The traditional and common model has it that there must be some event or stress in your life that causes depression.
I think that’s just wrong.
And my experiences over the years generally have borne me out. Stress does not cause depression. Getting depressed creates stress in your life.
One thing that correlates with the onset of my depression periods has been staying up late reading science fiction. Now, there are two possibilities of cause and effect.
One is that when I find a good book and stay up until 2 or 3 am, I screw up my sleep cycles, become sleep deprived, have low productivity the following day, possibly create stress and thereby trigger a depression episode. Sounds logical, yes? Especially if I do it two days in a row. So this theory is “Staying up late to read triggers a depression episode.”
The second one possibility is that when the depression episode starts, one of the symptoms is that I try to hide myself from the real world by escaping into a fictional one. And as for staying up late, well, 2 am feels safe, because no one else is awake. So this theory is “Depression causes me to stay up late reading”.
The first possibility sounds more logical, doesn’t it? There’s a clear reason why I should have gotten depressed. See, stupid me had to stay up reading. What an idiot, especially if he knows it from past experience!
The second possibility sounds airy fairy, even to me. I mean, how could depression cause something like that. And what caused the depression to start with? This isn’t even worth mentioning.
Except…the second possibility seems to be the correct one. Here’s why.
I’ve been tracking my moods daily since I started taking Seroquel at the beginning of June. And around the same time my brother gave me a new science fiction trilogy to read. Now it turns out that I couldn’t read anything for the first week because I was sleeping. Interestingly though, I didn’t read much in the second or third weeks either. I did start the trilogy, and it was not great fiction, but it wasn’t bad either – so I’d read a few pages here and there over the days. There was no burning enthusiasm to find out what happened next, and overall, given a choice of doing something or reading, I chose doing something. And since the Seroquel tended to put me to sleep, I didn’t read much at night.
Until the Seroquel stopped working at the dose I was taking and I started into a depression episode.
Usually, my depression episodes have a swift onset – usually over a day or so. However, the Seroquel interfered with this, so I have a few days of records of complaining of the onset of depression and days of low productivity. And then I have the nights where I stay up until midnight or 2:30 am, reading some books which I didn’t think were particularly fascinating a week earlier.
The late night readings follow the onset of the depression.
So in this case, the logical sounding cause/effect of possibility one is not correct. The more subtle scenario – in which the depression episode started and then external symptoms of it, like staying up late, became visible – is the correct one.
I’d actually like to extend that. Given my years of experience, I’ve generally found that there are very few external triggers for depression episodes – and daily stress is not one of them. My explanation has been that the depression episodes are probably triggered due to some biochemical process / failure within the body. The depression episodes then change our behaviours which are visible to other people.
However, since the biochemical changes are invisible to other people, the first they see of the depression episode are the changes in our behaviour. And then as the depression episode becomes worse, they then see the more radical changes in our behaviour, and assume these were caused by the first visible changes in our behaviour.
So while the general idea is that
incidents / behaviours in my life —cause—> depression episode
my experience has been
internal biochemical changes start a depression episode —which shows up as—> incidents / behaviours in my life —which then become—> more severe incidents / behaviours in my life
Notice that cause and effect are reversed. Depression is not caused by incidents. The incidents are a symptom of a depression episode that has already started.