John Bokma Mind
freelance Perl programmer

Depression and aggression

Leave me alone | 80 comments

When I feel very depressed, or maybe a better way of saying: when I am very depressed, I can handle very little stress. I am irritable. Very small things can make me snap completely, and this is very hard to handle for the people around me.

Irritable: reasons

For outsiders it's very hard to understand why I am irritable. Some people perceive me as short tempered and even aggressive when I am depressed. In reality I am very emotional and far from aggressive. So why does this change when I am having a depression? Do I change?

I give several reasons below and explain them:

Insomnia: lack of sleep

Often in a depressive episode I either sleep a lot (sometimes 18 hours a day), or I have catnaps followed by several hours of walking around like a zombie. It's easy to understand that not resting well causes irritation. Imagine getting ice cold water over yourself in the middle of the night. Are you an aggressive person? Or just not amused, and expressing that in an "exaggerated" way?

When I am depressive I often feel tired, not having any energy. Not being able to sleep good adds severely to this problem, and feeds the depression. Forcing a sleep pattern, in my experience, doesn't work. Staying awake when I feel tired exhausts me so much that I can't sleep when I am "allowed" to. And trying to fall asleep when I have been awake for just a few hours doesn't work either; I keep turning from left to right, and moreover keep my partner awake, and disrupt her sleep. This might result in two grumpy people in the morning.

One reason it's often hard for me to sleep is that due to lack of energy and depression during the day I can only do a few things. A thing that is often hard to understand for outsiders is that my overall feeling somehow improves at the end of the day. So when other people start calling it a day, I start feeling slightly better. And when other people go to bed, my mind starts to work in overdrive: I suddenly get many ideas. Things I wanted to do that day, but just couldn't. So I start to do them in my head, plan them for tomorrow. And before I know it, it's 5 in the morning, and I fall finally asleep, exhausted: a vicious circle.

Feeling useless

In the past, when I had short (1-2 weeks) depressive episodes (without even knowing this for depressive episodes), I stayed in bed. I slept a lot, and sometimes was able to read a little. On one hand I felt like I was lazy, profiting, etc. On the other hand, I felt very tired, had hard times concentrating, and often had symptoms of a cold. Back in those days I just thought it was just that: a cold, and that I was just overdoing it a bit.

Now I know better, so no more guilty feelings. In the past, therapy told me not to stay in bed. So I have been trying to get out of bed, and do something. But alas, not being able to do anything useful the whole day doesn't really improve my situation. Yes, I know that "therapy" prefers to fit one back into society, and society frowns up on people who stay in bed when there is "nothing wrong" with them. But does it really help? In my personal situation; the harder I force myself to do something the less I can do the next day, or even days. So I try to go with the flow: not forcing, but neither drowning.

Moreover, when I try to do something, very small things that distract me can trigger me, and result in an explosion of anger. I try to contain such feelings, but there is often a last straw. After such an explosion I feel even more exhausted, and it can affect me the next day or even days.

Concentration problems

As a programmer I work with my head. So not being able to concentrate means I can't work. Moreover, I can't read, something I like to do a lot in my free time. When I have a very hard time concentrating, how I feel can be described best like not having been able to sleep for days. It's like everything around me slows down, and I am floating in syrup.

When I have little concentration, anything that takes it away from me: sounds, visuals, even touch, I dislike, hate even. I get angry; snap.

Not being able to have fun

This is another thing that's very hard to understand for the outside world. People often think that depression is feeling sad because your cat died 3 days ago. Moreover, that you are exaggerating it, and enjoying time off, and of course attention to the max.

Sadly, one of the big disadvantages of a depression is: there is (almost) no fun anymore. In my case: things I love to do normally don't "work" anymore. I can't do them because I can't concentrate. But even harder, I can't enjoy things anymore since it's like there is a huge wall between me and fun. I can watch a funny movie, but feel nothing. The fun can't reach me.

Does this mean that I have no fun at all? Depends: I have had times during my depression that I had the feeling I was at the very bottom of a very deep well. To me that was the worse experience, I even lost the will to live, and was losing weight very fast. But during "normal" depressive periods I can have fun, now and then. Not as often as I wish, but there are times I can laugh. Another thing that confuses people: weren't you depressive? Why are you laughing? Mostly because I can at that moment.

Not being able to have fun creates two problems: I feel envious because other people are having it, and I can't join. The latter means that if friends, or my partner want to go somewhere, I have to explain that I don't feel ok. I know that when I go I will feel worse, because I don't experience the fun. When people don't understand this, they try to push me, and that hurts me, and I get angry.

The role of the victim: misunderstanding

I've often heard that I played the role of the victim. Sometimes in therapy, when the therapist was lost, and tried to kick me back, I guess. But also by people who I used to love. What does it really mean? When someone says it to me it means that the person doesn't like what is happening and tries to blame this on me. Is someone with a depression a victim? gives (amongst others):

One who is harmed by or made to suffer from an act, circumstance, agency, or condition

And I think it's fair to say that someone who has a depression suffers from it.

So another cause of conflict is: misunderstanding. Moreover, people trying to tell me how I feel and what I should do. Most have no personal experience with depression. And people who do have experience should have learned that you can't compare depression.

Irritable: what to do

Below I give a short list of things I try to do. Maybe they are good enough to count as general advice.

Talk about it

I try to explain the people who are close to me that I can snap very easy at times. I often try to illustrate it by saying: what would you do if tonight at 4 I throw ice cold water over you when you sleep. People who are close to me often understand this, since they have known me when I was not depressive, and easy going.

Of course there are people who don't understand, sometimes because they have no experience with it, and try to extrapolate what they would do in my situation based on their feelings and experiences. So sadly, they quickly draw the conclusion that I play the role of the victim, want attention, or profit from my depression in some way.

One thing I learned very fast at the beginning of my depression: you will lose a lot of friends. Yes, I still call them friends, not "friends". Since in my opinion they can't blame me for my shortcomings, hence I can't blame them for theirs.

So when I have tried to explain things and people don't understand, I give up, instead of creating a new conflict every time, and feeling bad for one or several days afterwards.

And in those cases people try to understand my situation, the following two items help.

Apologize afterwards

Even though I often have a good reason, from my point of view, to snap, I understand that this reason is not obvious at all for other people, so I try to apologize afterwards. Sometimes this takes some time, but I have learned that apologizing has several benefits, so I do it, even if it's afterwards, or late.

One benefit is that I get what happened out of my mind, give it a place. Otherwise it keeps running around in circles in my head, I keep thinking about what I could have done to avoid it, and how to do better next time. Saying sorry, and creating room for talk does help. Another benefit is that I show to other people that I am aware that something went wrong, and that it was not something I liked.

Avoid certain situations

Some situations can be avoided. Sometimes in an argument it's better to say: ok, I don't want to talk about it now, we talk about it later. Or just: I am too angry now to think, so I go out for a short walk to clear my mind. In the beginning this might look like defeat, like losing, admitting being wrong. But ending up in a fight, and feeling worse for days afterwards is to me really losing.

Conclusion: Aggressive?

Although a lot of people call depressive people who are short tempered aggressive, I am convinced that this is far from correct. You can't compare a short outburst with aggressive behavior. After I reacted badly to an antidepressant (Serzone) I was told I had to take anger management therapy. However, I guess most people who have had several depressive episodes have learned a long time ago how to control their temper now and then. Moreover, SSRIs (a kind of antidepressants) have quite a bad reputation regarding side effects, a fact that was overlooked by so-called professionals back then.

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