098 – What Does My Depression Look Like?

On December 8th I went public about my journey with depression. Some of you may have seen this on the Occupied Insta and some on my personal FB. If not here is the post:

“Story time about a little photo project I did.

About 2 months ago I was depressed. My time management disappeared, I isolated, didn’t want to get out of bed, no motivation, tanked mood, drowning in work, barely left the house and all these things combined in a perfect storm of shitness.

This has happened in the past a few times even though only a hand full of people know it. Each time you come out of a depressive episode with new knowledge about triggers, coping mechanisms, your reactivity to situations and your levels of tolerance to even little tiny things.

This time, or the first time, I was able to remain quite analytical about the situation. This time, I understood that despite my feelings, a lot of the stressors I was experiencing had a time limit. I knew that I had about 4 weeks till the weight would start to lift. So, theoretically, if I could get through the following 4 weeks that I would start to “feel better”.

Now, it’s not uncommon for people with depression to try and hide it from others. The way I’ve described it is that it’s like wearing a mask. A mask put on for everyone else so they couldn’t see the real me. That’s what this picture project was about, what’s under my mask.

So 2 months ago I decided to see if I look different when depressed as opposed to when I’m feeling great. The first image, most of you will know but may not have known the story behind it, surprise lol. The second pic I took this morning. I tried not to have an expression in either pic, just my resting face. Same edit on both, and tried to get the same lighting, angle etc. I can see a big difference and that’s really heartening and yet a little scary putting this out there.

So, why did I post this right now? I don’t want your sympathy or anything like that. I was talking to a friend today who encouraged me to share. Reminded me that sharing my own experience you never know who might benefit from it. You never know who might hear something in your story that might help them along their own journey.

I want to normalise the discussion.

If you can relate to any of this, don’t be shy or embarrassed by it. Depression can happen to anyone. If you want to talk about it, I’m more than happy to engage with you.

Look after yourself, look out for others, stay connected and prioritise your mental health.

Some people asked for more, asked for an episode. So here it is. I hope someone out there finds it useful

Keep Occupied


Episode Transcription

Hi, on The eighth of December 2020, I made a post, both on my personal Facebook page and the occupied Instagram page about my journey with depression. And a lot of people asked if I could turn that into an episode elaborate and share my story a bit. So that’s what I’m going to do today.

So in about September, I took a self portrait, it was black and white, it was just my face. The background was blacked out. It was dark, it was moody It was me in a depressive episode. Now I had this thought. While I was sitting with that, and trying to sort through some emotions and feelings that I was curious as to whether or not I actually looked any different, while depressed compared to normal. Depression is something that I am familiar with. I definitely wasn’t the first time this has happened. The first time, I recall very clearly Well, the first time I recognized it as depression, I recall very clearly it may have happened before that and I didn’t pick up on it. But the first time that it really well that it clicked for me was in about 2015 16 I was feeling just so low. And I had constantly put it down to the fact that I wasn’t enjoying my work, I didn’t want to go to work, I was feeling bullied at work, I put all of this negative emotion that I was experiencing down to that simple fact. I can’t precisely remember the what triggered it. But I remember the almost lightning bolt realization when I went, holy shit, this is depression. It was eye opening to me for a number of reasons. Because it was like an instant shift in all of the emotions that were in my body. So it went from all of these emotions of flatness and sadness and low mood and that kind of stuff. And all of that was like instantly evacuated and replaced by guilt and shame. I was at the time working clinically as an occupational therapist in the mental health community rehab team. And I remember thinking, How am I? How am I helping other people if I can’t even recognize at the time what I was expressing to myself as like very basic, very, very simple depressive symptoms that I would recognize in an instant if it was with anyone else. But in myself, I didn’t see it for months.

That instant like no I’m talking it would have been 10 second moment was both freeing and terrifying at exactly the same time and unless you You’ve been there, it’s so hard to explain what that’s like. I all of a sudden had an answer to everything that had been going on for me for a number of months. I all of a sudden knew that there were things that I could actually do to assist to manage what had been going on with me. But at that same time, I had, like I said, that intense guilt and shame like how did I not see this coming? Like, this is what I do for a living? How did I have all people? How did I not see this? So in the lead up to that, and I described this in the post, and I’ll share the post in the show notes if you want to have a read and I’ll share the the photos that I’ll talk about in a bit. But I describe the fact that I got to a point where I wasn’t feeling anything i was i was numb. And I was essentially self aware enough to know that okay, say for example, that person said something funny. I need to laugh at that. That’s the social convention is to laugh when someone says something funny, so I would laugh. But I wasn’t actually feeling the the funny, so to speak. I describe it as wearing a mask. I’m essentially putting on a show to hide my own feelings, my own depression from everyone else. I didn’t want people to know that I was having a hard time I didn’t want the the pity the Oh my god, are you okay? I there is. And this may be one of my own shortcomings. But there is very little that drive me up the wall more than that. I know that it always is coming from a good place and that people do it because they care or they don’t realize the stuffs going on, I get that. But for me, and I can’t speak for everyone for me that that’s not what I need. That’s not what I want, when I’m talking about this kind of stuff. So please don’t message me saying oh my god, are you okay? I’m fine. It’s okay, I promise. So I the very first thing I did once I had that 10 second sort of realization lightning bolt was I was speaking to a friend, I was actually due to meet that friend for a coffee. And I spilled to her my realization built up the the guts to get over the guilt and shame to actually tell someone and she opened up that she understood she had been through similar. And she gave me probably some of the best advice to this day that I’ve ever been given. And that advice was that at times, that point in time being one of them, it’s okay to be selfish. And I know that is hard for some people because it goes against a lot of things that we’re taught and what we believe and how we should behave towards other people, etc. But the, what she was meaning was that there are times when you need to prioritize yourself, and you need to say no to other people’s stuff. We’re in a helping profession. That’s one of the main reasons I was in occupational therapy. And in occupational therapy. We’re in a profession that we give so much of ourselves and sometimes it’s hard to switch that off.

