Because we often think of depression as “lying on the couch crying,” many people don’t recognize what they’re experiencing as depression, especially if they’re high-functioning or have “smiling” depression.
But the most prominent and common symptom of depression I see is a lack of motivation. It can be anything from “I don’t care about anything and I don’t want to do anything” to “I’m too exhausted to do even the smallest thing” to “I want to do this one thing and somehow I just…don’t.” It’s also very common to function well at work, only to “fall apart” off the clock.
While actual proportions vary from person to person, few if any depressed people look like the “just sad” stereotype. A graphic in an article by Anna Borges depicts the discrepancy:
It makes sense if you think of what “depress” means: to push down. Depression pushes down your physical, emotional, and/or cognitive functioning, in any combination.
If your physical functioning is depressed, you may feel exhausted and achey or move and speak more slowly than usual (often without realizing it). You may experience sleep difficulties.
If your emotional functioning is depressed, you may feel low, sad, hopeless, pessimistic, guilty, or even strangely flat, empty, and detached.
If your cognitive functioning is depressed, you may have difficulty concentrating, planning and implementing anything, or trouble with memory. The “planning and implementing” piece is the brain’s executive function. This is where the motivation problems come in, and why a person experiencing depression can’t simply “snap out of it” and “motivate.”
Also in terms of cognitive functioning, you may generate a lot of irrationally negative thoughts (and you may believe them uncritically), or have thoughts of death or suicide. It’s especially important to recognize that suicidal thoughts, while scary, are a symptom of depression and usually diminish when depression improves, so seeking help with depression is important.
Part 2: When You’re Depressed