31 Things We Want the World to Know About Depression on World Health Day

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On World Health Day, April 7th, the World Health Association is highlighting the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide — depression. So on behalf of the 300 million people who live with depression, we wanted to send a message to the world, from people who actually live with depression.

We’re not hiding. We’re not ashamed. When educating other about depression, don’t forget to include those with lived experience. There’s a lot they want you to know.

Here’s what they shared with us:

1. “How tired I get, even when I’ve been in bed all day. I have high-functioning depression, so life exhausts me period, but on the weekends I need to spend a lot of time in bed to ‘catch up.’ I’m not lazy, just tired from having to try and function typically all week long.” — Joselyne S.

2. “It’s not always constant, I can be happy for a period of time then get hit by it for no obvious reason. The smallest thing can push you over the edge and fighting it is the most exhausting thing ever. That exhaustion from fighting depression can lead to a depressive episode.” — Amy C.

3. “On my bad days, I’m trying my best. Sometimes that’s going to class or work, sometimes that’s curled up on my bed; it’s still my best. I had to learn to consider being alive a victory when my depression makes me feel like I’m suffocating.” — Kaylie C.

4. “You can’t always see it. When I say I’m tired, I do mean physically exhausted. I also mean I’m exhausted from fighting with myself mentally.” — Adriana R.

5. “It’s not just feeling sad all the time. It’s feeling nothing. I can keep a smile on my face and crack jokes and laugh, but inside I’m really constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.” — Liz A.

6. “How hard everything is. From standing up and getting dressed to having a conversation and even smiling. All while I look ‘fine’ from the outside. Because it is not just a little tired or a mood I can snap out off, but an illness I did not ask for or deserve. If people knew that, it would be easier for them to respect my efforts to communicate my boundaries, accept my requests for being left alone and to stop giving me well-meaning ‘peptalks’ and quoting motivational memes from the internet…” — Cynthia V.

7. “I wish those that don’t experience it could understand how hard it is for me to function when I’m in a hole. Just because I ‘seem happy’ doesn’t mean I really am. I have three kids and a husband and a life. I can’t lay in bed all day, staring into the abyss, even when that’s all my brain and body need from me. I love my family and they are a huge source of happiness for me. However, I am rarely, truly happy, but I am very good at pretending, because sometimes that’s all I can do.” — Courtney W.

8. “People with depression sometimes just need a hug or a meal made for them. Don’t ignore them until they are out of their ‘funk.’ And when they say they are just tired… it’s not usually from lack of sleep. Don’t say go to bed earlier. ‘Tired’ is the acceptable thing to say when you mean — ‘I can’t stand being awake. There’s a void in my stomach that feels like it might suck me into oblivion. Sleep helps me get through suicidal thoughts. I wake up and start fresh.’ We may not be tired but no one seems to want to hear, ‘I’m sad for no explainable reason. I’m weighing pros and cons of life in my head.’ — Autumn H.

9. “How exhausting it is. How despite all my efforts my brain is my enemy, constantly chuntering badness in my head. How frustrating it is when my thoughts are so tangled that I can’t express how I’m feeling. How somedays just the simple act of getting out of bed is insurmountable no matter how hard it try. The guilt of not being able to do the simplest of tasks and feeling like a burden to family and friends. I want people to understand how hard it is to keep fighting every single minute, every single day. How I have to constantly stop myself just ending it all. I want them to understand that it is an illness, I didn’t just wake up one morning and decide to be depressed and anxious so how can they expect me to just ‘snap out of it’?” — Heidi B.

10. “Saying ‘cheer up’ is the same as telling the tide not to come in and expecting it to happen.” — David L.

11. “The constant drain on my energy, wellbeing and mood. Currently I’m in about my sixth week of a severe ‘episode,’ and I’m struggling so bad. I get up, get the kids ready, work evenings, do all the things I have to do, all while feeling like a big, useless, worthless, stupid, can’t do anything right person who is even afraid to go to the doctors, cos I feel like they’re sick of hearing my name. Currently sitting here trying to summon up the energy to get changed for work and crying because I just don’t want to go. I can’t think straight.” — Emma D.

12. “I can’t just snap out of it. Trying to force me to be social because it will ‘make me feel better’ is the worse thing someone can do. I know how much of a drag I can be when I just want to sit at home… I know how lazy I look when I just want to lay in bed… I know how pathetic I seem when the only other living being I want around me is my cat. I’m permanently exhausted. And I can’t change that. There are days I feel ‘accomplished’ when all I really did was take a shower!” — Kate M.