It tends to be the types of personalities that are attracted to that profession, this profession. So it’s not just at work, that this happens, you know, we generally fail in giving of our time of our resources, etc. But that can have a toll on us, especially when we need our energy. to focus on us and helping ourselves. So the way I interpret that, that advice is, it’s okay to take back some of that energy of your own and use it on yourself, it’s okay to go No, sorry, I can’t help you. Yeah, move house or whatever I need to look after myself for a bit, I need to you don’t even need that’s the that was one of the big freeing things, or you don’t even need to provide an explanation. You are an independent person that needs to look after themselves. So that was some of the best advice. And it’s To this day, I’ve talked to many people from this post, I had a number of people messaged me with their stories of either being currently in the same situation, or having been through it before. And I did have a number of people asked me for advice. And that was the exact advice I gave to them as well, because even though it happened, you know, sort of within half an hour of me working it out, it’s still to this day, some of the best advice that I’ve ever got, with regards to managing this, this, this demon of sorts. One of the other things, I guess I kind of turned it on myself to a degree. Even though that sounds really cheesy and corny, and, and whatnot, I, at the time, sort of had a look at my occupations. And I had the time, there was really only one that was making me feel anything that was a big thing for me, once I realized, like, I’m not like, I’m not actually feeling anything, happy, sad, angry, mad, anything at all, like, there was just nothing. So the only occupation that I was actually feeling anything during which luckily happened to be, you know, happiness, or joy, or whatever you want, it was making me feel good, was my my strength training. So for a period, I put a lot of stuff on hold, I pulled back on a lot of what I call extracurricular ot activities. So things that I would classify like this podcast, I would classify as an extracurricular activity, things that are ot related, but aren’t necessarily your job. I used to run, I still do. Like Facebook groups, I used to be involved in all my conferences, and I used to be involved in our national association and the state association and all that and I pulled out of me everything, everything, I tried to free up as much of my energy and my time that I could then redirect into me. And I ended up training more, I did the thing that was actually making me feel good. That was making me feel something, which I don’t think is uncommon. But I think what you’ll find is that for some people, it’s not always things that make them feel good, that are the things that are making them feel, sometimes people will have maladaptive coping mechanisms where, for example, something like cutting might be the only thing that will make a person actually feel anything. So that’s what they end up doing more of. So luckily, that’s one area where my clinical experience did help guide me and I was very aware of maladaptive coping mechanisms, etc. So that wasn’t something that I was going to do, per se. And I did that for a while. And what you find is if you are spending more time of your so you know, you’ve got a finite number of, say, hours in your week. If you’re spending more of those hours happy, then I guess your average happiness is gonna go up. When that happens, you start to feel better overall, that kind of leaves like a happiness impression on you on you.

And what you will find eventually is, after doing that for a while, there are going to be other activities that emerge that will start to make you feel they will make you not necessarily always feel good, but you might all of a sudden, things might start annoying. You, which is what happened to me. And initially I was did the typical thing, and I got annoyed. But then, after a couple times, I’m like, no, wait a minute, this is something I haven’t actually felt in ages like this is as weird as it sounds, this is a good thing. This is progress. This is me moving forward. So then you can, I guess, build on your strengths, to start filling your week, with more and more things that make you feel good. One of the things that I wasn’t able to shift was that work situation. So as we know, as all good it is, we can either change the occupation, we can change the environment, or we can change the person, I tried a number of things to change the person, me to be able to increase the occupational performance of that occupation, did not all work. Unfortunately, I ended up changing the environment, I left that job and moved on. And it was a decision that had to be made, obviously, with my partner, because it was a big decision, because it was a really good job. It was well paying, it was secure. But the decision we came to was that no amount of money is worth being sad. Like if you don’t want to go to work every day, if you if it’s a struggle to drag yourself out of bed. It’s not worth it. You better off being on unemployment and actually being happy than to put yourself through that. And I think that’s a very Western culture thing, to essentially work ourselves to death, which is just dumb when you actually frame it out and look at it from a distance. But most of us are too close to it to actually recognize that. Anyway, so I moved on. And that situation was then remedied as well. So I think I was then you know, doing something that I actually enjoyed, I went into teaching. And again, my week was then even more filled with activities that I actually enjoyed, that made me feel good, that made me feel. And my average happiness, as I seem to have adopted, the term went up. And that’s sort of gradually slowly how I started to bring myself out of that initial depressive episode. Now, since that time, I’ve had a couple. And it’s been the same process to come out of them. But what you learn is with each one, I seem to be getting better and better at actually identifying before hit. You catch it early are, you put things in place earlier, you may already have some preventative things in place. To stop you getting as low as you have been. But it’s still gonna happen. It’s seen for me anyway, I know not for for some people, it seems to be I guess more of a trigger thing for me, it seems more of a cyclic thing. So whether it’s hormones or brain chemicals, or whatever it is, I don’t know. All I know is my experience of it. So the photo that I mentioned at the start, so the last episode that I had was around September ish.

