or shifty in your chair or bed to try to get comfortable.
Despair. You may have a gloomy outlook and not see a way out of your depression.
Thoughts of death. These thoughts can range from thoughts like “It would be fine with me if I didn’t just wake up” to active suicidal thoughts or actions, Newman says. Developing a plan to kill yourself or take an action (such as buying a drug for an overdose) takes these ideas to the next level. It’s not common, but sometimes people with major depressive disorder also have thoughts of death.
If you feel you may harm yourself or others, call 911 immediately.
Get professional help if you have symptoms of major depression or if you’re not sure why you’re feeling so bad. Therapies such as medicine, talk therapy, and others can work wonders. Opening up to a therapist often gives people a sense of relief right away, Newman says.
Melissa Drake’s symptoms of depression
Drake’s depression was severe at times. “I’ve attempted suicide once, I’ve thought about it several more times, hospitalization has been recommended, and I’ve been on severe medication for over 20 years.” Her most immediate symptoms were extreme fatigue and a general feeling of illness (malaise).
For 7 years, Drake was practically bedridden, getting up only to go to work and take care of her son as a single parent. “There were times when I didn’t do laundry or housework for months while piles of mail lay untouched for years.” Although she was spending most of her time in bed, insomnia kept her awake at night and bathing and self-care weren’t there.
“I was constantly numb, avoiding feelings and stuffing them with food. I put on weight and bulged to 307 pounds.”
Drake describes her lowest point to show how bad her depression is: “I have two dogs that I adore. They are always in bed with me. One day, one of them vomited in my bed. As dogs sometimes do, the other dog ate the vomit. I rolled over and went back to sleep. I didn’t even bother to change my sheets.” – for weeks.
Drake finds peace
The most important decision Drake made was finding a therapist. “It wasn’t until I understood and accepted that I had to do the work to recover and start taking steps toward recovery that I started to get better.”
She wanted someone who wouldn’t just rant but hold Drake accountable for the better life she said she wanted. “That’s what I did and I’m so grateful.”
Once she got out of the woods, Drake says, she started looking for things she enjoyed. I started dancing. “It was the medicine I needed to heal. It stopped me and put me back in my body.”
2020 has been an especially difficult year for Drake. But today it works fine. “Not perfect by any means, but I’ve come a long way since I’ve been in bed for 7 years. I have a job that I love, I have a great group of friends, and I enjoy dancing and nature,” says Drake. “Even in difficult times, my outlook is generally positive.”
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