I have found that depression, in my case bipolar depression, amplifies physical pain (Mental Illness Means Physical Pain Too). Yes, depression brings about its own pain, to be sure, but additional to that, I believe depression amplifies the physical pain we already feel in our normal, daily lives. Stubbing your toe hurts, but stubbing you toe with serious depression feels like it could kill you. Recently, I wrote about neuropathic pain in bipolar (Treating Physical Pain in Bipolar – Neuropathic Pain). This is the kind of pain that your brain actually makes thanks to illness. It’s normally associated with other conditions (such as the loss of a limb) but neuropathic pain can happen in cases of serious mental illness as well.
Depression Amplifies Everyday, Physical Pain
But there is a pain to depression that is additional to that and that is amplified, everyday pain. I was serious about the toe-stubbing thing. Not so much that it feels like it would kill you, but more that it feels more painful than it would for your average person. Another example of this would be when water hits you in the shower. Most people find this pleasant but to a person with severe depression, it can feel like being stabbed with a waterfall of tiny knives (Why Don’t We Want to Shower When We’re Sick).
This type of amplified pain thanks to depression also feels more draining. For example, if I do something physical one day and then I ache the next, not only will the aching be worse but it will wear me down and make my depression feel worse, too.
Depression Amplifies Emotional Pain
And, on top of all of that, I believe that depression is an emotional pain amplifier as well. For example, if you break up with someone, that is naturally going to hurt, but with bipolar depression that pain can be all-consuming and extremely long-lasting when it wouldn’t be to someone with a normal brain.
In my experience, this is because my depressed brain is always looking for something to beat me up about so a breakup is the perfect opportunity. My brain says things like: “You’re a loser who can’t even keep a relationship together.” “You are unworthy of love and happiness.” “No one will ever love you.”
That sort of thing.
You can talk back to the type of emotional abuse being sent out by your brain but, in my experience, profound depression prefers to listen to this rhetoric, instead of logic, even when it’s clear the rhetoric is false.
Depression and Pain Amplification
And while I’m aware these things are happening, and while I’m aware that they’re coming from my bipolar brain and not real, per se, that doesn’t make them hurt any less. It’s sort of like knowing that your boyfriend is abusive when he hits you – the hit still hurts just as much as if you didn’t know why it was happening.
You could try dealing with all of this with deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, yoga, therapy, or whatever kind of coping skills you prefer, but, honestly, the only real answer that I see is to be less depressed. Okay, now I know that sounds kind of trite and insulting, but I mean it. I really think the only way to deal with this pain amplification is to go to your doctor and find a better treatment. Because no one deserves to live this way.
Image by Flickr user Ryan Weisgerber.