As 2021 shows no immediate signs of lightening the emotional load of the past year, Hannah Patterson explores how you can tell when you’re having just another bad day and when it’s something more serious.
We’ve all had days where we wake up and feel like the world is just too much – days where we feel like pulling the covers over our head and going back to sleep, turning off the alarm, ignoring the calls and pretty much taking a pass on the world of the living. The likelihood is in this past year you’ve had more of them than ever before. The world has been particularly hellscape-esque and a lot of us have had less to motivate us, so it’s normal we’d be less vivacious than usual. But what’s a normal bad day, and what’s a mental health condition? How do you know when to just shake it off and when to see a doctor? For me, there are a few red flags to be aware of.
One of my answers is in the question: if you can’t shake it off, there’s likely a reason why. The odd duvet day is a fairly normal part of life, but usually, after a day or two of feeling miserable, I can manage to get myself out of bed and showered, leave the house and integrate (relatively) seamlessly into the real world. If I’m able to achieve all this and I start to feel a little more human, I can say that I’ve probably just been feeling some kind of way. But in times when my mental health has been in a genuine dip, my normal daily activities haven’t helped me feel like myself – quite the opposite, actually. I feel like an actor hired to play myself and I haven’t learned the lines, and no amount of normal everyday tasks make me feel more like my normal everyday self. If this goes on for a few days or more, I can usually say it’s time to seek some help.
Another major red flag for many is appetite. While some say the heart is closest to the soul, I firmly believe it’s the stomach. Changes in the way we eat and feel about food are usually pretty good indications of what’s going on underneath. For me, this usually displays as not eating anything all day, then binging on unhealthy food late at night. Other people might find that food doesn’t taste the same way it did before, or that eating is just more of an effort than it was before. If you were once a big fan of making a complex meal a few times a week but now can’t face more than tea and toast, or if food doesn’t occur to you until someone points out you haven’t been eating, it might indicate something a little deeper is going on.
Unfortunately, alcohol consumption is another common issue linked with depression, and it can easily be hidden in the university lifestyle. I am a big fan of a glass of red wine (or three) after a long day at work, and I’ll be the first to hold up my hands and say I drink more than I should. But when I find myself needing to take a drink every evening, not because I want it but because I need it to cope, I usually know I have a problem on my hands. I also know that sometimes drinking can help me fall asleep, which is something I struggle with when my mental health is poor. If you’re feeling like you need to drink to feel numb/feel something, or to get to sleep/wake yourself up, there’s likely an issue you’re not addressing.
I also tend to lose interest in having sex/masturbating or notice an inability to achieve orgasm from either (and really, what’s the point then). Often I feel like I would like to have sex but the idea of being naked is too horrifying, or the amount of energy involved is just more than I have to give. I had always assumed low libido meant not wanting to have sex, but what is even worse is wanting it but not being able to motivate your body to play along. For me, this is one of the biggest red flags I can experience. Usually, if I’m in a bad mood or have had a few rough days I’ll lean on my partner for physical and emotional support, but when I am Feeling Depressed, I withdraw in all ways. This can be really difficult, as mental health issues can put a massive strain on a relationship – and it’s important to remember that although your mental health issues are in no way your fault, they’re not your partners either. Communication, as every self-help article ever has already said, is vital here. If you’re worried that your relationship is suffering because of your mental health, don’t be afraid to talk to your partner about it. If they don’t want to work on it or don’t care, that will probably tell you all you need to know.
It’s important to say that this article is by no means an exhaustive list of signs and symptoms of depression. Every person has different experiences and different limits of what their own normal is. However, there are no points in this life for bravery – if you feel like you’re struggling, seek help: from a GP (and remember if you feel you are in a mental health crisis that can’t wait until GP hours you can ring 111), from a friend, or from the numbers listed below, which are just some of the options out there for a helping hand.
CALM – 0800 58 58 58 or www.thecalmzone.net
Samaritans – 116 123
Alcoholics Anonymous – 0800 917 7650
Relate (relationships advice) – www.relate.org.uk