The Gray Clouds of Depression

“It’s a struggle to do anything.” “Every part of my body feels like it weighs a thousand pounds.” “It’s so hard to feel happy about anything.” “I feel numb.” “I feel like a tiny gray dot in the corner.”
“I can’t function at work because I can’t concentrate. I feel like I am just going through the motions and wonder what is the point of it all.” “Nothing matters, everything hurts, especially the weariness, especially the darkness.” “Will it ever end?”

These are some very heavy statements. And yet they are very real emotions that have been expressed by individuals experiencing depression.

Depression — Who can say they’ve never experienced it? Most people can say they have felt depressed at times. Life is good at tossing us difficult situations such as the loss of a loved one, divorce, sickness, losing a job, or any other upsetting event that can cause us to feel sad, lonely, discouraged, nervous or hopeless at times. That is to be expected. Because those feelings are just a normal reaction to a stressful situation. If those feelings last for a short period of time, it might just be a case of “the blues.” However, if those feelings last for more than a couple of weeks and the feelings start to interfere with your daily activities you might be experiencing more of a major depressive episode.

I don’t remember how old I was when someone explained to me that the sky was always blue and the sun was always shining behind the clouds. But I do remember being fascinated by the revelation though. I suppose in my young mind I had always assumed that when I looked up at an overcast sky it meant that the sun had gone away and the color of the sky had turned to gray.

Living with depression can seem like the picture I had of the sky when I was young. In your perception of the world around you, it is always cloudy. Even on sunny days, it seems cloudy and gray. Even though you want to be able to see the blue sky and sunshine it feels like the clouds of depressions will never break to reveal it.

The majority of my readers live in the West Michigan area. And we know all too well what it is like to live in a gray world for a portion of the year. And most of us don’t like it! It has been said that we only see sunshine a measly 29% of the time from November to February. And in fact, some people experience what is called, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD.) That is a mood disorder in which people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year experience symptoms of depression at certain times of the year but most commonly in the winter. Hence the mass exodus that takes place around here called, “Spring Break” where everyone is scrambling to “get out of Dodge” in search of warmer weather and sunny skies.

That might be an easy fix for the “winter blues” but what if you feel stuck in a perpetually gray world no matter what you see out the window? What do you do then? What exactly is depression? According to the National Institute of Mental Health:

  • Depression is a real illness.
  • Depression affects people in different ways.
  • Depression is treatable.
  • If you have depression, you are not alone.

When a person has depression, it interferes with daily life and normal functioning. It can cause pain to both the individual with the depression as well as those that care for them. Doctors call this condition “depressive disorder,” or “clinical depression.” It is recognized as a real illness. It is not a sign of a person’s weakness or a character flaw. Clinical depression is not something that a person can just “snap out of” which can be hard for loved ones of the depressed person to understand. Most people who experience depression need treatment to get better.

Not everyone who is depressed will experience every symptom. They might exhibit only a few symptoms whereas others might experience many of the symptoms. Because each person is unique, the severity and frequency of symptoms, how long they last will vary depending on the individual and his or her particular illness and the stage of the illness. Women and men differ somewhat on how depression affects them as well as children, teens and older adults.

Living with depression can seem overwhelming but even the most severe cases can be treated. The earlier the treatment begins, the more effective it is. Talk therapy is usually the first step in treatment, and can be combined with the use of antidepressants if needed. Most adults see an improvement in their symptoms when treated with these measures. The key is to get a specific evaluation and a treatment plan. Today there are a wide variety of treatment options available.

Major depressive disorder is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States. It affects people of all ages, all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Between 5 and 10 percent of the population are suffering from the illness to some extent at any given time. However, the exact number can be hard to estimate because many people do not get help or are not formally diagnosed with the condition. The main point here is to recognize that if you are suffering from depression, you are not alone.

I find it ironic that when I started writing this article the skies had been cloudy for so many days. And with it being February I was more than ready to give the gray weather the big “heave ho.” But surprisingly within the last couple of days the clouds finally parted and lo and behold there was the sun and the blue sky. Reminding me once again that it had not gone away, but that I just couldn’t see it. With that being said, I would like to encourage the readers out there dealing with the darkness of depression to seek out help, whether by calling your doctor, seeing a therapist, or joining a support group — because help is out there.

If you would like to set up an appointment with me (Kris Henderson) you can reach me at 616-516-1570. I look forward to helping you break through that persistent cloudiness so you can enjoy the blue sky and shining sun that has been waiting to be revealed just above your gray clouds.