If anyone tells you that depression is a mental illness and so cannot effect you physically, this is simply not true.
Your mind and your body work together as one. There is a direct feedback system constantly ongoing between the body and the brain, and it works both ways.
It’s what makes Yoga, Meditation, and Mindfulness so powerful as combined tools to ease the effects of depression. Physically and mentally leaving us feeling more balanced, calm, and in control.
You know that feeling where you wake up in the morning and your whole body is cosy and relaxed and warm, and you feel like you just can’t get out of bed? Except that you can, and you do, every day. You just need to try.
However, when struggling with depression, that feeling of heaviness is not something that is so easily overcome. I have had times when I have been unable to get out of bed for days. Weeks even. In this time I often do not feel hungry, or thirsty, or anything else for that matter. I am just over achingly heavy. And there is nothing I can do about it.
And I am certainly not alone in this matter. This physical manifestation of depression actually has a name too; Leaden Paralysis. It can range in severity from being a nauseating fatigue and accompanying dull ache, to a full blown paralysis, where I literally cannot move, speak, sometimes even move my eyes, and can only occasionally muster up the energy and motivation to moan something vaguely coherent. It feels mentally like I have dropped into slow motion, the tiniest movements take all of my effort and strength, and make me acutely out of breath and physically spent. My mind is still there, whirring away (probably going off into full blown panic mode too by now), but I just can’t bring my body to move. I take my attention to the tip of my finger, and I can’t find the energy to even wiggle it. The more I try, the more the painful the ache of it all washes over me, rooting me to the spot.
I used to describe it to my partner as feeling as if my bones were full of iron. The name, Leaden Paralysis, seems like a fitting term to call it. A leaden blanket, anchoring you down from the inside out.
Leaden Paralysis is found in people who suffer from Atypical Depression (hands up, friends). This is a specific part of Major Depression. In Atypical Depression, you tend to have less of a ‘numbness’ feeling that is sometimes described in other depressive forms, and in fact you might actually be more likely to be hypersensitive and reactive to external forces around you.
Other symptoms of Atypical Depression, aside from Leaden Paralysis, include excessive sleeping (10+ hours a night), heavy fatigue on a daily basis, having problems concentrating or decision making, weight gain, and being more prone to suicidal thinking than with other types of depression. Of course, depression is different for everyone, and you may or may not experience all or some of the symptoms above. I personally have lost weight with my depression, as I have lost my interest in food. It just goes to show that everyone is affected differently, and you’re never going to be able to fit into the box perfectly. However, I know that it can also be oddly comforting to see someone else describing what you have felt and realise you’re not alone, and your certainly not crazy. When I first had this Leaden Paralysis thing happen to me I thought I was going into some sort of bizarre brain seizure. I’d never even heard of it before. Let alone experienced anything like it.
So how does someone deal with Leaden Paralysis when it starts affecting their lives?
The one biggest help I have found is to tell people.
Be as open as you can about what happens to you physically, how it feels, and what goes on inside your head when it does. I know this can be upsetting and sometimes scary to talk about, but you don’t have to tell everyone. If it’s a social event you’re missing, or work, or something like that – you can just let them know that you’re ill, and leave it at that (as far as employers are concerned, you are under no legal obligation to disclose any of your mental health problems with them, unless you want to, and they certainly don’t need to know about any specific medications or treatment that you’re on, so don’t let anyone tell you otherwise- if you’re continuously missing work for illness, it might help to explain, but you don’t have to go into any sort of detail).
But explaining it to someone that you’re close to can change the whole experience – of course, this means you have to do this before the paralysis kicks in, as you won’t be doing much chatting during it. Telling someone can mean that they understand what is going on, and can help you get anything you might need, and support you emotionally through it, as it can be a scary and exhausting experience.
Prepare yourself for when it comes. And that means acknowledging and accepting that it is a real thing. Don’t ignore it. Make yourself a plan. Be your own best friend by making it as easy for yourself as you can do. Keep your phone close to you so that if you do feel it coming on, you can call or message someone to let them know. Make the most of the time that you do have energy for, no matter how small that is, by looking after yourself. Shower, change the bed, and make meals for yourself in advance, so that at least you have something to eat. If you can’t do that, ask someone else to help you.
Try not to be alone for too long periods of time if it is possible (and when I say that I’m talking about spending days and days in your house alone). If you can, and again I know this is hard, ask someone to come and care for you, even if that means popping over once every other day. Alternatively see if you can go and stay with someone else. You may not be the best company, but at least they can ensure that you’re eating something and taking care of yourself on some level.
Keep warm. There is nothing like the cold to make aches feel worse. Run yourself a hot bath if that’s your kind of thing. Get yourself a hot water bottle, even invest in an electric blanket. I used to think electric blankets were a waste of energy and money, but honestly, since going through this, my electric blanket has become one of my most appreciated possessions. Possibly the best present that I have ever got for myself. Hot drinks can help too. Note: if you have a dog or a cat, pets are not just great company, they’re great miniature radiators too…
Stay calm and let it pass. Easier said than done, I know. But what else can you do in these situations anyway? If you struggle to stay calm, try learning some breathing or relaxation techniques (again, yoga is great for this) to help yourself through it without getting too worked up or panicked inside. Don’t try and fight it, or deny it, or overly rely on caffeine or sugar or something else to push yourself through. It’s not a case of ‘fake it til you make it’. You need to let yourself rest. So do.
Let yourself rest. Just as you might if you had the flu or a broken leg, the same goes for depression. It’s an illness, so take the time you need. Read or draw or listen to podcasts or anything else you might do in bed. Try not to waste energy beating yourself up (again see mindfulness, yoga, and relaxation techniques). Your body and your mind will try to get you through this thing, so give them the best chance that you can.
And keep resting. It takes time to recover and build up your resilience from these things. Don’t dive straight back into the deep end. If you go back to work, start with less hours, and build up your activeness slowly. Be prepared that it’s not always one straight line and you may have to rest more at some times than others. Above all, look after yourself and your health. Nothing is more important.
If you have any questions, please reach out and get in touch.
Hope you’re all really well,