Many of us know well the typical symptoms of depression, low mood and energy, sometimes to the point of being unable to get up and go to work or even look after your own personal hygiene, but there are so many other symptoms I have noticed and recognising them has helped me to understand and cope with my depression.
I have suffered with low moods since a young age. Whilst at school I was made to go see various counsellors, not very helpful when it’s something you are forced into. My lows can come at any time and can last anywhere from days to months. As the years have gone on I have recognised patterns, I am much more susceptible to low moods in the winter, as the nights draw in. It was during one winter when I was first diagnosed with depression. I had been having persistent headaches for some time as well as feeling nauseous, loss of appetite and increasing lethargy. I went to see my doctor, I had every blood test under the sun. After a few appointments with no conclusive results he asks me, ‘how is your mood?’ at which point I burst into tears.
The low mood hadn’t hit me fully until that point. Often my lows are preceded by a period of almost anxious energy, I had been keeping myself busy, too busy, in a subconscious attempt to not fall into that pit that was becoming too familiar. But down I went, the typical low energy returned, plans were cancelled, calls and messages ignored. I was working in a lab at the time and it was during these particularly low months I began to see other symptoms presenting themselves. My memory was cloudy, I couldn’t concentrate, my coordination went. I ended up becoming so clumsy I had to speak with my manager to change my workload, I had become a hazard to myself and those around me. A lab is no place to be when unable to think straight and constantly dropping things.
Since then I have started using these physical symptoms to try and monitor my mood. I often find they come before the emotional symptoms and can act as a warning sign. When I have a period of bad sleep accompanied by headaches and nausea I try to not run with that building nervous energy, I know that running from that black cloud only fuels it for when it inevitably catches up with me.
This year, like so many others around the world, I have been badly hit by low moods. As winter and the second lockdown approached I put more effort into finding motivation to exercise, I knew getting into a habit of regular, but not extreme, exercise would help as the nights drew in. The sleepless nights and headaches started. With many of my usual support lines cut off I busied myself with crafting and cooking projects. My motor skills went. Using tools became virtually impossible. I have anti-cut kitchen gloves which I started wearing again and became very aware of the rising amount of times they had saved me a trip to A&E. I had increasing feelings of frustration, my fuse was shortening. It seemed everything I tried to do was hindered by my clumsiness or forgetfulness and an increasing feeling of ineptitude. Sometimes I would spend whole afternoons going in circles thinking of all the things I wanted to do but not doing any of them, I would feel quite delirious at times. Whilst I do still get days of severe low moods and lethargy, I find these other symptoms to be more persistent. When my mood lifts and energy returns, often I find one or more of my physical symptom linger. They sit with me and remind me I’m not out of the woods yet.
I have previously let these symptoms get me down, bringing that cloud straight back over my head but I am now trying to see them in a different light. They’re my alarm bells, they’re there to help me. When I start to get angry at myself for not being able to do something basic I take a step back and try to forgive myself. I will add that task to my ‘to do’ list and find something I feel more comfortable doing at that time. I have found the courage to let those I live with know how I’m feeling, which in turn has allowed me to feel those feelings, no matter how raw they may be. I am learning to stop running, stop trying to push through the confusion and clumsiness. It will pass, there’s no magic wand, there’s no short cuts. I have to allow myself all my emotions and let people around me in. It’s a long journey but one I finally feel I am getting the hang of.