Saying Sadness Is Like Depression Is Like Comparing Blue and Black


I just finished reading another article online about “depression,” and I have something to say.

I’m not even going to go into the various definitions of depression, its various causes, symptoms or cures. But what I am going to go into is that fact that there are different kinds of depression — different depths, different manifestations and different levels of disability. Not all are the same. It is not one-size-fits-all. Depression is a big word and, just like water, I think it describes something without giving it a quality per se.

There is water in the toilet, there is water in a glass, there is water in the clouds, there is water in the ocean, there is water in our cells and there is water under the sand in the desert. Water is water, but it is not all the same water. You can float a 600,000 ton cargo ship in water — the ocean — and you also float a feather in a glass of water. See?

It is the same thing with depression. “I am depressed/have been depressed/have had the blues,” is not the same thing as having depression. It is just like any other condition: Having it is not the same thing as experiencing it.

Would you tell a starving child you have been hungry?

Would you tell an addict in the midst of withdrawal that you have been sick?

Would you tell someone grieving the death of a loved one that you have been sad?

Then why do people tell me, when they learn that I have depression, that, “Oh, I’ve been sad before, I’ve had the blues.”

Strike that — I know why they tell me. Because most of the time, they are being compassionate and trying to empathize with me…trying to show me everyone feels sad sometimes. And I appreciate this human sympathy most of the time. But sometimes, like now, it kind of ticks me off.

It feels so belittling, so trivializing, so much like a pat on the heiney or on the top of the head – like saying, “Yeah, yeah…we’ve all got troubles.” Or like a judgment or rebuke, “Oh poor baby, life ain’t fair, kid.” Or like a dismissal, “Get over it…you are no worse off than anyone else.”

Allow me to enlighten those who do not really understand depression:

Clinical depression, major depressive disorder (MDD) in my case, is not the result of a crappy day. It is not because it has been rainy and cold for two days. It is not because your team lost on Sunday. And, it is not even because someone you love died, or that you have a terminal illness.

See, MDD is not a cause-and-effect relationship. It just is. Although it can be exacerbated by the issues above, it is not caused by them. So, as a corollary, it cannot be “fixed” by a lack of these bad things.

MDD is something one has — future continuous tense. Have it, had it and  will have it…continually. It was, is and shall be. And shall be… It is not an event, it is not a blip, it is not a stumble. It is a condition: “the state of something, especially with regard to its appearance, quality or working order.” It ain’t going away just because the sun came out, or you got a new puppy or your team won the Super Bowl.

It is really is the difference between black and blue.

Blue is what many people feel because of bad circumstances (and I’m sorry that people feel this…I can relate.) Blue is what you get when you have a bad run of luck for a while. When you break up with someone. When you gain a few pounds. Maybe even when you lose a job. Lots of people – OK, everyone, feels blue at one time or another. And most people feel good most of the time, but occasionally have a “case of the blues.” Lots of times, the blues can be cured by a few minor life changes — exercise, diet, sunshine, friends, family, etc.

But black…that is a different story. That is MDD. That is not feeling bad because of something… it is just feeling bad. And it doesn’t matter if the weather is good or bad, if the job is good or bad, if the spouse is good or bad… circumstances don’t make much difference. Black is black, regardless. Always feeling bad. Very much unlike blue, black is feeling bad most of the time and occasionally feeling good.

Black wipes you out. Black takes people’s lives from them…and some of them die by suicide. Black wastes your personality, it crushes your hopes and dreams, it rots your faith, it purges your energy, it wastes your options and jams a mirror in your face so you have to watch yourself stumble through your own life like Frankenstein’s monster. It never forgets. It is never silent. It never forgives. It never rests. It never tires. It never takes a break. It pants in your ear as you try to fall asleep and it pounces on you as soon as your eyes open in the morning. It robs you of laughter, patience, selflessness, fellowship, community, aspirations, incentive, investment, tears, forgiveness, rest, comfort, thankfulness, contentment, accomplishment, time, peace, sympathy, memories…

It robs you of the only thing that will ever have the slightest chance of combating the black. Hope: “a desire accompanied by expectation of or belief in fulfillment.” Basically, that things will get better. Because we know that, although we have hoped for hope in the past, it didn’t happen. The black didn’t turn blue. We didn’t escape it as we had hoped. It is still hot on our heels, like one of the hounds of hell. And all we can do is continue to run and hope that it doesn’t catch up.

Clinical depression can’t be cured with minor lifestyle changes. Now, that is not to say that some of these things can help — exercise, prayer, counseling, diet, etc. But, mostly, it can’t be fixed by anything I can do to fix it. I don’t get the choice of deciding I am tired of being sad and that I am going to pull up my boot straps and get on with my life. I don’t get the opportunity to shut out the blackness and decide to “just feel better.” Those very things that help some people get over the blues, can force some of us deeper into the black. (I’m not trying to sound like a victim here, and I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m only trying to convey the powerlessness that accompanies MDD.)

Please understand the difference between blue and black. And, although I greatly appreciate the empathy, the kindness and the intent, please don’t tell me that just because you’ve been sad before, you know what I am feeling. I’m sorry that you have felt sad and I wish you didn’t have to. But, please don’t tell me you understand.

Chances are, you really don’t. And you should be happy about that.

This piece originally appeared on The Wanderings of a Wonderer.

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