In my last post I spoke of the ever repetitive thoughts that take place in the mind of someone with depression. However, many people cannot understand where to draw the line between when they are just experiencing stress or if they are depressed. I can tell you in my personal situation, for the first three months of what I now realize was depression, I thought it was just stress.
How did I know the difference? Well, stress (to me) goes like this…
“WOW, so much going on right now. Tonight I need to go to the store, cook dinner, pack for the weekend, and make sure my pet sitter is lined up for when I’m gone. Tomorrow, I’ll go to work then need to rush to the airport for my 6 PM flight to this conference. It sucks I’ll be gone for so-and-so’s party, but I’ll grab dinner with them when I’m back! Plus, they’ll be sure to have another one soon. At least while I am gone I will get to explore a new city when I have some down time!”
That sounds stressful. A lot on your plate, but managing it all as best as you can. Let’s look at the same scenario in the mind of a depressed person.
“Ugh. I have so much going on right now. I will just skip the store tonight because I just want to go home after work and relax before I have to go to this conference and interact with so many people. Packing is going to be terrible too. How professional do we need to look for this thing anyways? The flight is tomorrow at 6 PM…the time I usually come home and wind down but instead I will have to do just the opposite, be around a bunch of strangers. Hopefully I get a cold from the flight so I can skip parts of the conference and people don’t judge if I stay in my room during some down time. Oh my goodness…and I’m missing so-and-so’s party. She’s going to hate me. I feel I always miss her events.”
This is more along the lines of depression. It probably sounds like someone who is just negative and not choosing to see the positives that the stressed person was still able to pick up on, but what it is hard to portray is the fact that the depressed mind thinks this is the only way to think. The depressed mind is controlled by the negative side to any situation – the streaks of gray. It KNOWS there are positives there, but it will not allow you to feel them. The FEEL of it is important, because you can acknowledge it but if you do not feel it, it is difficult to follow through on it.
It’s one of those ‘people who are stressed are not always depressed, but people who are depressed are always stressed’ situations. The imagery that always comes to mind when I’m trying to convey how my depression feels vs. how stress feels is this; imagine you are claustrophobic (and I so apologize to anyone reading this if you are claustrophobic and this anecdote makes you uneasy!). Now imagine you are claustrophobic and you are told your body needs to fit into the smallest box it possibly can. So you enter the box. You’re barely in there, let alone with extra room to move or to breathe. You are so constricted in every aspect of what you are accustomed to doing. You could not clap your hands EVEN IF you wanted to. Well, this is what it feels like to be depressed. Your mind is constricted to this small universe of feelings. You know there are more feelings out there and you may even want to feel them, but you’re so constrained by the disease that you cannot break out of the proverbial box that is holding you in.
It is certainly an uneasy image to think of. Almost makes you feel as if you are in that box, experiencing that moment. This is what each moment of depression is like. Just as uneasy, just as scary, just as tense. So next time you try to think of whether you are feeling stressed or depressed, try to remember that imagery. Think about whether you are in that box and if so, if it is something you feel all the time or it was just temporary. This will likely help you know the difference.
I would love to hear in the comments how you define the difference between “stressed vs. depressed” in your own life or even if you never realized there could be a difference!