6 Unexpected Side Effects of Depression. ~ Lilian Surgeson

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sit lethargic girl alone

It turns out, there are lots of things that are harder when you’re depressed.

Everybody knows about the crying, the numbness and the lethargy. They know about the suicidal thoughts and the black wall in front of you. The more enlightened non-sufferers know about the exhaustion, the sleeping problems and the strange relationships with food and friends.

However, there are things, subtle things, that I’d been struggling with for years that were because of the depression—I had no idea until my medication started working.

So, for information for those who love and care for the depressed, and for those who suffer themselves, these are the things I couldn’t do before my meds started working:

1. Finish a book in less than six weeks.

Depression messes with your concentration. It never occurred to me that the reason I couldn’t focus to read more than a page or so of any given novel at a time was due to that. I thought I was just too scatty, then my meds worked.

2. Sleep with the light off.

The dark became repressive, heavy, scary. I couldn’t deal with the isolation. At my worst, it made me suffer auditory hallucinations. More over, my chemicals were so out of whack that I didn’t need darkness to sleep, I just needed opportunity—not even comfortable opportunity. Now, like people who aren’t depressed I have to have low light and take my time to drop off. I thought I was a champion sleeper, then my meds worked.

3. Keep my bedroom tidy.

The only things that make my room untidy are dirty laundry and used cups. Simple to manage you’d think. No. Not when you’re severely depressed. I just couldn’t seem to stretch the extra inches to drop my dirty laundry into the washing basket.

Never mind about when my darling partner brought back my clean washing and dumped it on my bed. Just put it in the drawers you’re thinking. For years, I never had the energy. My clean clothes would end up on the floor, mixing with the dirty ones. Mugs would pile up because it wa too much to take them downstairs. It was horrid. I thought I was just a slob, then my meds worked.

4. Leave my phone at home without panicking.

Modern life leads us to mobile addiction—people are always fiddling with their phones checking Twitter, Facebook, texting, playing games, whatever. I’ll be the first to admit I’m hooked on the internet. This wasn’t that. This was an honest to goodness terror of being disconnected.

I was totally afraid of being alone, not being able to contact friends – even if only briefly. Quick texts became a mainstay of my coping mechanisms. Just the ability to reach out and make human contact with someone, if only to received a smiley in return. It helped a lot. For ages I couldn’t go more than 15 minutes without checking my phone, then my meds worked.

5. Drink enough water.

I actually quite like really cold water. We have it freely accessible at work. All I had to do was fill my bottle, then fill my face. This was too much for me. Sometimes, I’d get to supper time having drunk nothing. I’d manage a small glass of juice or pop to stop my mouth drying out. I couldn’t bring myself to drink things that were less than amazingly tasty. It didn’t matter how much my partner nagged.

I didn’t understand the benefits of being well hydrated. In fact my constant dehydration probably added to my depression, it certainly didn’t help. I thought the whole benefit of hydration was a myth, then my meds worked.

6. Enjoy silence.

There’s a lot of white noise in your head, and when you’re depressed it hates you. It goes on and on about things that will hurt you. You can’t catch a break. I found that if I blocked the noises out with music, films, anything at all, then I wasn’t likely to have a meltdown over something that happened three years ago or the fact that all my friends obviously hate me, or one of the other bullsh*t things my head was trying to say.

It takes its toll, constantly having things rolling around in your head. Silence is restful, it’s good for the soul. I wanted to love it but I couldn’t stand it, then my meds worked.

I realise that it may sound as though I’m crowing because my meds work—and frankly anyone with depression will tell you that’s totally forgiveable, however I promise you that the intention was not (just) that.

I’m not the only one who has suffered these subtle yet pervasive symptoms of depression.



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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Tyler Burrus/Flickr

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Lilian Surgeson

Lilian Surgeson is a teacher and writer, and a depressive. When she’s not fighting with the inside of her own head, she writes stories and articles in the time she saves by not sleeping properly. Sneak peeks of her work can be found on her Facebook page, by following her on Twitter @LGSurgeson, or on her blog. She has two cats who like to help. They aren’t very good at it.

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anonymous Feb 14, 2016 6:34pm

OH, yes! Accomplishing any small task only seems to happen in the small windows of time when I have the energy – then I feel like a failure for not doing more. Being able to sleep would help, I feel.. When your life is a constant series of almost catastrophic events that are out of your control, and none of the many antidepressants help – what do you do? Simply surviving does not seem enticing.. I am tired. It never ends.

anonymous Feb 7, 2016 8:20am

So appreciated this article. What medication helped you, may I ask?

anonymous Jan 13, 2016 12:43pm

By adding personal details to the common list of symptoms of depression, you gave me a way to possibly explain to my family what's happening. Not that I necessarily will, I have found when I try to explain it to people who have not lived with chronic depression, they have the instant solution for me if I would just try it. I am able to cook but it takes all day to make a pot of soup where it used to take a couple of hours. But cleaning up the kitchen takes a week. But I don't mind living alone and my cat is somewhat helpful. I sincerely hope your meds continue to work and that one day I will find one that works for me. Thank you for your insights.

anonymous Sep 8, 2015 5:48pm

This list is on point. I hadn’t thought about the water before, but it is totally spot on. I would also add that cooking is also next to impossible. I get a CSA every other week in hopes that having the vegetables there will help me eat better. They go bad in the fridge. The effort of cooking and cleaning up is daunting.

anonymous Sep 8, 2015 2:11pm

This article is spot on, appreciate very much the author taking the time to write this piece.

anonymous Aug 14, 2015 5:36am

I could have written this. Every single word applies to me. I am so happy to have the light issue explained.

anonymous Feb 24, 2015 1:15pm

I have insomnia associated with major depression.

1. I would read 5 or 6 BIG books every week. Books have been & sometimes still are my form of escaping from the world. The house could fall down around me and I wouldn’t even notice.

2. As soon as I sat down anywhere, anytime I would fall asleep but couldn’t sleep at night without medication. That is now somewhat under control with meds.

5. Drank NO water

6. TV on as soon as I get up till I go to bed. I couldn’t and still can’t handle total silence.

anonymous Feb 24, 2015 5:15am

I so agree with the comments about physical debiliation, I don’t think anyone who hasn’t experienced this understands it. Another difficulty is the inability to answer the phone, reply to a message or make a phone call.

anonymous Jan 13, 2015 6:53pm

Tv or radio always on I can't stand to be alone with my thoughts

anonymous Jan 12, 2015 5:41am

I'll add body pain. Once the meds worked it was the first time in years I didn't feel like the tin man getting out of bed. I had no idea how physically debilitating depression is.

anonymous Jan 12, 2015 5:08am

The author has written beautifully about how depression changes you…& about how difficult it becomes to seperate out ‘self’ from ‘disease’. The one thing I feel it’s important to add is that not everyone has the same response to medication. Depression can be caused by many things, external or internal. For example, the number one response to Trauma is depression. Often there is also a bio-chemical component, but that is not always primary. Medication can help, can be the cure, or can do nothing. For me, medication was not effective, and made me feel as distant from who I am as the depression. I know the author was writing very specifically about her own experience, but I feel her observations are wonderful and general to the experience of getting well, medication assisted or not.

anonymous Jan 11, 2015 3:30pm

I'd add "enjoy music". I can't bear it to be on. Happy/sad/anything really.

anonymous Sep 22, 2014 4:55am

This is brilliant, it is such a struggle when you're in that place…even to stretch for the washing basket!!!! If meds help you enough to calm and think things through rationally, this can only help you. Good luck!!