How long had I been depressed before the days when I couldn’t stop crying? How long had the subtle signs of depression been with me before I wondered if I should end my life? These emotions had been living in me for quite some time. Actually, it was a really long time that I had been depressing myself and making myself small in order to fit in and feel loved. Now, years after suffering that big depression, the one that landed me in bed for whole days at a time or on the side of the road sobbing after dropping my kids off at their dad’s house, I realize the subtle cues I missed that could have kept me from going down a long and lonely road. Had I caught these subtle cues, I not only could have prevented about two years of depression, but I would also have many more years to live my life to its fullest, do meaningful work and enjoy exceptional relationships.
The following are 4 subtle signs of depression that manifest themselves silently that I wish I had known a long time ago.
1. I didn’t have an opinion about anything. It’s totally normal not to have an opinion about what you do or where you go sometimes, but not having an opinion a majority of the time is one subtle sign of depression. Think about that word quite literally: “depress.” To depress oneself means to not express oneself, or, to stifle expression. Why might we stifle our expression in the form of not having an opinion? A big reason is fear of rejection. We may be afraid if we voice our opinions then they will not be met with agreement by other people in our lives, and somewhere inside of us we “decide” that it’s best to keep our mouths shut. It becomes more comfortable not to express our opinions rather than potentially having a disagreement, because conflict is uncomfortable. Many of us try to avoid it all costs. But what is the cost? The cost is depressing our expression of ourselves in our relationships, which ultimately leads to the other person not knowing who we really are. Then we become the type of person who says things like, “I wish my husband understood me.” But what we don’t realize is that he can’t understand if we don’t express ourselves. We don’t even understand, accept and love ourselves!
2. I stopped caring. Saying “I don’t care” is similar to not having an opinion, except “I don’t care” is about depressing our expression to our internal self. Sometimes we sincerely don’t have a preference, however, when we actually do but we say, “I don’t care” (either to another or to ourselves) we are lying about our feelings and trying to make an excuse to feel better. Using “I don’t care” communicates that we are not important and what we want is not important. We may choose to say “I don’t care” in order to be more agreeable. However, avoiding the outer conflict of having an opinion leads to inner conflict… Because we DO care that we have an opinion, but we are not expressing it.
3. I didn’t know what I wanted. This statement may feel very true when it’s coming out of our mouths or when we hear it in our heads, but it is another lie. Lack of clarity around what we want stems from our inability to express our thoughts and feelings to another person or ourselves. The inner conflict around what we want starts very early in childhood when we are taught the difference between “good” people and “bad” people. Unfortunately, some things we want in life may challenge the beliefs we’ve learned about what it means to be good. So we fear that others will perceive us as “bad” and we stuff those desires so far inside we can’t hear them anymore. We think we don’t know what we want, but the little soft whispers of the heart are under so many layers of self-judgments that we can’t even hear them — let alone express them. Sometimes when we can hear those whispers, but we think we can’t have what we want, we decide not to share those desires with others… or even with ourselves.
4. I lacked a purpose. Feeling like we don’t have a purpose is another subtle sign of depressing ourselves. Without strong opinions, without strong emotions, and without strong desires we believe that we do not know our purpose in the world. It seems muddled, but clarity is there — just pushed so far down in the depression that we can’t see or feel it. We are all here for powerful reasons in this world. And if you know you’re here for a reason but you don’t know what that reason is, you are not living your full expression. The continuation of that pattern could lead you into a deeper despair. Communication is at the heart of our ability to live with an exceptional quality of life. Opening communication with others is important, but communicating with ourselves and the world are equally important elements of expression. When we are not fully expressing our thoughts, emotions, and desires, we are depressing. There is no way to express and depress at the same time. What will you choose?