13. “Fighting depression wears you, when I’m sleeping all day or taking naps I’m not being ‘lazy,’ I’m trying to keep myself alive. Fighting off the suicidal thoughts and tendencies take a lot out of you.” — Aron W.

14. “It’s a battle I so much want to win, fighting against your thoughts is one of the worst things ever. I wish people would understand that living with depression is not a choice or a moment of weakness… I keep telling myself tomorrow will be a better day and I will be OK, but sometimes it is so hard to function. — Lili P.

15. “Depression isn’t just being sad. Depression is feeling nothing and everything all at once to the point that you can get overwhelmed and your brain just kind of shuts down.” — Paige L.

16. “It’s not easy to fake a smile for the rest of the world to think you’re OK. It’s exhausting to have so much on your mind and just have to say you’re fine. Everything suffers because of it. My sleep. My work. My friends. I may look fine but I’m not. Inside I’m drowning and there’s no lifeguard.” — Dani B.

17. “It’s OK to still include me on their lives and events or hangouts. Just because I might say no doesn’t mean anything. It means a lot to know people still want me around and that I’m still thought of even if I’m struggling.” — Nikki L.

18. “It’s as real as any other illness. Depression may not necessarily kill you, but it is an illness and a very real health issue. So many people write it off because it doesn’t necessarily manifest in physical ways, like if I’m physically healthy, I must be perfectly fine.” — Shannon R.

19. “Just because I seem OK, maybe even happy on the outside, really doesn’t mean a thing. On the inside, I could be struggling.” — Mary K.

20. “I can smile and laugh like everyone else. I’m just faking it at times. I don’t know what’s wrong with me that I struggle to feel happy all the time. I just want to go hide and pretend the world doesn’t exist.” — Katie C.

21. “Maintaining my appearance of being ‘OK’ so I can do things like going to work is exhausting. So if I’m home and need to let myself cry, don’t make me feel worse because my emotions are showing.” — Erin N.

22. “I don’t need your pep talk, criticism, bossing around, questions. Sometimes I just need to talk and know you’re truly listening to me. That even if you don’t understand you’ll be supportive.” — Julie T.

23. “That it’s not easy…ever. Sure you’ll have your good days, but the exhaustion and overwhelming feelings of dread will always come back and I guess you just have to learn to deal with it.” — Cody H.

24. “I feel like a burden to those around me. I can smile and do what I’m supposed to no matter how hard I’m struggling. You may not always see it, but it’s a daily battle that I’m fighting.” — Ashley K.

25. “As someone who is recovering from depression it’s not something I make up. And I’m definitely not faking it. I’m living with it everyday because I wake up everyday hoping today isn’t one of those days where I will feel depressed. If not yay. If I am than it’s a terrible thing I have to deal with. If you don’t have to great for you but don’t undermine my condition because you don’t have it. Everyone has to deal with different things in their lives.” — Monica S.

26. “I have not chosen to be this way, did not choose to be depressed. I would not wish this on anyone, even someone I don’t like.” — Karen D.

27. “It’s not just a state of mind, it’s not just an attitude, it’s not just about being a little sad.  — Missy G.

28. “I wish I knew how hard it was to ask/receive help. How there are good days and bad days, bad days and worse days. How you feel guilty about being depressed and how your brain turns against you. How you feel hateful and sad at the same time.” — Emily D.

29. “My ‘victories’ some days are as small as managing to get out of bed to have a shower, and other days can be as big as performing my music in front of a crowd. It all depends on how I feel and no, I can’t ‘switch it off’ and ‘just be happy.'” — Emma Z.

30. “It can exist behind smiles.” — Sukriti T.

31. “Talk to someone. Reach out. You matter. Depression is exhausting. No energy to drive, take a walk , shower, eat or make food. You can lose weight without trying. Poor quality of sleep. Trouble falling and staying asleep. It’s isolating. It affects you physically as much as mentally. It’s scary. It’s lonely. Kids can get depression, too. No one is immune. Any age gender race religion. It can get better. There is hope. Always.” — Jessica S.

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Depression and Creativity: Don't Wait Until You Feel Better

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I’ve been talking with friends about creativity a lot lately, and how difficult it is to sustain riding the surf once you catch the wave. The dilemma of the creative process — and this is especially true for artists — is that we impose pressure on ourselves to make impressive, or at least good, creations; they must be meaningful and make sense right off the bat, and if they are none of those things, then self-doubt, fear and discouragement seep in like poison to passion.

This unrealistic pursuit in thinking every painting must be a Sistine Chapel or every novel should be literary prize-worthy is toxic to the creative process, and that’s what it is — a process. Creativity is a process and a practice. As with chores, you must press on with the creative practice even if you aren’t in the mood, and especially when you’re not in the mood. In the long run, fighting and forging through the doldrums of uninspired and passionless episodes of “forced creation” inevitably proves the juice is worth the squeeze.

