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Welcome to Coping, Episode 21.
I never realized how little I knew about depression until I became depressed. I didn't know, for instance, how depression can snatch away your sex drive, leaving you feeling newly—and involuntarily—asexual. I didn't know that depression attacks your attention span, your energy, and your ability to finish things. During a recent bout, I had trouble finishing magazine articles and movies. The number of emails I sent plummeted. Everyday errands felt like Herculean tasks.
But perhaps most surprising was the emotional numbness. Nothing about hearing the word "depression" prepared me for having a moment of eye contact with my two-year-old niece that I knew ought to melt my heart—but didn't. Or for sitting at a funeral for a friend, surrounded by sobs and sniffles, and wondering, with a mix of guilt and alarm, why I wasn't feeling more.
Tonic writer Phil Eil goes on to explore depression-induced numbness here.
Ask the therapist
Q: Why does my depression make me want to distance myself from other people?
A: This is a confusing, very real, phenomenon: I don't want to be alone... but leave me alone.
I like to think of depression as an entity, separate from you, and as something that grows and shrinks. There are certainly many behaviors that help depression grow: isolating yourself, over-sleeping, staying indoors, not eating, eating unhealthily, neglecting hygiene, etc. These are likely not behaviors you would engage in on your own without depression, but depression can creep into your brain and make you want to only do these things. It tells you it's all you're capable of doing, and then doing them worsens your mental state and keeps you depressed for longer.
The other part of my answer is that absolutely nothing is wrong with you for wanting to distance yourself from other people. It could very well be that you're not feeling yourself, and just showing up feels like it won't work or will be too exhausting. But if you can, you should fight these feelings, because sometimes your brain snaps out of its depressed state, even just for a little while, when you're involved with people you care about.
Here's my best tip: When you're depressed, do the opposite of what your body is telling you to do. So if you feel like sleeping till 2pm, force yourself to go for a walk outside instead. If you feel like ordering takeout or eating chips for dinner, organize yourself enough to cook a simple meal. The more often you can take a moment to identify whether what you are about to do will grow or shrink your depression, the more you can separate yourself from the thoughts and behaviors that depression brings on.
Michelle Lozano is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and member of the ADAA.
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