We are often conditioned to look for the sad person when we think of depression. But that’s not always what “depression” looks like.
Oftentimes, those with depression can be invisible because they ghost you
That’s also known as isolating. It’s that friend who quietly turned into background noise and you wonder what happened to them.
You might even take their disappearance personally but chances are, the fact they are not in touch has nothing to do with you but everything to do with how that person is feeling.
Someone who is depressed can be irritable or angry.
My father had undiagnosed depression his entire life. He was finally diagnosed at 85. My mother called and told me he was cursing out all the nurses at the assisted living facility. I told her that he probably needed an antidepressant.
He was prescribed the medication and diagnosed with depression. Two weeks later, he was on his way back to being the happy-go-lucky jokester he usually was. My entire life my dad had episodes of intense irritability his whole life and I now know they were episodes of depression. He was a great dad, by the way, and he deeply regretted and struggled to understand why he was so mad during these periods.
What about my son, Charles?
I saw, a happy-go-lucky kid with a revolving door of friends. He carefully hid his depression with the mask of a clown. What you see in the picture at the top is what I saw most often.
When we finally got a diagnosis for Charles after a psychological evaluation I was shocked. I had thought about it but he did not seem to fit the criteria I was reading. People rarely do.
He would live with untreated depression, become addicted to heroin and die by suicide in 2015.
Some who live with depression can be anxious or simply appear lazy and unmotivated. In fact, I remember looking up, “Why is my teen so unmotivated?” I don’t remember it revealing So there are many faces of depression. If we are to prevent things like addiction or death by suicide and other crisis situations we need to move upstream and recognize early warning signs.
What signs did my son Charles show?
- Intense mood swings
- Frequent trips to the school nurse and to the doctor often with what seemed to be “phantom” symptoms like upset stomach, muscle aches, and headaches which were very real symptoms of stress and muscle tightening
- He caught every cold or virus. Depression affects your immune system
- He was cavalier about life taking unnecessary and life-threatening risks. Not exactly the same as a thrill seeker.
- Instead of isolating as most do, he did the opposite and surrounded himself with friends constantly because he was afraid of what he would do to himself if left alone.
- His sleep was poor and he often fell asleep in class
- His grades dropped
- His friends changed
- He started drinking and drugging despite knowing the risks (he didn’t care). It was his way of numbing the pain
- He talked a lot about death and made jokes about suicide and depression
- He was intuitive and a deep thinker and feeler. Things over which he had no control like a rap star’s death would unsettle him for months.
- He talked about some of the symptoms of depression in papers and songs he wrote
Those are the signs I can remember today and I know there were more.
Signs of depression are not just sadness and sometimes a person you know who is depressed won’t show signs at all. If you get glimpses of a co-worker or a loved one, don’t dismiss it. Don’t take it to mean they are hypochondriacs, lazy, or difficult people. They are probably suffering people.
So try a dose of kindness even in the face of aggression or anger. You may be surprised by their response of remorse. Connect with those you love. Ask if they want to talk and make sure you really listen. Without judging. Without shaming.
“People may notice these things and write me off as being lazy or just ‘not trying hard enough.’ Well-meaning people might even give advice like – ‘You just need to get out and exercise more,” or “Find a hobby you enjoy.” When the reality is taking a shower might as well be running a 5k. And the thought of actually ‘enjoying’ anything (as opposed to just distracting yourself) is hard to even imagine. And this vicious cycle starts where you internalize judgment (real or imagined), and you convince yourself you are just lazy or incompetent or ‘not good enough.‘ Depression tells you that you are just failing at everything and letting everyone down. That you are a burden. Depression is really good at lying.”– Jan, a person who lives with depression
Anne Moss, Adam’s Story is much the same as your Charles’s story, with a few differences, but still the overall same results. We cannot express enough the urgency of knowing the signs, seeking help, following through with medical recommendations and medications if necessary. The unthinkable can happen in a matter of seconds! For anyone reading this, please educate yourself, your family, and your community on the DANGERS of DEPRESSION.
Thank you so much for commenting, Andy. Both of us are parents who’ve lost a child. I don’t want others to see the signs after their child has died. I want them to see them beforehand. And not dismiss them. Because some of them seem so subtle but as a group they tell a story.
Hi Anne, I relate to Charles’ struggle. Thank you for honestly sharing about his life and his challenges. I was not the class clown, but I certainly tried to deflect my depression through humor and art. I really wanted someone to see my heart through what I did. Unfortunately I never really felt validated or recognized for who I was. It wasn’t satisfying and left me longing for something deeper. Found myself on the edge of despair more than once. My heart goes out to you and your difficult journey with Charles as he was trying his best to figure out his life. Thank you for your willingness to be transparent and share your journey with the rest of us. You inspire me Anne. Thank you for sharing your heart.
This is such a great comment, James. Thank you so much.
It makes the article so much richer to have comments from those with lived experience– to help us understand a mental health condition like depression that can be so misunderstood and with so many myths.
This quote–so powerful. I will be sure to use that and share it with the audiences to whom I speak, mostly educators, parents, and workplace managers.