How Do You Know You’re No Longer Depressed?

Written by: Jorinde Berben
Image credit: Jorinde Berben

This morning, during a session with a very capable counselor, I explained that I am slowly starting to feel that I’m getting better. She asked me: “How do you know you’re no longer depressed? What does it feel like?”

Depression is something that can sneak up on you. You’re feeling a bit down, or just more tired, don’t really want to go out much anymore, don’t enjoy life the way you used to… Little by little these feelings, thoughts and behaviours compound until you’re suddenly left feeling completely stuck and unable to perform even the simplest tasks in life (whoever knew taking a shower could feel so impossible?) It happens gradually, and when you’re in the depth of the depression, you look back and see that you were probably depressed for a while before you noticed.

Recovery follows a similar trajectory. I can’t point to one day in which – whoosh – my depression vanished. I’m not even sure it’s gone altogether now. At times, the same feelings and thoughts can pop up again, and I’m reminded of the fact that no, I’m not all there yet. I’m still exhausted. I’m still only just getting my life in order again. I still struggle with anxiety, with anger, with lethargy. But I am definitely no longer where I was in December, and I’m feeling more energy than I had in February.

So yes, I know that I’m recovering. I know because some of the things that seemed impossible, I’m now able to do. I manage to clean my house at times. I can see friends and not feel like I’ve faked my way through the entire evening afterwards. And most of all: I can make plans again. There are things I look forward to, again. I can even entertain the idea of working again without going into a panic, even if that work will look different for at least another year to come.

If you’d ask me to describe depression in one phrase, it would be: the complete absence of desire. That doesn’t seem like such a bad thing, right? Until you realise that ‘desire’ or ‘want’ is the reason we do pretty much anything of value to us. We eat because we want to feel full. We watch a show because we want to feel relaxed. We go to work because we desire the feeling of safety, connection, value, efficiency, etc. We all have our own reasons for doing something, but we’re all trying to fulfil needs when we do those things.

I don’t think depression completely blocks out the idea that you need something. I’m sure, in my depression, I was still pretty convinced I needed food to live, and a job to pay off my mortgage, and that social connections were important. I just didn’t feel any desire to meet those needs. And I was utterly convinced that it was useless and impossible to do so.

Now, I can meet those needs (when I don’t forget to) and enjoy meeting them. I can look forward to certain things again and wonder at the beauty of a flower.

When I was depressed, I couldn’t think of a single wish I could have in my life, other than not be depressed. And I was afraid that I would never want or desire anything ever again. That I would feel dead and empty inside forever. That I would forever be caught in an eternal winter.

As the sun rises again, as the air gets warmer and the birds start chirping, I see how Spring has slowly unfurled itself over the frozen ground. Up pop the snowdrops, the crocuses. Out come the first blossoms. And on the ground I notice a dandelion, showing me that all my wishes are still there, intact, waiting for me to spring back to life and act.

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