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3 Symptoms of Depression I Didn't Realize I Had as a Child

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I was not a happy child, but everyone thought I was. I believed it too. My grades were above average. I smiled and always had plenty of friends to play with. But I did these things because I was supposed to, not because I enjoyed it. I was 14 when I was actually diagnosed with depression. The symptoms were always there, but my awareness of them was not.

The first symptom was sleeping too much or too little. Sleeping has always been a problem for me. As a child, I woke up four or five times in the middle of the night — not from nightmares or anything, but just because. I didn’t think this was an issue. I would just stare at the ceiling and create stories in my head. It was entertaining. School, however, was difficult to get through the next day. But I thought everyone was like that.

The second symptom was excessive or inappropriate feelings of guilt. My mother had an untreated mental illness while I was growing up. Therefore, I believed it was my responsibility to take care of her and I did. I was her shoulder to cry on and I cleaned up all the messes she made after a particularly bad night. But, I often felt guilty for not doing enough. I shouldn’t play with my friends or go to school because I needed to take care of my mother. I didn’t realize that was out of the ordinary. Didn’t all children take care of their parents in one way or another?

The third symptom was loss of interest in or enjoyment of one’s favorite activities. I often went through phases of what I liked and didn’t like. To a certain extent, that is “normal” for children. In my experience, I would become completely obsessed over something, often forgetting to eat or sleep. Then my interest would be gone and I’d feel so lost. At one time, I was obsessed with drawing comics. I drew them constantly for a couple weeks. Then that obsession grew into annoyance, sadness and disinterest. All that work meant nothing, because I couldn’t make myself continue even if I wanted to. That hurt a lot. I almost had to grieve to be able to move on. My interest was gone, but the attachment was not.

As a child, depression was not a word I had ever heard. My peers and I were not taught about mental illness and so didn’t know we were suffering. I believed my experience was typical and people were just meant to suffer. Now I’m 23 and I wonder how my childhood would have been different if I had recognized the symptoms of depression and had some kind of treatment.

Photo by Fred Ohlander on Unsplash

Originally published: June 20, 2018
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