But there’s a distinct difference between falling into a creative lull due to a natural periodic lack of inspiration versus experiencing the absence of inspiration at the hands of depression. It’s common knowledge that one of the symptoms of depression is the depressed person loses interest in activities that were once enjoyed. But the thing is, you lose interest in everything, which makes the effort a depressed person must put into convincing his or her mind to be creative, in spite of the depression, exponentially more challenging.

Julie A. Fast reminds us that, “[d]epression makes you feel that you’re artistically limited, but you’re not,” and she has some really good thoughts to consider in “Create Creativity”, Chapter 49 of her book, “Get It Done When You’re Depressed”:

  • Think of the supplies you use to create your artwork. Put them on a table and look at them. They are your friends, not a sign that you can’t create anymore.
  • Don’t think of how it used to be. Think of what you can do now, and create something that comes from this moment.
  • Create something that shows what it’s like to be depressed, a snapshot of where you are now. If you cry on the art, that’s just a part of where you are now.
  • Expect resistance from depression. It hates creativity for some reason. You need to break the hold depression has on your creativity by making something tangible, so you can see the results of your work.
  • Think of how you feel in the middle of doing something creative instead of how hard it is to start.
  • Remember: Don’t wait until you feel better! Create something now! When you’re better and you look at the work, you’ll see that you are just as creative as always.

I especially appreciate Julie’s reminder to ‘create now’ because when you look at your work later, you’ll realize your creative juices flow even when depression fools your mind into thinking it’s put a dam in place and the depressive levee will break only after the cloud has lifted and you feel better. Not true, if you don’t believe it. Try it and see. Even if you’re not depressed and you’re feeling uninspired, create something. Create it now, and remind your “future self” to look back at what you’ve made so you can prove your “now self” wrong, later.

And so, I’ve spent some time reading through my old writings, and I must say I’ve read some great stuff. The process of reading through my old writings inspires me to continue my writing practice. Yes, it is entirely possible to be inspired by your own work!

In the spirit of sharing apropos material, I’ve included a couple of my old writings that incorporate observed elements of the process of creativity.

Journal Entry

I can’t write every day or just any day. Even sometimes when I feel like it, when I want to … I start to doodle. Ideas start and stop. If my pen ran out of ink, at least I’d have an excuse to put it down and turn my mind off. It’s just, creativity can be shy or stubborn and that scares me when I think of my future, because I want to write every day, all the time. I want brilliance to be signed with my name somewhere around it. Maybe when I figure out exactly what I want it’ll be easier and instead, I’ll be scared that in the midst of creativity and a flow of words, the ink will run out or I will have forgotten my pen.

Written Tuesday, March 30, 1999.

Poem

(untitled)

My hurt has been petrified for so long.
The patterns lay fossilized.
Scattered.
I can hold them in my hands now
without attachment.
It doesn’t mean I’ve forgotten
or that I don’t take responsibility.
It’s the lack of responsibility
that’s kept them strapped to my skin.
I feel good. I feel in control.
I feel like there is direction.
The precursor to my future – the one I’ve
been wanting and searching for.
It feels good to be honest.
To be honest with myself.
It’s like I’ve sprouted wings
and there’s nowhere I can’t go.
Nothing I can’t see.
I’m thankful.
Thankful for my weaknesses.
Thankful for my mistakes.
Thankful for my realizations
and my determination to succeed.
Thankful for my ability to forgive
others and myself.
Thankful for my strengths.
Thankful for my beauty – and my ability
to see beauty in everything and everyone
I see.
Thankful for my hardships.
Thankful for my ambitions.
Thankful for my creativity.

Written Saturday, August 23, 2003.

Follow this journey on Silent Retreat.

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What Depression Taught Me About Happiness

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In September 2011, I wrote a blog about coming out of my depression by choosing happiness or deciding I was going to be happy.

I’ve considered deleting it, but I think I’ll keep it as a testament to where I was and what I’ve learned since. Because depression isn’t about choosing happiness. In fact, I’m not convinced it’s about happiness at all.

If those of us who face depression could choose anything other than the apathy or sadness or internal chaos we feel, we would. In the blink of an eye, normalcy would be the instant choice and better would be reality because we don’t buy into the romanticized bullsh*t of what depression is.

The truth is, when it comes to depression, the only thing we can choose is recovery.

And maybe in some misinformed way that’s what I meant by what I wrote, but I know now telling someone to choose happiness is not only unhelpful, but inaccurate.

