THE SOLITARY SADNESS
By Terry Villiers
We all have times of sadness. When we face a personal disappointment or loss, when things or people around us let us down, when we fail to come up to the measure ourselves, when things just don’t work out.
There is a deeper sadness that takes over when someone near and dear departs, when a long cherished dream fails, when we lose a chunk of our lives with the loss of something important.
This is part of life – and in time the sadness fades and we find new hope and meaning in life. There may be scars left, memories that are painful, but the day dawns when we no longer wake up feeling sad, when our loss or failure is not the first thing to jump into our minds.
But there is another sadness, which isn’t necessarily part of life for all of us, and yet takes hold of one in five of us at some time in our lives and doesn’t let go – a solitary sadness that takes over and hold us in its thrall for weeks and months on end, making life not only miserable but seemingly impossible. Clinically we recognise it as depression, although the term hardly conveys anything like what it may be.
A Personal Perspective
One writer – a former sufferer - put it this way: “I'm not referring to the normal down periods that everyone goes through once in a while, that can be brought on by a rainy day, a broken heart, the flu or even for no particular reason. We mope around, listen to sad music and feel sorry for ourselves. These moods go away within a couple of days, and we can enjoy life again. Clinical depression is much more than that, and is comparable to a down mood as much as a sneeze is comparable to pneumonia. It is an illness that affects a person in many different ways. It can affect appetite, sleep patterns, powers of concentration, and even slow down movement and speech. While the predominant feeling depression brings is often sadness or a blue mood, it can also be a numb, empty feeling, anxiety, hopelessness, loss of self-esteem or self-worth, inability to make decisions or a combination of these. Unlike a passing mood, clinical depression dominates a person's life and brings it to a screeching halt.” 1
It can come out of nowhere, for no apparent reason; it may creep up gradually over a period of time. It may be possible to trace some trigger events or developments, or it may not. It can make life seem meaningless and burdensome to the point of giving up – completely. When there is no joy or hope, where is there a future?
What to do?
The fact that one in five of us encounters this at some time in our lives means that all of us will be affected by this insidious disease. If it’s not us, it’ll be someone near to us. And since it carries no outward symptoms of something awry – it would be great if it could be tied to a rash or virus or something! – we find it difficult to accept for what it really is – an illness. An illness that needs help just like any other. So once the condition is even suspected, it is time to take steps just as soon as possible. (Putting it off only makes things more difficult all round.)
Beyondblue, the national initiative inspired by Jeff Kennett, provides a wonderful resource of information for anyone facing uncertainty over this. The website www.beyondblue.org.au is a mine of informative help under headings like: What is Depression?, Types of Depression, Signs and Symptoms, Checklists, Questionnaires, Risk Factors, Helping Yourself, and Helping Others. It provides links to even more information and personal experiences. Especially helpful is the list of contacts for medical help and people to talk to – a selection of which are listed below.
- GROW Support Groups – 1800 558 268
- Panic, Anxiety and Depression Assistance – (03) 9886 9400
- Beyondblue infoline – 1300 22 4636
- Lifeline – 13 11 14
- Mensline – 1300 789 978
- Kids Helpline – 1800 51 800
However, sometimes all this information and checklisting can be just too clinical, and the questions don’t quite seem to relate. The characteristics they work with are necessarily general, and for someone suffering from this solitary sadness that envelopes one in depression, specifics are more meaningful. So I’ve reproduced below “some un-clinical symptoms” as they are listed under the heading What Does Depression Feel Like? on the website wingofmadness.com.
How Depression May Affect Your Life
- Things just seem “off” or “wrong.”
- You don’t feel hopeful or happy about anything in your life.
- You’re crying a lot, either at nothing, or something that normally would be insignificant.
- You feel like you’re moving (and thinking) in slow motion.
- Getting up in the morning requires a lot of effort.
- Carrying on a normal conversation is a struggle. You can’t seem to express yourself.
- You’re having trouble making simple decisions.
- Your friends and family really irritate you.
- You’re not sure if you still love your spouse/significant other.
- Smiling feels stiff and awkward. It’s like your smiling muscles are frozen.
- It seems like there’s a glass wall between you and the rest of the world.
- You’re forgetful, and it’s very difficult to concentrate on anything.
- You’re anxious and worried a lot.
- Everything seems hopeless.
- You feel like you can’t do anything right.
- You have recurring thoughts of death and/or suicidal impulses. Suicide seems like a welcome relief.
- You have a feeling of impending doom – you think something bad is going to happen, although you may not be sure what.
- In your perception of the world around you, it’s always cloudy. Even on sunny days, it seems cloudy and gray.
- You feel as though you’re drowning or suffocating.
- You’re agitated, jumpy and anxious much of the time.
- Your senses seem dulled; food tastes bland and uninteresting, music doesn’t seem to affect you, you don’t bother smelling flowers anymore.
- Incessantly and uncontrollably into your mind comes the memory of every failure, every bad or uncomfortable experience, interview or date, like a torrent of negativity.
The most common problem at this stage is that we feel we can deal with it on our own, whether it’s ourselves or a loved one that is affected. Friends and family, even the person himself, often feel they can work or talk their way out of it.
Don’t ever believe it! Yet one recent survey found 75% of adults thought a person with depression could get better just by being more positive. It’s like saying someone with muscular dystrophy needs to work out at the gym more, or someone with acquired brain injury should do Sudoku. I guess there’s something very human in our inability to accept something we can’t see, touch, taste or feel as being a real ailment that needs medical assistance. It is anything but “a mood they should be able to control.” 1
So you need to engage the help of a sympathetic, qualified doctor to both get to the bottom of the illness and find the track to wellness again. For two very important reasons. Firstly, depression is a life-threatening disease. Secondly because depression is often associated with other serious illnesses and conditions such as heart disease, thyroid malfunction, cancer, auto-immune disorders, vitamin deficiencies, drugs and other medications. If you don’t get it checked out medically, a serious illness could go undiagnosed.
Don’t ever believe the myth depression can be handled on our own.