Depression and Perception

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The effects of depression on perception are profound. Cognition and all of the senses are dulled, deadened, and darkened. While I have spiraled down the depression pit in the past, everything seems to turn numb, dark, and/or painful. I’ll give a short thought illustration of how the senses, perception, and cognition are affected.

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A Moment of Depression

The clear, blue sky on a beautiful summer day fades to a light shade of bluish grey. I’m holding my favorite food in my hand, but I cannot smell it. I force myself to take a bite and it tastes like cardboard. My silky shirt feels faint, not even soft to my touch. I hear some of my favorite music from the past play, but it does not sound like it used to. It is not a matter that I’ve outgrown it. Instead, the song is darker, duller, void of emotion, and the notes muffled.

I trip over a pothole and tweak my ankle. I probably deserved that. I’m not worthy of any career I wish to pursue because I’m worthless and lazy, and can’t do anything right. A woman looks at me and smiles, telling me Hi. That’s just happenstance, and I didn’t deserve such a gesture. I deserve to die. Everything is my fault.

The world will be better without me. I’m a burden to everyone around me. How can I kill myself appropriately to escape this anguish? I can’t bring myself to do anything good, and going outside took all the effort in the world. I can’t touch, hear, see, taste, smell, love, feel, think like I used to. I can’t come up with any good ideas anymore. Nothing can cheer me up and all I get are glimpses of things that make me happy, if even that. All I know now is pain and loneliness. How about slitting my wrists so my family will be able to see my body when I’m dead and hurt them less?

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If you or anyone you know is going through depression, keep in mind the world of someone struggling with depression is very different from a healthy mindset. Unless you have dealt with depression yourself, it is very difficult to understand it. One can’t always simply get out of bed and do what he or she needs to do to get ready in the morning.

The contents in the thought illustration (or a similar context) are lingering in the mind of the depressed person. Perception spirals down easily, faster and deeper the more the depression progresses. The thoughts/lack of senses stick in the forefront of the mind and take turns tormenting the poor victim. You can think of it as a giant trauma loop that will not go away.

The best thing anyone can do for a loved one with depression is to be there for him or her. Hear the victim of depression out, and have an open ear, mind, and heart for him or her. Most of all, affirm loved ones with depression and tell them how much you appreciate them and why. Write it down and hand it to them, so they can reaffirm your words and/or pictures later.

I hope the illustration may help shine light on what’s going on in a depressed mind, and that it may help.

-theothersid3

Bi-polarized Perceptions Part 3: Rapid Cycling

A follow up to part 2 of “Bi-polarized Perceptions.” I remember especially right before my first break, after a manic episode had been revving up for 5 months and I was running on 2 hours a sleep per night for months, I experienced rapid changes in my perceptions of things. For 15 seconds, I felt like I was on top of the world, ready to change it, and then for 15 seconds all I could think about was cutting myself or worse, just to get rid of this unbearable pain.

My moods flipped back and forth rapidly: 2, 3, 4 times per minute: really manic, really depressed, really manic, really depressed. I forced myself to keep going. Often, talking to people such as the chaplain in my school helped me out and set my mood back up for a little while, before it crashed again. Still, it was some relief.

Along with my moods about things in general, specific things were stolen away with my mood shifts wherever they went. I’d love my mom, hate my mom, really love my mom, really hate my mom. I’d sense demons were there to overpower me, angels come and relieve me of my battle, then the demons would come back after the angels left, and so on.

I could make it through this calculus class, there’s no way I can do this class right now, I’ll finish my homework in about 5 minutes for calculus, I don’t understand anything that’s going on right now. Colors would become incredibly vibrant, then fade into almost gray tones; food became an amazing, delectable treat, then a cupcake tasted like cardboard after I chewed on it for a bit, and my mood plummeted again.

This phenomenon is called “rapid cycling” bipolar, and it’s a nightmare. I lost my reference points pretty quickly when I experienced it. Soon afterwards, around Christmas 2003, a family Christmas vacation made me snap when I couldn’t sleep for about 4 days straight. Mind you, I was not on medication nor was I diagnosed at the time.

Future parts may follow to “Bi-polarized Perceptions.”

