Is It Stress? Or Depression? Things They Can’t Say

things they can't say JD Bailey is writer and the creator of Honest Mom, where she writes about raising her young daughters, being a working mom, and managing her depression. She blogs to connect with other moms and create a space for women to both vent and laugh. JD is an advocate for moms who deal with depression and has been interviewed by Katie Couric, featured in Parenting Magazine, and quoted in a Vogue magazine article about the topic. When she’s not writing or mom-ing, JD can be found getting dirty in her gardens or reading a good book.

“Am I just really stressed? Or am I dealing with depression?”

Do you ever wonder this? Perhaps you’ve been grumpy, exhausted, and irritable for a really long time. You’re not feeling like yourself. Maybe getting through the days is hard. And you’re thinking, Is this normal mom stress that I just need to deal with better? Or something more?

Many women have asked me how they can tell the difference. It’s not an easy answer and I’m not a doctor. But I can tell you how what I know from my experience.


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When I’m depressed, I can’t handle everyday life well. I have many days when I am really sad. I wake up down and dragging. I am extremely irritable and everything my kids and husband do sets me off. No matter how hard I try, I can’t just “snap out of it.”

Other days I wake up and I just don’t want to get out of bed because I don’t want to deal with the day. I have to, and I do eventually, but I plod through my days, joyless. And again, I am irritable. Really irritable.

There is a constant feeling of fighting against everything. Getting through every day is an effort and exhausting. Every feeling, every urge to scream and throw something out of frustration, every thought that I just want this day to be over because it’s so damn HARD is overwhelming.

I yell at my kids a lot. I sleep terribly. I have no energy, feel anxious about everything, have a hard time staying focused, and of course – there’s that rage that can happen.

This constant feeling of fighting against myself and unwanted feelings doesn’t go away. Sure, some days are better than others. But that unwanted feeling of fighting and resisting is always there. Every day. Every week. Every month.

That’s what depression looks like for me. It makes everyday life very hard and everyday challenges – like difficult children or a too-busy schedule – overwhelming.

When I’m depressed, life is not enjoyable. It’s hard. And I feel like I’m just going through the motions so I can just get through the day.

But when I am on the right antidepressants, everything changes.

I am ME again. Just me. Not drugged up or numb or out of it. Just me.

The veil of depression lifts and I can enjoy life again. Sure, my kids can still be annoying. Yes, my schedule is too busy and stressful. Yes, there are some side effects (but generally minor for me).

But I can handle all of that stuff. Life doesn’t overwhelm me. Instead of getting to the point where I scream at my kids to shut up, I can take a deep breath, relax, get down on their level, and work out the problem.

Instead of getting to the point of rage, I can calm myself down with my clothes dryer.

I can get out of bed in the morning and write instead of lying in bed, dreading the chaos of the day.

I can enjoy life, see the joy in my children, and laugh my big, loud laugh.

I am a better mother. Better wife. Better ME when I am managing my depression with antidepressants.

And I’m not going to be embarrassed or disappointed in myself for needing medication to feel like me. As many people have said to me – would I be disappointed in myself if I had to take meds to manage another chronic health condition? No, of course not.

I’m telling you all this because if you’re nodding your head as you read, thinking, yes, this is me, too, call your doctor. Take that step. You deserve to enjoy life. Maybe meds, therapy, alternative medicine, or some combination of all three can help you.

But you won’t know until you try.


  1. says

    I also agree stress and depression often gets confused.  Once you learn it is stress – taking steps to change can make a world of difference. Depression is not as easy to change.

  2. says

    That’s some good insight right there.  Many of those feelings are ones I’ve had, and on more than one occasion I’ve wondered if I was fighting depression or not.  I never did seek out medical or therapy for it because I don’t think I wanted to ‘admit’ that I was depressed.  But it seems to me it was actually just stress as it waxes and wanes and isn’t a constant.
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  3. says

    You always give the best advice and because you’ve lived it and can see the difference in yourself and with others (Oh that RAGE, it scares me so much) it feels authentic and healing. Like , “there is an answer, a place to start”

    I have an appt next week to see a new doctor, get on a new med and hopefully I’m going to start feeling like my old self very soon. The depression that you described is exactly where I am and have been for a lot longer than I wanted to admit , I’m ready to move out of it into blue skies.

    thank you JD, for sharing this really honest and informative story.
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    • says

      I’m so glad you have an appt. with your doc next week. One thing I did that helped tremendously: I am seeing a psychiatrist for guidance with medication, as opposed to my primary care doc. My PCP didn’t know enough about meds – I’d tell her something wasn’t working and she’d just switch me to another SSRI. Now I know I was on an extremely low dose of each med, and she should have been slowly increasing, not leaping from med to med. My psychiatrist knows so much more.

      Good luck and let me know if you want to chat about any of this – just message me on Facebook!  :-)

  4. says

    Yes. That’s it. In my memoir (where depression was just one part of it) I linked it to being in a round room with a low ceiling. There are tons of doors, which are solutions to the problems, but none of them will open. You can see the solution, but there is always a reason why it won’t work. Anti-depressats don’t make you happy, but they help you to make rational decisions.

    Great post!
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  5. says

    I sometimes feel like I’m struggling to decide if I’m stressed or depressed. Just having a baby, I fear that I have a bit of postpartum depression. I keep writing it off as not sleeping well (who can with a newborn?) and I haven’t been eating healthy since he’s been born (convenient and comfort foods are going to the dea the of me).

    I’m setting goals for myself to live healthier to see if that will make a change. If not, I may have to admit I could be depressed and see a doctor.
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  6. says

    I don’t think I have ever been depressed but I do deal with anxiety and understand that “veil” you can be tucked away under. That brain fog of going through day to day life. This is a great post. I honestly think that bloggers are slowly changing the stigma of mental illnesses- it’s so nice to be able to relate to eachother when things like this never used to be talked about!
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  7. says

    While much of this sounds like me, I think the biggest red flags do not sound like me. Overall, for me, I feel like it’s not necessarily stress, it’s just, well, life I guess…? Being a mom is difficult at times no matter whether you have depression or not, so I can only imagine depression makes it all the more difficult (or vice versa). I am thankful for people like you who give a voice to those who need it, and a resource for those who aren’t sure. Getting help is so important, and it’s nice to have a resource to help you take that step if it’s needed.
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  8. says

    Beautiful and honest post. I know a lot of women (myself included) who confuse the two very often. Then when hormones are involved, it’s all just so confusing. I wish people would be less ashamed to admit that it may be depression instead of normal feelings of anxiety. As was stated in the post, treatment can make all the difference in the world.
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  9. says

    I feel sometimes there’s a fine line between depression and stress. For me, I am very in tune with who I am, if I need to sleep it off for a day then come back to ME again, I am not depressed but during these Winter months I DO go into states of depression from lack of sunshine. It’s hard and sucks. Thankfully I have a strong mindset and a ton of positive influences in my world to keep me uplifted.
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  10. Eliz Frank says

    You make good points in your post… It is easy to confuse the two. Sometimes, one leads to the other. Its not so easy to tell without a proper diagnosis.

  11. says

    I never thought about stress vs depression like this. I tend to just think that it’s all stress. But I have had short minor issues with depression. So I think that I know the differences in the absolute helplessness and just everyday stress. But this is definitely something to think about and keep in mind.

  12. Autumn says

    I’ve had trouble with depression and anxiety for many years now. Sometimes, no matter how awesome things are at the moment, I just can’t shake the feelings of hopelessness. It really is such a difficult thing to manage. I’ve started meditating, and it’s really helped quite a bit… but I know that it’s something that I will have to deal with for the rest of my life. 

  13. says

    love your honesty. I too wonder if I am suffering from depression, stress or just unhappy. I would like to think my situation (nursing school, unemployed, mother to a newborn) is making me depressed. I pray daily as my circumstances change I will return to my normal self.
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  14. says

    Absolutely talk to your doctor and take your meds! I, too, am taking meds and recently hadn’t taken them for a few days, and let e tell you, everyone, including me saw the difference, and it wasn’t pretty. Do not worry what other people think. Just do it.
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