My second severe wave of depression came crashing down on me at one of the happiest points in my life, which is honestly what made me realize the illness isn’t about sadness or happiness or any of that. I was probably confused before because my depression at that point was fueled by malcontent, misery, melancholy and an intense feeling of self-loathing. My depression latched onto and exacerbated those feelings to the point they almost destroyed me, but it wasn’t those feelings that created my depression.

Depression is its own entity.

One thing I’ve learned about my mental illness through my experience is it’s all about self-preservation. It’ll do whatever it can to survive and make sure I don’t get better, whether that means depression grabbing hold of intense negativity or leaving me with a near-constant undertone of apathy and inadequacy like it does now.

Depression has taught me its brokenness can come in many forms, not just the “sad and crying your eyes out” form we see in media. To some degree, my depression is exactly the same as it was six and many more years ago. I still shut down, I still numb myself and I still struggle with the negative internal dialogue. What’s changed is then I would have once blamed all of it on the fact I hate my life and was sad all the time, whereas now I understand those were just external factors playing into it. I especially understand this because I’ve been able to let go of a lot of what caused me misery, and yet, depression still came knocking.

I’m always reminded of a quotation from poet Shane Koyczan’s “Circle” when I think of this.

“If you keep your eye on depression and back away, spacing yourself farther and farther, but all the while watching depression shrink in the growing distance, when that tiny speck of sadness vanishes from sight completely, it’s at that precise moment your periphery will catch hands reaching up from behind you to cover your eyes, and you will hear a small voice whisper, ‘Guess who?'”

Depression exists on its own terms and in realizing this, I’m learning how to better deal with it.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

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When Living With a Mental Illness Makes 'Adulting' Difficult

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Transitioning into the “real world” after college is difficult for most students. Once the caps are thrown, new graduates often struggle facing what can seem like a vast, directionless future, shedding the “student identity” they had for years. This transitional period can be even more difficult if you add mental illness into the mix. At least, this was my experience.

The usual challenges of transitioning after college and becoming a “real adult” were compounded by my depression and anxiety. When my student insurance ran out, I no longer had my mental health team at my disposal — in a time when I arguably needed it the most.

I was fortunate enough to have my insurance throughout the summer after graduation and I tried to make the most of this interim period. My therapist gave me suggestions for affordable sliding scale therapy options when my insurance ran out and offered advice and support as I struggled with the anxiety of finding a job and the depressed feelings that I would never find a job.

About a month after graduation, I was given an internship opportunity. Though a month seems like a short time looking back, it was a time of many job applications and even more self-doubt and it felt like forever. Because the internship was part-time, I got myself a nannying job as well to cover my living expenses.

As I worked at my internship, commuted two hours a day and nannied, my emotional reserves were depleted at an increasing rate. I carried on like this for months and just as I was starting to realize I was in over my head, I had my final appointment with the therapist I loved, trusted and had seen for years. This, more than anything, felt like the end of college for me.

“Adulting” became more difficult for me. Because I was burning out quickly, every practical adult necessity felt like an immense burden I couldn’t possibly accomplish because I had no time and no stamina. I had been so relieved to have satisfied my immediate need for a job, I found myself unprepared to be overwhelmed by a familiar struggle I had tried so hard to bury in college: my unresolved family issues.

A fair bit of my college therapy was devoted to coming to terms with my mother’s mental health struggles, my dad leaving and my consequent feelings of abandonment by both parents. Though it had been many years of not being able to depend on them, I still was plagued by the desire to be taken care of by them.

So when it came to my transition out of college, it was only natural that anxiety and depression would capitalize on my weakness and tag-team me in this regard.

Any “adult” task added to my to-do list brought on a wave of anxiety about the impending need to accomplish it — and feelings of depression reminded me I wouldn’t be able because my parents hadn’t taught me how to do it. When it came to getting healthcare, anxiety constantly informed me I was running out of time. Depression told me I wasn’t insured under my parents because they didn’t believe I was worth insuring. I was too ashamed and embarrassed to admit at 22 years old, I was still waiting for my mom and dad to show up and be the parents I needed them to be when I was younger. And I couldn’t shake the guilt and fear that feeling this way made me an entitled “millenial.”

I became so overwhelmed by these thoughts and how much I had to do that I felt immobilized. It was easier for me to pretend like I was managing just fine than admit I needed help.

I only just recently started the process of finding a new therapist. Before my intake appointment, I made bulleted notes about things I knew I needed to talk about, areas I needed work in and a general outline of my life, so I could make the most of the 45 minutes allotted to me for my intake. As usual, I was trying to control the situation to cope with the fact my emotions felt out of control. But as it often does, it didn’t go according to my plan. And I’m grateful it didn’t.

