Depression changes not only the way you think, it also changes the way you see the world. It can be a hard thing to describe if you haven’t experienced it , but one way to think about it is that depression places a lens between you and the world around you.
This ‘lens’ changes the way you perceive the world and, to a greater or lesser extent, it changes everything. But you don’t know this is happening.
You can only see through the lens, you have no way to look around it’s edge. Because of this, you cannot compare what you see through the lens with the world looks like without that lens.
You may have people telling you “you’re looking at things wrong” or “you’re focusing too much on the negative”. They want you to focus more on the positive aspects of life but, because of the lens, you cannot see these positives.
Their message, as well meaning as it may be, is incoherent to you. Because of the lens, you are unable to see what they see. As an analogy, they could be telling you that the sky is blue but, when you look up and see the sky through the lens of depression, it is red.
You have no way to reconcile their viewpoint with your own. You can’t try to see it from their perspective, because that’s impossible to do through the lens. You can’t understand what they’re saying because every piece of information you have is telling you the contrary.
Because of this lens, everything you experience is tainted by the disease. Your entire experience of reality is distorted.
When people describe depression as ‘your mind is lying to you’, this is what they mean. Your mind is interpreting things as it understands them but, because of the disease, this understanding is fundamentally flawed.
This distortion is variable; sometimes things seem clear, sometimes it significantly worse, but it’s always there. There’s no way to see around the lens, so there’s no way to see the truth beyond.
One common symptom of depression is finding a lack of pleasure in things you used to enjoy. Again, this can be a difficult thing to recognize in yourself. From your perspective the thing itself has changed, so the fact you no longer find it fun seems perfectly rational.
It can be hard to explain this. When someone asks you, “Why don’t you want to do [X]?” you can’t give a clear answer. There’s nothing intrinsic in the activity that’s changed, but it’s developed a pallor that’s unappealing. And it’s a pallor only you can see.
This is another symptom of the disease, a distortion by the lens. The pleasure you once found in an activity is filtered out and it’s become, at best, just another chore.
Depression can also feel endless. The idea that things will change can seem hopeless. Since, when viewed through the lens, reality is fundamentally tinted, it can seem futile to think this will change. Because we think of reality as fixed and not something that can be changed. But it’s our perception of the world that will change. As the disease is treated, the symptoms will ease and that lens will clear.
It can be hard to ‘see’ that you have depression, since the disease itself distorts your view of the world. It’s a prison where every wall is made of tinted glass. Things can seem hopeless, they can seem that there’s no opportunity for improvement, but this is wrong.
With professional help those walls can be smashed. It takes time, you’ll need help. But they can be shattered.
Stuart Fitzwilliam is a runner and writer living in Southern California. Following his treatment for depression, he developed a card game, Cards for Calm, that helps players deal with anxiety and negative thinking.