Bi-polarized Perceptions Part 2: The Negative Pole

As I explained in part 1, bipolar has a tendency to skew, distort, and magnify one’s perceptions so that anything can become completely negative or completely positive. It’s possible for some people or things to be considered awful, while separate ones to be sublime simultaneously, whether you’re manic or depressed. It’s also possible for “bi-polarized perceptions” to flip flop about any given person or thing from positive to negative or negative to positive. It’s very frustrating. I’ll post about some experiences I’ve had with negative perceptions here.

Perhaps the best example of my perceptions being distorted were my perceptions about my mom. She’s a loving, sweet, wonderful mother in reality, but my bipolar blinded me from that in the past. Whenever I thought about her, something referenced her, or reminded me of her, I’d immediately feel overwhelming anger, disgust, anxiety, and sometimes hatred for her. All I could think about was something she said that morning that came off wrong to me, and all of the mistakes she made in the past. The positive things she did, said, and the love I felt didn’t even surface for a long time.

It was an overwhelming storm that clouded my mind’s eye. Yet in the big picture, that cloud was pretty small compared to all the good things I now remember, love, and appreciate about my mom. Yeah she’s not perfect, but no one is.

I also remember being overly cynical about things that became hurtful to people. For instance, my dad is an excellent cook, he has a passion for food, and he wants to share the joy of good food with our family by cooking good food for us. I now enjoy and participate in his excellent cooking, but it wasn’t always like that. When my bipolar was in control of me, I would make snide comments about how there wasn’t any point in spending so much time for something that’s gone in half an hour. I never complimented him on his cooking. Sometimes I would make hurtful comments about it.

All of this surrounded my skewed, distorted perceptions that food is meaningless and only good for making me gain weight. I saw it as gluttonous to enjoy food, and practicality’s sake called for spending the least amount of effort possible to consume food. After all, you just need the bare necessities of good nutrition.

I now have healthy, balanced perceptions about my mom, and I give my dad the genuine praise he deserves for his excellent cooking. I love food, and eat in moderation. Food can bring joy and vitality to me. Bare nutrition is really the bare minimum one needs, and who likes the bare minimum all the time?

In the next part, I plan to talk about how things can rapidly shift from negative to positive or vice versa, especially while in a manic, depressed, or mixed state.

Bi-polarized Perceptions Part 1: Other People

Bipolar can have a fundamental effect on my perceptions of other people. One reason why bipolar is called bi-polar, is that the person with this disorder can view a person as ALL good or ALL bad – one end of the pole or the polar opposite. This was especially true for me after my first manic/psychotic episode and diagnosis. My perceptions were fundamentally distorted.

I viewed my dad an angel, my mom as vile, myself largely despicable, a girl I was obsessed with as perfect, my aunt as a betrayer… There may have been a small piece of truth in my perceptions, but bipolar caused me to magnify these fragments of perceptions to the point that small piece was all I saw in that person. It WAS the big picture – missing the forest through the trees, so to speak. The reality is that all these people are good, not perfect, and that I wasn’t innocent, either.

It’s hard to have healthy, balanced perceptions when my mind wants to focus on one small take of somebody. It’s also very hard on other loved ones when this happens. It’s toxic to relationships. It destroys my self-image and self-perspectives.

Cognitive-behavioral-therapy (CBT), medications, and education about bipolar all helped me overcome this problem. The steps I took in the CBT I received were:

1. Draw something abstract about someone that seems distorted – say, what I feel and think when I see that girl

2. Process thoughts and feelings in writing using my picture(s) as inspiration

3. Write down a list of thoughts and feelings balanced

4. Make it a habit to think of the balanced picture of the person.

When I thought about that girl, for instance, my mind wanted to race about how wonderful and perfect she was. Instead, I “changed the train tracks” of my thinking by flipping a switch and forced myself to have healthy and accurate perceptions about her that I spent a long time processing in writings and drawings before. When she comes up, my mind can rest.

Flipping the switch that changes my mind’s train tracks is a hard skill to develop, and it starts small. Once  I could do that, changing the train tracks of my thinking became easier, and avoided a lot of train wrecks in my thinking and decisions I made.