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What I Didn't Know About Depression Until I Faced It Myself

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Gloomy. Blue. Unhappy. Sad as hell. Depression.

For a long time, these words all meant the same thing to me. Depression has always seemed to be a self-imposed sadness to me. I could never understand why, if people were depressed or struggled with depression, they didn’t just stop being sad. To me, it was simple. If you’re sad, fix it. Do something to make yourself happy. Boom. Done. At the time, my ignorance about mental health was considerable.

When you’re an anxious perfectionist, you’re often always moving so fast living two weeks into the future so that emotions can never catch up to you. You’re probably a problem solver and emotions are just another task to check off the list, another event on your calendar or another reminder on a sticky note. You might keep an endless to-do list to avoid acknowledging what you really feel. Unfortunately, there is likely no reminder you can set to avoid that dark wave that’s going to drown you.

In my senior year of college, after reviewing what I thought was my flawless resume for the tenth time, I found a typo. I misspelled “development.” And anxiety put me in another one of its usual grips, but this time it brought something darker along with it: depression. I thought I could use logic and analyze my way out of it like I normally did, but it was something much more debilitating. It was only a typo, but it felt like I was drowning only to never die but constantly drown. Or like I had been a running a full on sprint and dead in the middle of it my heart stopped.

It was far from being sad as hell and light years away from being unhappy. Suddenly, the perfect grade point average, graduating, looking for a job, exercising, healthy eating and being around friends no longer did anything for me. I felt nothing at all, but at the same time I felt everything. I was empty. It’s one thing to feel like you’re preparing for a bear to attack at any minute of every day, and it’s another thing to feel like you deserve to be attacked.

That was 10 months ago. Thankfully, I was able to work through many of these feelings, but they never really left. They linger around waiting for the perfect moment to visit anxiety and I. I was a naive, arrogant, judgmental person to think I could outsmart my emotions and that those who struggled with them somehow couldn’t handle them because of some fault of their own. Depression often plagues you with a blindness to your own goodness, your own purpose, your own impact in other people’s lives. Everybody else can see these things except the person struggling.

Those who struggle with depression are not weak or sensitive. They are some of the strongest and bravest people in the world. When you wake up feeling heavy and have to fight yourself just to get through the day only to wake up and do again the next day, that takes real mental and physical strength. Depression and mental health issues in general are not things you can burn off on a treadmill or analyze like an algebraic equation. I think they should be viewed like physical injuries; they require almost constant effort to heal properly, it will usually leave a scar and it should be understood that nothing was intentional about it.

No matter your attitude toward mental health, I leave you with this:

Gloomy. Blue. Unhappy. Sad as hell — Depression is never that simple.

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Originally published: December 22, 2017
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