To my embarrassment and surprise, I cried the whole appointment. I’m not sure why I was surprised because I hadn’t talked about how overwhelmed I had been feeling for months. I was so obsessed with being “strong” and “self-sufficient” – what I thought adults were supposed to be – that I neglected my own mental health in the process. My emotional reaction, when prompted by the therapist’s simple questions, reminded me I needed to relearn a lesson I’ve been relearning for years. It’s only now – eight months after graduating – that I’m reminded “being an adult” for me means acknowledging when things are hard. Instead of pretending like I “have it all together,” I’m striving for honesty.

I haven’t mastered “adulting” yet, but I’m learning to be gentle with myself. And this in itself is a step towards the kind of adult I want to be.

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What It's Like to Function Through a Depressive Episode

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Crouched down on my knees, in the accessible restroom stall of my school’s dining hall; that’s where I found myself at 11 a.m. this morning, forcing myself to keep quiet as I held back tears and took slow, heaving breaths.

It’s been a while since I’ve (technically) cried in public, but that’s what happens when you have depression and anxiety — it can creep up on you at any time, unannounced and certainly unwelcome. It’s hard because all I wanted to do after I got myself together was go back to my room and sleep for the rest of the day. The thought of keeping it together long enough to sit through a day’s worth of classes was scary and exhausting all at once. Having to hold in all these feelings, worries and negative thoughts while everyone else is seemingly happy and content around you is, in my opinion, the most isolating and lonely feeling in the world. You feel like you shouldn’t be like this. You constantly question why you always seem to be in this position, which brings up the ever-popular question, “What’s wrong with me?”

Why can’t I be the person I want to be?

Why do I always feel three steps behind everyone else?

Why do I feel so ugly and wrong?

Why can’t I just be happy?

Despite how awful I felt, I already pulled myself out of bed and put on fresh clothes and a face of makeup. I went through with classes as scheduled because the guilt of skipping would only make me feel worse, and I knew I would lose sleep over it … again. But I didn’t exactly feel good about sticking to schedule either. Like I said before, it’s exhausting. I use up all my energy to sit still and try to appear focused. Meanwhile, my eyes are glued to that clock, counting down the minutes that are passing way too slow until I can walk back to my room, put on sweats and crawl into bed, just to wake up the next morning and repeat the cycle.

I don’t think people who get up out of bed, despite how depressed they feel, get enough credit. It’s like going through life as a zombie. In my experience, you don’t really want to see people or be seen by them either. You don’t want to talk because the act of speaking wears you out, much like putting on a smile or forcing out a laugh.

We may get up and go out into the world, but that’s a battle in itself and with every task and problem that arises during the day, the war in our head continues. I guess what I’m trying to say is that depression and anxiety are extremely difficult conditions to live with, and if you know someone who may not be so fun to be around when they are going through an episode, keep in mind this is hard for them. Be compassionate and as understanding as you can be. They may not show it or ever tell you, but it helps just that little bit to get them by for the time being.

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Things I Wish Depression Didn't Make Me Do Every Day

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

My depression overcomes me like a sudden bolt of lightning on a cloudy day; I expect it but never anticipate its full force hitting me. My heart races, I begin to feel my wrists and legs clench and all I can focus on are these extra thoughts running through my mind. It’s a constant dialogue as if I had the devil and an angel sitting on my shoulders. I persevere, though the days are exasperating.

Every day, I wake up panicked, scared and confused.

Every day, I lie to everyone I love, simply by answering “I’m OK” to “How are you?”

Every day, I make a list of things to do I know I will never be able to accomplish.

Every day, I tell myself I will do my laundry this time.

Every day, I throw my hair up in a bun instead of putting in the effort of actually looking decent.

Every day, someone says “You look tired,” and I make up excuses when really I slept 14 hours and I am still exhausted.

Every day, I wonder how people can be so oblivious to the things surrounding them, just because they are laughing.

Every day, I tell myself I will not amount to anything in my life simply because I am too lazy.

Every day, I find comfort in eating more and more sugary foods while lying in bed watching another episode of some show on Netflix.

Every day, I need to consciously stop myself from ending my life.

Every day, I worry about the consequences I think others struggle with because of my mental health.

Every day, I apologize simply because I have an opinion, even if it’s something as small as preferring ice cream over cake.

Every day.

I know my mental illness controls my life. I know I am stronger than this. I know I will eventually be able to manage the emotions that come along with them.

Today just isn’t that day.

But tomorrow might be.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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