Depression is so much more than “being sad.” As someone living with depression, here are some things I wish more people understood.
“Write from your scars, not your wounds,” I’ve heard.
I certainly see the merit in this — I’ve inked from fresh cuts, and can now, in hindsight, feel the bitterness, victimization, and just general underprocessed emotion in my words. It gives me the “ick” upon reflection, perspective unfortunately absent.
However, I also see issues with the pervasive “I made it through hell and back” tales, of which, again, I have penned many. Reading them from a place of despair has spiraled me into feelings of hopelessness, unhelpful comparison, and emotional exhaustion for the looong road ahead.
Depression makes you only capable of thinking in days, and sometimes just hours or minutes. Depression tells me I’m different, or as AA puts it, “terminally unique.” Depression is a time machine, holographing my present affliction far into the future after every intervention hasn’t worked for me, because why would it? No one has ever felt this way, and therefore, no one has ever healed from this.
I’ve found one distinctive nuance between those two binaries — still-bleeding suffering and toxic power-posing — to be the intent of the author. So today I write to you from the wound, from one of my most anxious and depressive episodes in years, with the intent of decreasing the opaque otherness tantamount to these times.
This is an episode I truly didn’t think I was capable of having again given my consistent commitment to therapy and self-care. I’m a bit shocked and more than a little scared. With that said, I feel inspired to share some truths about what it means to be depressed.
My depression tends to be tricky; a secondary accomplice that creeps in the side door when my generalized anxiety disorder ravages my ability to engage in activities that give me joy or effectively recover from events that zap it.
My particular brand of depression results not from a lack of a desire to live, but perhaps an over-desire to. A deep longing and an existential realization of how much this world needs and the tiny thimble I’m able to give it as just one person.
It is existential, and at the risk of sounding saccharine, I believe it comes from a place of heartbreak — and therefore from love.
My anxiety is fear-based. My depression pops in once anxiety has shrunk my life and tells me that I’ll feel this way permanently. And, oh, by the way, no one gives a crap about me or my dreams anyway so what’s the point of getting better? My depression is a stealthy opportunist.
But this is not how depression looks or feels in everyone; this is simply my experience. Some struggle with major depression, marked by deep feelings of sadness, emptiness, or issues with day-to-day functioning. Some deal with other manifestations of the disease, like seasonal depression, or live with bipolar disorder and experience periods of depression. All of these presentations are valid and painful.
One of the most painful parts of my depression is feeling so alien to the world around me. It truly feels like I am living on a different plane of existence.
Many of us living with mental health issues, depression included, “mask” or cover up how we’re feeling by putting on a happy face.
When I’ve shared my depression with loved ones, I’ve been met with reactions like “wow, you were really good at faking it!”
Oh, don’t I know it. It’s a finely tuned coping mechanism. It also feeds into a depressing vicious cycle because I feel like no one truly knows and understands me and all of my parts. Though, to be fair, I’m still very much on that journey.
So yes, I’ll tell you I’m good or maybe, just maybe, fine (hint: then I’m definitely depressed).
Depression is stigmatized and not well understood (unless you understand it far too well). I would probably rather not try to explain it to you, as it takes a lot of energy to be depressed already, contrary to how it might appear.
If the cure to depression were a yoga pose, I would never leave the mat. But depression is not a bad day. It is a pervasive and chronic medical condition.
Even medications, which many elect to take, can take time to build up in the body, and finding the right one can take some trial and error. And unfortunately, therapy and skills-building are more long-term interventions, as they require hard work and consistent practice.
While self-care is important, there is no bubble bath or best-seller technique that has produced more than passing relief from my deepest depressions. Despite knowing better, I’m still the first in line to buy the next self-help fad, because, plain and simple, I don’t want to live like this.
It sucks to feel depressed.
I feel depression deeply in my body. In fact, I could tell you which days I felt depressed from my Apple Watch data alone. On down days, my walking asymmetry increases and my step length decreases. I move in a shuffle with my shoulders hunched.
Sometimes it makes me wonder if I’m faking it or being dramatic so that something on the outside mimics how sick I feel on the inside. Perhaps so that someone will ask me if I’m OK (to which I will lie and respond “yes”).
But depression has associated physical symptoms, including headaches, stomach pains, and fatigue. Our mind and body are deeply connected, and depression is systemic.
Yet depression isn’t often treated as such. It’s awkward and inconvenient to have depression in our society. It’s viewed as a sort of stubborn misanthropy that’s just a law-of-attraction mindset shift away from a cure.
I’ve learned that depression can be utterly absent of circumstance — painfully so — spawning even more guilt and shame.
If you’re a lucky someone (cue slightly jealous yet loving side-eye) who does not have first-hand experience with depression, consider watching a Youtube video or reading a book about it. Might I suggest the digestible science of Dr. Tracy Marks or the honest humor of Jenny Lawson?
An estimated 1 in 8 people live with a mental health condition. So someone you know could likely use a compassionate, informed ally to tell how they really feel, without watching you squirm.
Even I don’t totally understand my depression yet. But I have gained some first-hand experience which, while not entirely welcome, can hopefully serve to help demystify this all-too-common struggle.
World Health Organization (2022). Mental disorders. https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-disorders
Medically reviewed on October 05, 2022
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