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Depression Doesn’t Look Like What You Think

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Karl W. Palachuk
October 20, 2012

After years of ignoring it, I finally face the fact that I was (am) depressed. Not just a little bump in the road, but truly, honestly depressed. I had been in denial for over three years.

Depression doesn’t look like what most people think. Depressed people don’t always lie in a fetal position doing nothing day after day. Most depressed people struggle through the day, doing what needs to be done.

As strange as it sounds, most people who are depressed don’t realize it. At least not at first. Depressed people are happy a lot of the time. I know that sounds strange. But a person can be happy in the moment and depressed overall. As with any other task, depressed people can put on a happy face – and actually be happy – a lot of the time.

Forcing yourself into smiling and putting yourself into “happy” situations can actually be very theraputic.

Depression doesn’t start out with feeling completely unable to cope. It starts out with feeling not quite right. Then you realize that it’s been awhile since you believed that you could conquer a big challenge. At some point you realize that you have more difficulty making decisions. Especially decisions you used to make very easily. You feel isolated. Even if you spend all your time with friends and family, you feel like there’s a barrier between you.

I’ve always been forgetful and distracted. I’ve always had to come to a complete stop in order to think things through. But with depression, I would stop and then not be able to think. It became very difficult to focus. I had to isolate myself to experience a sense of focus.

After spending 50 years being extremely positive, I found myself focusing on my failures. Instead of focusing on what I CAN DO, I focused on what I can’t do. I kept track of failures instead of keeping track of victories.

I never felt suicidal.

But I felt like a failure. I felt like a fraud because I only saw my defeats and not my victories.

Depressed people laugh. They love. They do everything that everyone else does. But all too often it’s a mask they put on so that they don’t have to be the person they really are – overwhelmed and feeling like no one can possibly understand.

My depression started when my wife of 19 years left me. She was and is clinically depressed. She has fought this fight for as long as I’ve known her. Her specific circumstances led her to stop trying to live the life she was living and move to something else.

She will never be truly happy. Not like the rest of the world experiences happiness. There’s an upper limit on her happiness. It’s not her fault. She’s not a horrible person and I can’t blame her for anything she’s done. A piece of me still loves her.

At the same time, she has been a part of my life for 25 years and losing her tore me apart. To be honest, it took me a few years to realize that I had not been happy in that marriage for a long time. But we cling to the familiar.

Having a life coach helped me phenomenally. Jenifer Landers kicks ass!

Today I can honestly say that I accept that you can love someone and know that you will never be together. Some things just don’t work. And then I fell in love with another woman who was also wrong for me. She showed me greater happiness than I had known as an adult. But we were also not meant to be together.

I had moments and hours and day of happiness.

But my depression had a life of its own. No matter how much happiness I felt in spurts, I felt a general sense of darkness and grey. The world was in black and white – with ocassional moments of color. Perhaps everyone thought I was happy because I put on a happy face. But it’s a bigger picture.

I worked hard to keep working. I disciplined myself to move forward. I found numb, mechanical things I could do. I took a full year longer to finish a book than I had any excuse for. I started and stopped projects that cost me thousands of dollars. One huge, massive push in my business lost me $300,000 because I could not focus enough to put my head down and push through to the moment of success.

Financial losses in the middle of a massive recession can be depressing enough.

But I can’t blame the recession for my depression. If there’s one thing I’ve learned through thirty years of thinking about life, it’s that 90% of my state of mind is determined by what *I* bring to the situation. So when I am in a positive mood, things roll off my back. And when I am in a negative mood, everything contributes to the bad mood.

In early 2012 I decided to seek help with my depression. Like most people who experience depression, I probably waited too long. It took one appointment to put me on the right track. But it took me eight months to realize that I was headed in the right direction.

I’m not saying I’m “cured” or that I’ll ever go back to being as amazingly happy as I have been most of my life. But the darkness is lifting. I know I can’t go back, but I also know that I CAN go forward.

I won’t presume to give any advice on this topic except, if you think you might be depressed, seek help. Talk to someone. All those people who “can’t understand what you’re going through” will be extremely supportive. And you’ll be surprised at how many of them understand exactly what you’re going through.

You are not alone.


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2 Responses

  1. Wow. Great post. Talk about honest.
    I am sorry to hear about your wife, and heck, everything.
    I can relate to alot of things. It’s pretty scary.

    I went to the doctors recently to ask for help, sadly due to recent cuts with the economic down turn there isn’t any mental health support budget any more.
    So I’m not sure where to go next.

    But I hate that feeling some days when you wake up, and you know it’s going to be a bad day inside.


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