I took that photo. Because I had had a couple of these episodes before I caught it much earlier. And almost immediately, I already knew that I was going to come out of it, which was a big, big shift from the last couple like I already knew straightaway. I’m coming out of this. And I took that photo, almost as like a future plan. Because even in my head when I was taking that photo online, I will compare it to another photo that I will take in the future when I’m feeling better. Previously, I don’t even think I would have been able to get my head Have railed that concept of when I’m feeling better in the future. So to me again, that’s growth. That’s progress in how I manage it. The interesting thing, I guess, I when I took the second photo I hadn’t, hadn’t thought about it in a while. But I made the first photo, my facebook profile picture. Because, again, I knew that there’s no end like a definite endpoint where you go, yep, okay, depressions over. It just kind of fades away. And because you’re immersed in your own life, quite often you don’t notice it. And I knew that would happen. So I made the photo, my facebook profile photo. Now granted, I don’t go often, and look at my own Facebook profile photo very often. But it got to about the eighth of December, when I made this post, and I caught glimpse of it went, ah, how to sit back how to reflect went, yeah, I’m actually feeling really good. So I took the second photo, just to compare and see if there was any difference. I applied the same editing to the second photo, as I did the first like identical, like I literally, in Lightroom, copied it and pasted it onto the other photo, all the settings, I mean, I cried in both photos to not put any kind of expression, or anything like that it was meant to be just my resting face. And the the the same edit. So essentially, I tried to make the photos, conditions as similar as possible. So I could really just see if there was any difference in how I looked between them. And for me, I can see a massive difference. And I had a lot of comments from other people saying they could also see a massive difference. A lot of comments about my eyes. And like I can see all the differences like you know, I just look sad. First one turned out now, Barbara, that kind of thing. little puppy dog eyes, I just looked down, which I was. So there’s no shock there. But even the clarity of my skin is different. But the biggest difference I noticed. And then obviously other people notice because they’re messaging me about it was my eyes, which I found really fascinating. Because eyes, I think you don’t often think that they change. They’re just their you know their color. And unless you get a cataract or something you don’t often think about them changing. But there is a definite difference. I can’t even pinpoint what exactly the difference is. And I’ll post the photos in the show notes so you can have a look as well. And if you can work out what exactly the difference is then please do tell me but they definitely do look different. So I think one of the big reasons why I made that post was I wanted to normalize the conversation. I wanted people to be able to talk about their own mental health we have public mental health awareness days in Australia, we’ve got our UK day and that kind of stuff. We meant to check in on your mates and make sure they’re doing okay and that kind of stuff, which is cool, that’s fine. But it’s that kind of thing is is set up because people aren’t reaching out themselves when they need it.

I made that post in the hope of at least showing someone one person if it was one person that took this away from it then I’m over the moon but showing one person that it’s okay to talk about your own mental health like you don’t have to there is no shame, no guilt around, you know, not having a great time. At some point in your life like it happens. It’s normal. It does happen to be able and the sooner we get out of this like site or not cycle but we get out of this habit of you know, feel Guilt and shame like I immediately did when I first realized what was going on with me. The sooner we get out of that the sooner people will be able to ask for help, the sooner the conversations will turn, supportive and non judgmental, the sooner the services will start getting funded for actually helping people. The better and the the mentally healthier our population is going to be. And if I can help make that a thing within my friend group within my peers group within you guys, then why wouldn’t I? Why wouldn’t I at least try. So it’s definitely something I’m very passionate about. I’ve spoken a lot about mental health on this podcast, I’ve brought people in with lived experiences of all different diagnoses. And now, I guess you’ve got a bit about my lived experience. So I’m keen if you do want to contact me if you want to have a chat, feel free. I practically live on Instagram, you can get me in there on the Occupy podcast, Instagram. If you have considered doing I don’t know if anyone has, you know, done this sort of pre and post photo thing before but if you’ve considered doing it, or you’ve done it, hit me up, let me know. I’m keen to see if you can see. Or if you can work out what the differences is in between the two photos then yeah, please do. Hit me up and let me know. I’ll leave it at that for now. I’m sure you’re sick of my rambling but thanks for listening. And thanks for always supporting this podcast. It does mean a lot to me. You guys are the reason why I’ve done this for so many episodes now and continue to have no plan to stop. So probably props you and thank you very much.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai