D for Depression (eek)

Smiling or atypical depression

Today something amazing has happened. After years of feeling that my depression is somehow wrong, inauthentic or inadequate in some way, I read an article yesterday which changed everything for me in terms of the way I view it and my feelings of not quite belonging to the genuine depression club. The article describes something called ‘smiling’ or ‘atypical depression’ and literally every line of the article resonates with me.

I have talked previously about feeling like a fraud when I think about or describe my depressive feelings to others, and this article has helped me understand why I might feel this way.

Atypical depression is looking happy on the outside but feeling hopeless inside.

The symptoms of atypical depression

Atypical or smiling depression is characterised in this article by a knack for hiding one’s real feelings of low mood and hopelessness and looking like a normal, happy person on the outside. The article states that those with atypical depression “may seem like they don’t have a reason to be sad – they have a job, an apartment and maybe even children or a partner. They smile when you greet them and can carry pleasant conversations. In short, they put on a mask to the outside world while leading seemingly normal and active lives.”

This sounds just like me. But the bit that really got me was this: “Although people with smiling depression put on a ‘happy face’ to the outside world, they can experience a genuine lift in their mood as a result of positive occurrences in their lives.” I have been known to feel a surge of warmth  and a sense of joy at being alive when surrounded by family chatting and laughing, or being outside on a sunny day with a warm breeze circling my face. This high can last even a few hours, before the feelings of doom and pointlessness resurface.

Atypical depression is characterised by feelings of low mood and hopelessness, but presenting a happy front to the outside world.

I don’t wish to recite the whole article but I feel it is important to highlight the main symptoms identified therein and how they relate to my situation:

  • Overeating – this is a biggie for me and how my depression manifests most obviously, as I’ve discussed in other posts about emotional eating.
  • Heaviness in the body – this isn’t helped by my general excess girth but I do feel that sometimes even my head is too heavy to lift out of bed.
  • Over-sensitivity to criticism and rejection – big tick here; being criticised leads to feelings of rejection for me, and rejection leads to overeating and self-loathing, and so on.
  • Feelings of depression being particularly noticeable in the evenings – evenings are when I feel most hopeless, and the only way that sense of hopelessness can be subdued is through eating.
  • Needing to sleep longer than usual – my husband will testify to my awesome ability to hit the snooze button over and over again until I have given myself the least amount of time possible to get up, shower, get dressed and shove one of the kids out the door before arriving at work with a minute to spare.

The atypically depressed type

I also recognise myself completely in the description of certain temperaments more likely to suffer with smiling depression: those who anticipate failure more keenly than others, struggle to process and get over embarrassing situations, and overthink everything negative that has happened or might happen in the future.

I’m starting to realise what this all boils down to really, as I see these character traits as mere symptoms of a deeper psychological fear: fear of rejection. I can’t handle it. Even if I haven’t yet been rejected, the thought of possibly being rejected from something in the future is too much for me to deal with. I don’t know why; I can’t pinpoint a defining event in my childhood which may have culminated in these feelings of inadequacy, but there again I am the typical atypically depressed.

Atypically depressed people may feel all alone and like their feelings are not valid as they have no obvious reason to be sad.

Alleviating atypical depression

As well as the perpetual fear of rejection, which has affected my working life and relationships in the past, I know that there is something else ‘wrong’ deep down inside me, not on the surface level which can be seen by others. And this is where the article became ingrained in me forever, as it gives two suggestions to help break the cycle:

  1. Recognising that this is a real condition, so potentially serious that it can lead to higher suicide rates than typical depression due to sufferers not allowing their feelings to be validated by others or themselves. Reading this has allowed me to recognise my depression as being a real condition, not something I’m making up through a lack of anything else substantial enough to occupy my racing brain. So I am going to see if I can get some counselling, something which I have shied away from previously due to feelings of inauthenticity and worthlessness.
  2. Finding meaning and purpose in one’s life – something which is lacking in mine, at least from my perspective. Yes, I am a mum and happy to be one, and I am also a wife, sister and daughter. But I feel I have more to offer to others or to the world. Funnily enough, before I read this article I had already reasoned that I might feel happier by taking the focus off myself completely and being less self-indulgent. I don’t think of myself as an egotistical person and I always have great empathy and consideration for others. But actually I’ve realised that this constant ruminating and self-analysing is not doing me any good and could actually be wasting time and potential which could be dedicated to helping others. I suspect that through this I might conversely find some meaning to my life which could lead to greater contentment.

So, after I’ve pretty much recited the contents of the entire article, I can only thank the authors for bringing this to my attention and allowing my feelings to be validated. I’d like to think that I might also be able to more readily spot atypical depression in others. I am going to plough on with my plans to find some purpose and meaning to my life by helping others, and I hope that might start with sharing this post and highlighting this valid and serious condition to others who might also recognise themselves here.

If this does ring any bells with you at all please do let me know. As with all forms of depression the suffering is always alleviated somewhat by knowing you are not alone.

Atypical depression is like a storm inside your head whilst outside you portray only sunshine.

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