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When Depression Heightens Your Sensitivities

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As I struggle to get off the train and do my grocery shopping, I silently wish I was home and away from the hustle and bustle of the world.

Monday morning left me exhausted from an emotional rollercoaster and bitter tears — And it’s only 11 a.m.. I am ready for this day to be over so I can go back to bed.

Don’t ask me why I am sad. I don’t have a reason. I feel overwhelmed, sad and angry that the sun is shining while I feel so gloomy and tired inside. I managed to get to a yoga class, which always makes me be more gentle with myself. Depression, for me, is equal to stagnation, so any movement that gets some adrenaline into my veins is like a life saving injection.

I’m not saying getting on the mat was easy. There was a lot of back and forth in my head about how I just need to rest. But walking hand-in-hand with my depression for over three decades has made me a pro (most of the time) at knowing how to handle myself in those situations.

So here I am, out in the world, puffy eyes and tightened jaw, really not liking myself today. As I reach for my shades, I realize the sun is really bothering my eyes. It’s like I have a migraine. I wish I was home — and then this thought started circling my head: I am overly sensitive today. My senses are heightened and I am aware of too many things. No wonder I want to hide. I feel so raw.

So I focus on the task at hand — getting my groceries and going home. 40 minutes later, I make it home. The safety and comfort of my apartment is such a relief. I am OK. I can go back to being sad and unproductive.

This whole experience left me with a new perspective though. Does the response of our senses somehow align with the symptoms of our depression?

When I’m depressed, I want to withdraw from the world. I’m unable to function in a world filled with overstimulation, a world that praises individuals who can function at the speed of light and tackle three things at once. I need to stay in and draw the curtains and pull up the covers and not be bothered by pretending to be busy.

I know depression is vastly different for each individual and everyones triggers are different, but the stigma around being a “highly sensitive” individual with depression can often make those struggling feel bad about themselves —  like something is wrong with them.

I wonder how many cases of depression would be handled better if we could simply accept that this is how we are and that we need space, less stimulation, dark shades, silence, a moment to feel our gloomy feelings and to walk hand-in-hand with sadness.

After all, I could still function. I made it through a yoga class, two train rides and grocery shopping. I just had to notice that my nervous system was overwhelmed by my senses and to proceed with caution — to focus on the internal and just breathe.

I could have probably made it through a day at the office, as long as I was given the space to be sensitive. The milder bouts of depression — the ones that come every so often — could be more manageable or last for a shorter period of time if they weren’t usually condemned as “antisocial” behavior.

If I were taking a vacation on an island and drowning my sorrows in drinks with tiny umbrellas or popping fancy pills, I would probably be praised. But if I stay home and nourish my depression, nurse my sorrow and embrace my pain, jaws drop in disbelief and friends and family gasp in anticipation of an intervention. If I schedule ongoing sessions with a therapist who nods their head for 45 minutes, I’m told I am well on my way to recovery. But if I dare stay home and feel sad and spend time with the parts of my psyche that have been buried deep within, I am damned to waste my life away and never be a productive member of society.

Taking care of ones mental health day is just beginning to gain recognition. People are just starting to realize that maybe we need a moment, an hour, or a day to just be where we are; to not constantly feed our brains and bodies instant gratification candy.

If we were to leave our computers constantly on with 68 browsers open, excel spreadsheets running and Pandora playing, it wouldn’t be long before it froze. If we were to have our phones constantly plugged into the running web of electricity, at some point it would fry.

It is not different with the human body.

We have limits. We should accept them.

We have feelings. We should experience them.

We have sensitivities. We should nourish them.

We have pain and grief. We should embrace it.

I’m not saying that clinical depression doesn’t sometimes need professional help or medication, or that therapy isn’t a great act of self-care. But sometimes, all we need is some quiet time; alone with what we need to uncover and face; to sit in our own puddle of tears or anger or disappointment so that we can better articulate what is causing us to struggle. And then we can seek the necessary help we need; be it a steady shoulder, a supportive community, time in nature or medical help.

I think there needs to be space between the 10,000 things requiring our attention so that we can gather our senses, experience our bodies and give our body and psyche what they need in that moment.

Not all depression is the same. Our triggers are different. So are our coping mechanisms. And some of us need to unplug and have space to assess our situation and figure out which of our tools to apply.

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Thinkstock photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz

Originally published: October 11, 2017
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