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In Which of These Pictures Am I Struggling With Depression?

Millions of people, on a daily basis, use the term “I’m so depressed” — yet the majority of them have no idea what that actually means. I admittedly was one of those people who used that term loosely until I lived and breathed it myself. Now, looking back on the last year or so of my life, I’ve thrown around the phrase “I’m so depressed” one too many times, giving it that nonchalant feeling it doesn’t deserve. Then reality hit, and I had to come to the realization I actually might be depressed. Boy, was that a different feeling.

I defined my life by my career (and still do, I’m a work in progress!) or what seemed to be a lack thereof. I had a plan, followed that plan and yet it turned out to be something I didn’t really want. Which is extremely confusing for someone who had their life mapped out. It’s confusing, painful and lonely when the thing you defined your life by isn’t what you really want. So, with that comes change, more confusion, heartbreak, rejection and for me… depression.

I never thought I could get in a place where I would have to drag myself out of bed, convince myself to do things other than staying home, put a smile on my face as if everything was fine, and yet feel like my insides were crumbling. I don’t think it was one set thing that spiraled me into this state, but rather a multitude of little things (mainly career wise) that made me feel like I was worth nothing. And yet, I had to “fake it ’til I made it” when I was at work, with friends or anywhere outside the comfort of my home. I cried, I yelled, I internalized. And all the while had thoughts I wasn’t smart enough, pretty enough, thin enough or good enough spinning through my head at a constant and scary speed.

two images of same young woman side by side smiling, picture on the right holding a dog

I share these pictures above because, time after time, I see pictures side-by-side of people showing, “this is what I look like depressed and not depressed” and you can see a clear difference. But what about the pictures where you can’t? Where only I see that the girl on the left is genuinely happy and handling life, and the girl on the right has thought about suicide far too many times that month. They both have smiles, they both look happy, but on the inside there is something much, much different happening. To the naked eye scrolling through my Instagram, it looks like I’m a really happy person, but you never know what’s actually going on inside someone’s head. You would never know I had to go to work and smile all day, but ended up on my bathroom floor shaking with tears. You would never know that, even though I posted that inspirational quote on my Instagram, I was thinking my loved ones would be better off without me that day.

When I finally got the courage to seek professional help, I was diagnosed with “situational depression,” as in the situations I was dealing with in my life were causing me to be depressed. It was helpful to get a clear handle on what was happening with my mind and body, but all I could think about was: “when is this ‘situation’ going to end?” I’d had enough of feeling like I was in this fog all the time. Because really, it’s a daily fight. I think that’s what most don’t realize about depression. It’s not like myself or the rest of us dealing with it choose to just stay depressed — choose to want to give up on a daily basis. It’s a fight. One side of my brain says, “OK, you got this, stay positive, you’re great!” The other (way louder) side screams, “No, stay in bed, you’re not good enough, you’ll never be good enough!” And if you’ve never been in this state, you can’t imagine the battle you face to let your positive side win. Unfortunately, it loses a lot.

It’s a battle to get out of bed, to try to look nice when you really feel ugly, fat, etc. — to go out with friends and be in the moment when your head is weighed down with a million negative thoughts. I wanted so badly to feel good about myself, to feel happy and shout positive sayings at the top of my lungs, but depression doesn’t allow for much of that to happen.

The worst part, like many things in life, is that there’s no “quick fix.” Telling me to “be more positive” makes my stomach turn. Telling me to push through makes me want to scream. Telling me “it’s going to be fine” makes me feel even more doomed. Because at the end of the day, someone who hasn’t gone through depression has no idea that you’re trying so hard to do all of those things, but it’s just not as easy as it sounds.

There are no amount of sayings, medication or self-help books (yeah, I’ve read them all) that will just make your depression disappear. Of course, they all help in the process, but just because you start saying “you’re great” in the mirror every morning or take a pill for a week straight doesn’t mean that you’re suddenly “cured.” If that was the case, I wouldn’t be writing this.

The tears I’ve shed, the pain I’ve felt, the times I’ve just wanted to give up, outweigh (in my mind) the amount of good days I’ve had in the last year. Because I went so long without even trying to get help because my pride got in the way of me saying out loud “I can’t handle this alone anymore.”

But that’s the thing — unless you tell someone, all anyone will see is the same person you’ve always been (in my case, the happy girl on the left). They won’t see the battle you go through on a day-to-day basis just to put a smile on your face. And as uncomfortable as it is to make an appointment for yourself to see a therapist — just do it. It’s so helpful to have an objective person who makes you realize you’re not “crazy” for feeling the way you do, and help you see that this is only a small slice of your life (and if you’re lucky, you’ll get a cool one like mine).

For those of you who know someone dealing with depression, support them. As best you can, be there for them. Because you’re the person who, despite their dark sides, will see their bright ones and who will ground them during the darkest of thoughts. But also encourage them (if they haven’t already) to seek professional help. There are amazing therapists out there who can make all the difference, who can help you see you’re not alone (because that may be what your friend or family member feels).

And forgive them. I realized how self-absorbed I was at all times during my depression. I couldn’t think about and put others first, or truly feel the joy they were experiencing in their own lives. Not because I didn’t want to, but because my thoughts were (or are still sometimes, again a work in progress) consumed by my weaknesses, worries and doubts. Your loved one still cares, but it’s hard to see past that fog.

Depression made me feel completely isolated from my friends and family, made me feel unworthy of any good things, made me question my mere existence and purpose. However, on the flip side, even though I still struggle to keep myself balanced and not slip back into that dark place, on some level I’m thankful for depression for making me realize I am a strong person. It takes a lot of mental power to knock down the voices telling you that you aren’t good enough (especially when it’s a daily struggle). It took a lot of guts to pick up the phone and make an appointment to see a therapist, and then follow through with going every week. And it’s taking a lot to write and share this with others.

So, my point in all of this? First, think before you let “I’m so depressed” slip out. If you are saying it because you had a particularly shitty day, find another word. It may sound ridiculous, but giving the word “depressed” a nonchalant connotation just gives those dealing with mental illness in this world more of a struggle.

Second, never judge a book by its cover. If I had thrown those two pictures in front of you before saying anything, you probably wouldn’t have thought twice about it. So, don’t compare yourselves to the amazing “highlight reels” of others on Instagram or other social media. You never truly know what another person is dealing with in their own life, or what’s going on in their head. The pictures they choose to show on social media don’t ever show the whole picture.

Third, if you are dealing with depression or even think you are, don’t ever feel too ashamed to get help. You aren’t “crazy” — you are brave. Brave for getting the strength to make a change, to seek guidance and to keep going because I know sometimes you don’t want to anymore. Keep going; you’re worth it, just like I’m realizing I’m worth 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, 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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