By Sami Nicholls
Do you know when your body is telling you something is wrong? When I talk about warning signs I mean low-level symptoms that surface before more pronounced symptoms occur. You don’t wake up in the pits of depression, it takes time to go from your warning signs to paralyzing depression.
This aspect of mental illness has fascinated me for a few years now and I always find myself asking why these things happen; if we’re more aware of the warning signs on a generalized level then perhaps incidence of significant illness would decrease? Everyone is different so what might be one persons warning signs might not apply to the next person. At its core, however, depression is triggered by too little serotonin but of course, there is still a lot of debate surrounding exactly what, how and why serotonin re-uptake causes depression. This is why I love studying medical neuroscience, the weird inception-like qualities of the brain learning about itself is just so intoxicating!
I’d like to give a brief overview of some of my warning signs for depression, why I think it might be happening and what steps I take to try and help manage this. It’d be really cool if we could compile a comprehensive list so please share yours in the comments. I am currently experiencing these warning signs and trying very hard to not let depression sink its claws back in to me.
Insomnia. It always starts with insomnia, without fail. If your serotonin levels are ‘normal’ then your body will have a fairly typical sleep-wake cycle and your appetite will be regulated with this. As soon as I stop sleeping, I know I need to act fairly quickly. For some reason I slide into depression very quickly once it starts, so catching it early is crucial. There are three main things I try to implement when insomnia hits: have a very strict sleep hygiene routine, do not nap and practice yoga.
No concentration. Nada. Not happening. Focusing my attention on anything is impossible. I just stare my laptop screen or into the ether quite frankly. I can’t communicate because I lose track of what was being said to me or I can’t figure out how to respond. Of course this can be made worse by insomnia but the two aren’t mutually exclusive. All I can do in this situation is keep trying and setting very small targets, as little as 2 minutes of focusing on a task and building it up from there. I know if I can’t concentrate then my brain is struggling somewhere so the logical assumption is serotonin as depression will not leave me alone!
Feeling ‘flat’. The ability to respond to what your senses and emotions are telling you does not work properly. To me it feels like I’m in a glass bubble and it’s been filled with some sort of noxious gas that has left me with no affect whatsoever. This tends to happen alongside insomnia so I will be using those techniques to try and boost my serotonin levels but I also spend more time with my cat and try to seek support from my partner. There are a lot of areas in the brain associated with effective flattening and it is commonly associated with schizophrenia.
Those are the main three warning signs I experience. What are yours? How do you manage them? Do you feel medication helps?