I had a conversation with a friend recently that upset me quite a lot. I was trying to open up about my experience with depression and she made remarks like “Wow, you are so weak,” and “How could you get depressed over something like that?” At first, these insults infuriated me, but then they helped me realize something. Most people have no idea what depression really is. My friend had no basic knowledge about depression, and that’s because society doesn’t make an effort to understand it.
So rather than go on a rant about everything wrong with how my friend responded, I’d like to take the route of education. People need to understand what depression is because it affects more than 350 million people worldwide. That means your friend, co-worker or family member, someone you see every day could have depression. And yet so many people are kept silenced about it because of a simple lack of knowledge, so here are some things I feel every person should know about depression.
Depression is a disorder that robs you of your identity. Your innate personality completely disappears when you are depressed. I am a naturally cheerful person, I love to laugh and talk for hours on end. Most people would describe me as hyper and animated, but when depression entered my life and my body that old me was gone. That is how powerful and detrimental depression truly is. It can erase all of your characteristics and leave you feeling like there is just an emptiness inside of you.
One thing I really hate is when people believe who I was when I was depressed is who I am now afterwards. People may say things like, “Oh you can’t handle being on your own.” or “You’ll just cry about it.” But that’s not me. That was depression. Who I was when I was depressed is not who I really am.
2. Depression can be more than your situation.
I suffered from depression during college. It was after freshmen year when I had transferred to a much bigger university. I left all of my friends to enter a new environment completely alone, with people who already seemed to have made their friends and weren’t looking for new ones. I felt so alone during that time, which I believe contributed a lot to me becoming depressed.
But I’d like to add a pivotal fact. Depression can be bigger than your situation. Yes, how you feel after a certain trauma, shock or change in your life can be contributing factors to developing depression. But depression is more than how you feel at a certain moment or season in your life. It can come out of nowhere, for no particular reason. It can occur from something big or small or it could happen with no relation to how your life is going at all.
I like to compare it to getting a cold. Do you ever blame someone for getting a cold? No. Sure they could have worn more layers or washed their hands more but we never say, “You got a cold. That’s your fault.” It’s the same with depression. So why do we show compassion for people who get illnesses like a cold or even cancer and yet blame people for getting depression — another illness? Getting depression is out of your control.
3. You can’t force yourself to be happy when you’re depressed.
Forcing yourself to “just be happy” when you are depressed is mentally and emotionally impossible. That’s like asking someone to get out of a cage without a key and then blaming them when they inevitably fail.
Your brain actually changes when you are clinically depressed. It’s as if happiness and joy gets locked up in your brain as it steadily becomes harder to access. Telling a depressed individual to just try and be happier is not only impossible, it is painful and hurtful. When you’re depressed and you try to make yourself feel happiness again you most likely fail since there is a biological reason for feeling that way. This could have you end up feeling only more depressed and dejected afterwards.
4. Depression is more than just sadness.
I feel like people use the word depression so recklessly now. Saying you are depressed because the weather is bad or you did poorly on a test is insulting to me. It minimizes the pain I endured when I was going through actual depression.
So what is the difference between sadness and depression? Sadness I’d say is still on the same spectrum with happiness. In a given day you could range from happy to normal to sad. But depression is a world away from that spectrum.
When people ask me what depression feels like the only way I can describe it is through an image. Picture yourself lying at the bottom of an entire ocean. But there is no sunlight, just pitch black dark. The weight of the ocean is on top of you but you don’t have the strength to move, breathe or even to swim to the surface. It’s too far away and the weight is so life crushing you are just stuck. You can’t even tell where the surface is anymore.
5. Depression is an actual medical disorder.
Like I described in #3, depression is biological. It affects the neurons, cells and chemicals in your brain. Depression is classified as a disorder and is an actual medical illness. I feel as though people don’t understand the influence depression has on a person. It can wipe away how you think. It can take away your ability to feel. It can make you feel like all the light in you withered away. It can break your spirit as well. It can make you forget your reason for living. It takes all of the power and strength out of you. It can take away your ability to fight, to laugh, to smile. Depression has the power to do all of that, so don’t tell me it’s “just a feeling.”
6. Depression affects all of you.
Although depression stems from your mind, it can impact so much more. When I was going through depression I had terrible digestion problems. Indigestion and nausea happened on a weekly basis. It went so far as having blood in my stool and having to get a colonoscopy. The way you feel emotionally and mentally has a proven impact on your physical body. You can get migraines and even throw up or faint from it. Depression can tarnish your mind and your body.
Aside from the physical aspect, depression can affect your social relationships. During my depression I knew I had to seek out new friendships and social relationships, but that depression kept me from making an effort. Depression made it too hard and too terrifying, the thought of socializing filled me with anxiety and stress. I’ve also seen relationships end because one person is affected by depression and the other just can’t handle it.
If you feel like you identify with any of the symptoms I’ve described about depression please seek out help. I know that is a very hard thing to do, especially with the stigma surrounding mental illness, but you are worth it. You are worth the effort of getting out of this terrible disorder.
There are many different ways you can seek out professional help. If you are currently a student, there are student health services with counseling that can really make a difference. Sometimes you just need to let all the emotions out by talking to someone, and that someone should be a licensed professional who knows what you are going through. Whether it is a public grade school or at the university level, this counseling could be free or at very low cost to you. They can also refer you to people who can help you even better if your school doesn’t have the proper resources.
Like I mentioned earlier, support systems are very important. Whether these come from family, religion or friends, it is important to have those human connections helping you recover.
Now I’m not saying that with faith, hope, support and therapy you will be instantly healed. You won’t. It is important to know that depression and healing is a long journey. It took me three to four years to really feel unaffected by depression any longer. But you must keep up the fight. Life is worth living even in the darkest times. You can get through it.
If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
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