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Depression: A Soul-Crushing, Treatable Illness

Lifted from my depression, I recall the vivid starlit sky, as if seeing it for the first time.

I lived with depression for roughly 20 years. The last two of those years were beyond description, other than it was soul-crushing. In his book, Darkness Visible, William Styron describes his depression this way, “The pain is unrelenting, and what makes the condition intolerable is the foreknowledge that no remedy will come—not in a day, an hour, a month, or a minute. If there is mild relief, one knows that it is only temporary; more pain will follow. It is hopelessness even more than pain that crushes the soul.”

Depression is the most common serious psychiatric illness. It is also one of the most treatable. Depression is a disorder that may affect your feelings and outlook on life. Persistent feelings of sadness, a loss of interest in life, hopelessness, and pessimism are common warning signs of depression. The symptoms can vary from person to person. Anyone can feel sad or blue from time to time. However, a persistent or unexplained bout of malaise—the blues—is not normal and should be evaluated.

The following are some common symptoms of depression:

  • Feeling sad or “empty”
  • Feeling hopeless or pessimistic
  • Fits of crying with no reasonable explanation
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Feeling anxious, irritable, or restless
  • Loss of interest or enjoyment in hobbies, social activities, or sex
  • Fatigue or decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, sometimes accompanied by decision-making and memory problems
  • Insomnia or other sleep-related problems
  • Appetite loss and/or weight loss
  • Overeating and/or weight gain
  • Thoughts of death or suicide; suicide attempts.

Depression may be accompanied by a number of other psychological as well as physical complaints. Persistent physical symptoms that do not respond to treatment—such as headaches, digestive disorders, and chronic pain—may be related to depression. Other physical complaints that may be related to depression include:

  • Panic attacks or phobias
  • Tight chest or throat
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Dizziness
  • Shaking or tremors
  • Gastrointestinal complaints such as nausea, diarrhea, intestinal gas, and stomach pain
  • Muscle aches and pains

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, many people with a depressive illness never seek treatment. But the majority, even those with the most severe depression, can get better with treatment. Medications, psychotherapies, and other methods can effectively treat people with depression.

Don’t be one of the many people who don’t seek treatment. Get help. I’ve been free of depression for more than 30 years, and there is no better feeling than to love waking up and feeling alive. Describing his recovery from depression, Styron quotes Dante, “And so we came forth, and once again beheld the stars.”

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