The Difference Between ‘Feeling Depressed’ and 'Being Depressed’

I was having a conversation with my mom recently and it helped clarify a couple of things for me. I’ve been struggling to explain my depression and have felt a need to somehow try to help address the misunderstanding that surrounds it.

My mom used to deliver talks about depression to community groups, so she has a good understanding of it, even though she’s never experienced it herself. She spoke about people who say they are “depressed” when they have a bad day and how that’s different from depression.

It suddenly seemed clear to me. Depression is not a feeling. Depression is an illness.

We all have things that happen to us that upset us: the death of a loved one (furry friends included), the loss of a job, friends that turn away from us, lovers who reject us. It is quite natural to react with strong emotion to these scenarios — to feel depressed at times.

But depression is not a feeling.

Depression might be having something good happen, but you just can’t enjoy it. It’s knowing you love someone, but you can’t connect to the feeling. It’s lying in bed all day when you have so much you need to do and feeling horrible because you can’t do it.

It’s constantly fighting the feeling of not being worthy, of taking up space, of wishing you didn’t exist. It means sometimes taking medications you hate and putting up with the side effects because you fear being without them.

It’s an ongoing battle inside your head. Every minute of every day — never ending, unrelenting and overwhelming. Depression does not take a break.

A bad event, or series of them, as awful as they are, typically becomes easier to deal with over time. We “pull over selves together” and “get on with it.” We draw on reserves of strength we never knew we had to get ourselves to a better place.

The depression, the anger, the fear, the hurt and all the other feelings we had lessen. In some cases, we eventually move on and heal.

Depression doesn’t need an event. It will show up uninvited, unasked for and unwanted. It will unpack its bags and live in your head. It’s not going anywhere.

But you can begin learning how to manage and find ways to deal with depression: understand your early warning signs, take your medication, visit your mental health professional and work on the underlying issues.

I don’t feel depressed, I have depression. Some days, I feel better than others. But I still have depression. I still take my medication. Because depression is an illness.

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 “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Thinkstock photo via Andesign101

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