Depression describes a mood, which we can think of as an emotional climate. We can't always tell what our mood is based on a single day, just as we can't know for certain which season we're in based on the weather; one cold day in the fall doesn't mean it's winter, and one day of feeling lousy doesn't mean we're depressed. We look for patterns in our emotions and behavior and clusters of symptoms to figure out if we're depressed.
On the other side of depression we might not know exactly when it's lifting. At first we might not notice the improvements, like the imperceptible lengthening of days as spring approaches. And then one day we're struck by the change, like seeing the first crocus popping through the melting snow. We feel a thaw in our numb emotions, a spark of excitement to be alive.
Just as a heavy snow can come after the spring ephemerals emerge, we can feel the first signs of depression abating and then continue to experience symptoms of depression. With continued time and treatment, we can continue toward fuller recovery.
Look for these signs, among others, that can indicate relief from depression:
Less irritability. We think of sadness as the most common emotion in depression, but irritability is also very common. As you start to feel better you might notice that you have more patience and you feel less easily put out with others.
Greater interest in activities. One of the defining features of depression is a lack of interest or pleasure in things we usually enjoy. As you start to feel better you'll have more interest in your normal activities, and will start to enjoy them more. Food might even start to taste better.
More energy. Along with more interest, our energy returns as depression lifts. This increase in energy can help us do more of the things we care about, further improving our mood.
Feeling less overwhelmed. Everything can feel difficult when we're depressed and feeling inadequate to the task. Less depression leads to feeling more on top of our day-to-day responsibilities, and able to respond to challenges as they arise.
More normal appetite. Whether our appetite was increased or decreased by depression, it will start to return to normal as we feel better. If we had little appetite before, we'll find that food is more appealing and enjoyable. We can also find it easier to resist the foods we had a hard time avoiding when we were really depressed.
Better concentration. The cognitive symptoms of depression can be quite disruptive, making it hard to think and focus. With improved concentration we'll find it's easier to follow a conversation or the plot line of a book, and in general we'll feel sharper mentally.
Return of libido. Depression often kills one's sex drive, and non-depressed partners may have a hard time understanding that the lack of interest has nothing to do with them. Thus a loss of libido can have serious effects on a couple's relationship. It may be surprising to once again feel that spark if it's been missing for a while.
Better self-image. One of the cruel aspects of depression is that leads us to believe all kinds of negative things about ourselves—that we're "worthless" or "a loser" or "pathetic"—which of course only feeds the depression. As we reconnect with our basic sense of self-worth, we start to question the lies that a depressed mind tell us, and to see ourselves in a more loving and accurate light.