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The Difference Between Sadness and Depression as a Person With Schizoaffective Disorder

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Editor's Note

If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741741.

I have experienced sadness and depression, and I know there is a big difference between the two. Even though I live with a diagnosis of schizoaffective disorder, sometimes I feel sad, and I recently began taking medication for depression. When I experience sadness, I drink more coffee, a cruise social networks for something to inspire me, and I wish I had someone to ask, “What would you like to do on this lovely Saturday?” The last time I experienced some depression, I was experiencing some suicidal ideation for which luckily, I did not have to be hospitalized. My psychiatrist at the time put me on a low dose of an antidepressant.

My depression is a deep pool, and I cannot touch the bottom. I am about to sink, and I do not have a way to swim to the ladder or wall. I am surrounded by water and there is nothing or no one to rescue me. The pictures of my family on my office wall do not affect me. My mother’s pleas cannot break the wave of water about to swallow me whole. I must cry out for help.

In 2013, I was hospitalized for my depression for which I had no control. I slept a lot. I could not put into words what I was feeling; however, my doctors understood. I hate being hospitalized, but that was the only way I could leave the ledge and for my feet be on steady ground again. I realize now that my only way to save myself was to be hospitalized. Those doctors saved me, and I am grateful.

The depression reminded me of a similar feeling I had in high school. My dad would say, “Jason, it seems like you have a dark cloud overhead.” I did not know how to explain how I felt. If it were not for my friends at the time, I might not have survived that troubled time. I thought life had no meaning, and life was mediocre. Life would not pick up, nor would I reach that peak of a satisfied life. Now I wonder if I was depressed rather than just sad.

In my early years of college, I was only motivated to work hard enough for an average grade. I was in the depths of a ditch that had no way out. The only thing I wanted to do was to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes. I had heard of the word depression, but I thought I was just experiencing life. I thought life was hard for everyone, and I was just experiencing life like everyone else. If I could tough it out, I would get through.

About a year or so ago, I was having some suicidal ideation. I saw a vision of myself about to end my life. I did not think I was conspiring against myself, but these thoughts gave me some concern. I did not always tell my doctors about my depression or suicidal ideation, but that time I chose to do so.

My diagnosis was schizoaffective disorder which is schizophrenia with a mood disorder, but surprisingly, this was the first time I was treated for depression. My psychiatrist wisely prescribed an antidepressant for me. This turned out to be a huge moment for me. As a result of being on the new antidepressant, I now catch myself in moments of pure happiness. Despite living alone, I am not overwhelmed with loneliness.

Sometimes, I have moments of sadness that are different than my depression. Sadness can feel like tiny arrows pricking me throughout the day. Listening to music helps, and so does dancing. Yes, I dance with myself! Reading comments about the articles I have written about living day to day with schizoaffective disorder can also lift a sad moment and change it into something pleasant. Just the act of writing makes me feel better when I have had a sad thought.

Volunteering has been a way to distract me from sadness I might feel because I live mostly alone. I am the chair of the monthly veteran’s council where I receive my medical resources and enjoy the idea that I am helping to give a voice and representation to those who might be overlooked by a large system. I also volunteer for the SHARE Network which is a national volunteer group that allows people to share their personal stories as a way of helping others overcome their difficulties brought on by mental illness and other physical ailments. This does not only just make other people feel like they are not alone, but it makes me feel like I am not alone. The people who work for the SHARE Network treat me so well. We have become good friends. It is one of the best things I could have done for others as well as myself.

I also exercise about six times a week. Exercise is particularly important for my daily routine. It erases the dark cloud overhead and even lightens the negativity I might feel with sadness. I like writing the details of the workout I did for the day on a calendar. I do this because I like to see the progression of my workouts before I turn the calendar to a new month. I recommend to everyone to stay active, even if it is just walking around the block. Exercise is the best piece of advice I can give to anyone.

It has taken me a while to learn that sadness is something that everyone can experience, even every day. However, depression is something altogether different. It is not just an emotion, but it can be attached to mental illness. Given my situation, I must be alert to periods of sadness that can lead to depression. I am glad my psychiatrist prescribed an antidepressant when I needed it. I can talk out sadness, but depression must be treated differently.

Photo by Francisco Moreno on Unsplash

Originally published: March 17, 2021
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