I doubt anyone reading this thinks this athlete looks depressed. Yet, last year, in his memoir Ian Thorpe disclosed his struggle with depression. He is not the only athlete fighting this battle.
I venture that we each have in our mind’s eye an image of what a depressed person looks like, and it is nothing like this. I venture also that there is someone in your circle of friends and acquaintances, including work colleagues, who suffers depression and you are none the wiser.
Because that’s the thing about depression, it lives amongst us in many guises. For sure there are those so paralysed by it that their only way to cope is to retreat from life, be signed off work and withdraw from normal social relations. Such depression is more easily recognisable and it is what most of us think of when we hear the word.
However there are also those who somehow maintain a facade of functioning in a relatively normal life and yet, inside, are numb, empty, liking nothing, absent from their own life; depressed. They will hold a conversation with you, nod as they appear to listen. Yet, really, nothing, absolutely nothing, matters.
They don’t necessarily look sad, let alone depressed. She still styles her hair, wears lipstick and buys presents for her children; he works in an office and drinks beer with friends. If they are your neighbours, you will not register anything unusual about them. He may snap at the children and she may not smile much, but we barely notice such behaviours in our too-stressed-to-stop western lifestyles. It’s the same for everyone, isn’t it……..
Well, it isn’t the same for everyone. This is not something they can simply snap out of or a sadness or disappointment they will get over in time. It is not about thinking positive and adopting a better outlook, or just catching up on sleep or taking a break. It is likely they have been feeling as they do a while. They may feel so embarrassed at their inability to break free of this, whatever this is, that they have not even shared with their partner/spouse how overwhelmed and hopeless they feel.
Somehow, they have developed a coping mechanism, a way of getting through each day, every day, one day at a time. They probably have thoughts of how to make it stop, how to go to sleep one day and not have to wake again and do it all over again. They will tell you they are fine when you bump into them and exchange niceties. After all, if someone asks you how you are, you say “fine”, because that is what they expect and neither of you really wants to discuss how you feel.
The brutality of depression is that at the stage where the individual really needs help, they might well not be able to help themselves. They need those around us to step up and ensure they receive the support they need.
This is where a spouse/partner can play a crucial role. If your previously loving and attentive partner has withdrawn from physical contact and seems distant, it might be easy to assume his/her attention is elsewhere (with another person). In fact, you may be angry and frustrated because you feel they are neglecting you. What if though, the absence of hugs and kisses, the changes in sleeping pattern, the gain (or loss) in weight, the angry outbursts alternating with a taciturn refusal to engage, the lack of interest in new activities and in socialising are all clues….
So if you notice your loved one seems out of sorts over a protracted period for no apparent reason, find a way to be a good friend. One day you may need someone to do the same for you. It will never be an easy conversation, but it may be the most important one you (and they) ever have. I remind myself that this could be me. What would I want? What would I want when I am overwhelmed by hopelessness and inadequacy, believe I have no options and there is no point to anything (including me) any more?
As for how someone at the peak of physical fitness can be depressed, in my experience thus far ultimately the cause is always the same: a disturbance in the energy field. Yes, diet and exercise play a role in maintaining well being, but diet and exercise alone are usually not enough to resolve the issue.
Depression in not caused by a hormonal or chemical imbalance as we have been led to believe by the pharmaceutical companies with a vested interest in selling us drugs to correct such supposed imbalances. If it was, an optimum nutritional and exercise regime (such as that afforded to an elite athlete) would be a perfect solution. Enough athletes suffer depression to evidence that this is not the solution.
The issue is always one that requires energetic correction, even when it coincides with key life changes such as an athlete’s retirement, or a change in training pattern, for example after a major championship. That is why it can be resolved, and usually fast. Perhaps that is also why the real solution is not shared more widely; it does not generate wealth for those who profit from depression.