"Why Are You Depressed?"
Last updated: July 2021
I've said this before, but I've always thought of my occasionally ongoing struggle with depression as something separate from my personal fight against multiple sclerosis (MS). This was never some kind of logical differentiation that I chose to make; it just never really occurred to me that there might have been some kind of connection. However, when I really think about it, I can't deny the correlation.
Depression and MS
So, suppose (for the sake of this post) we assumed that depression is like any other MS symptom. In that case, you could probably imagine why it frustrates me when people ask, "Why are you depressed?" When you consider how many other MS symptoms tend to manifest without any rhyme or reason, is it really a stretch to accept that depression can be no different?
Drawing lines between causes and effects
There are, of course, many obvious factors that can cause MS symptoms to occur or worsen. Factors such as heat, stress, or lack of sleep (to name just a few). So it makes sense why someone would ask something like, "Why are you so fatigued today?" because, again, sometimes there is a clear cause and effect. "I think I feel so fatigued today because I didn't get any sleep last night. It was so hot, and the air wasn't working."
It's easy to draw a line between "lack of sleep due to summer heat" and "feeling fatigued" the next day. But that line isn't always there. In fact, most of the time (for me at least), I find myself wondering why in the world I'm experiencing some random MS symptom. Eventually, I just settle on the idea that my MS must just be acting up today. Sometimes the only reason there is, is that MS sucks, and that's usually good enough for most people...except when we're talking about depression.
"Why?" might be the wrong question
I mentioned how it really bugs me when people automatically ask me why I'm depressed when they find out that I am. This is because asking "why" something is or isn't implies that there is a reason, but again, sometimes there isn't. At least not an obvious one. However, it's not the people asking me why I'm depressed that I find so frustrating. Hell, I'll catch myself asking myself the same exact question. "Why am I so depressed?" What frustrates me is that there is such a lack of understanding among everybody (including me) about MS and depression in general.
There isn't always a clear line
I get it. Most of the time, when people talk about feeling depressed, it's because something actually happened. Maybe their cat died, they lost their job, or they just experienced an especially bad break-up. Cause and effect. Simple. But when you can't see that line? It can be hard to objectively understand the experience. Again, even I struggle with this when I'm the one experiencing these things. But just like there are random days that I wake up with a headache, extra tight legs, or a deafening ringing in my ears, there are days that I wake up feeling depressed...for no reason.
Depression is more than feeling sad
What you have to realize is, a lot of the effects of depression can feel more physical and cognitive than emotional. Sometimes it starts off gradually, over the course of days or even weeks, like the colors in life slowly fade away before I even realize they are fading. Eventually, I'll begin to notice that everything around me looks and feels rather dull and uninteresting. Colors aren't as vibrant, smells aren't as sweet, jokes don't seem as funny, and music seems so...flat. It's like the volume on all my senses has been turned way down, and all the rewards that everyday life has to offer no longer seem to be worth the effort it takes to get them.
Feeling "sad" usually follows, but already, it should be easy to see that this bout of depression didn't start off with me feeling low due to something happening. For no apparent reason, my cognition slows, and my body becomes heavier and heavier. I can't think, maintain my attention, or get myself to do anything, not even eat. Sometimes, feeling sad just feels like another symptom of some mysterious medical event that is primarily affecting how I perceive the world around me. Sometimes, feeling sad is just a small part of what an episode of depression can be (for me).
Things I usually enjoy lose their appeal, things I typically find pleasing become annoying, and things that generally make me happy make me want to cry. I could go on and on, but my ultimate point is that it feels like all the wires in my brain get crossed up, causing all my senses, the way I think about things, and how I feel, to be inaccurate. Just like how MS can cause you to feel hot as cold or cold as hot.
Why are you depressed?
So what causes depression? Why does depression occur in MS? I don't know, nor is it a conclusion I'm even trying to make here. My only goal is to respond to the question, "Why are you depressed" in a way that may help people understand that there isn't always a simple answer. There isn't always an apparent cause and effect relationship involved in depression. Sometimes, MS just sucks like that. I may be terribly depressed to the point that I can't function for weeks, even months, but have no idea why. There isn’t always a simple reason when it comes to MS.
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