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Why My Depression Is Not 'Caused' by Lack of Effort

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Time and again, I have seen people who did not understand mental illness or who have based their opinions on stigma, accusing others of causing their own mental illnesses. They usually assume that depression is simply someone being sad for having a bad day, or that if they just tried a little harder or worked a little harder to improve their lives, their mental illness would simply fade away.

Depression is a mental illness. It is not someone just being “too negative” or “refusing to look on the bright side of life.” It is not someone being lazy or not trying hard enough to improve their circumstances. The onset of depression can be complicated. And treating it and managing symptoms can be just as complicated. Depression is a medical condition that deserves professional treatment.

Depression is also more than just sadness. There are periods of numbness, where it feels almost impossible to function. There are also periods of extreme negativity and self-loathing, when everything feels hopeless and you feel alone in the world. Depression can be increased by difficulties in life, but they are a catalyst, not the cause. Removing those difficulties might help improve the situation, but it is not a panacea. The depression will not just “go away” on it’s own. Again, it is a medical condition that deserves professional treatment.

I have struggled my entire life with mental illness. Yes, it has been drastically worse during the lower parts of my life, but even the better times were tainted by depression. Regardless of whether my life had collapsed or things were finally coming together, the depression was still there. Regardless of how hard I’ve tried to work on myself and improve my situation, my depression was still there. Because depression is a medical condition that deserves professional treatment.

I have begun taking steps to improve my mental health. I have done yoga, tai chi and meditation classes to help find an inner peace and calmness. I have taken other more specialized classes that focus on mental wellness, like transforming anxiety through art. Though each has given me new tools for my coping toolbox, none of it is a cure. Working harder on my mental wellness will not make my symptoms disappear, because depression is a medical condition that deserves professional treatment.

My personal life has greatly improved, as well. I am no longer in a dysfunctional, abusive relationship. I am finally with someone who loves, appreciates and accepts me for who I am. I have managed to rebuild friendships with old friends I had drifted apart from over the years. I have wonderful children I love dearly and am very proud of who they have become. I have a budding writing career and a new calling that gives me a purpose I had previously lacked. I have so many blessings in my life, so many things that make me smile and feel true happiness. Yet my depression still rages on.

I am in treatment. I see a therapist regularly and take medication. I did not ask to be mentally ill, nor am I sitting back complacently, refusing to do anything to improve my life or my circumstances. I am actively fighting to be as healthy as I can be. But that doesn’t change the fact that I have an illness that can affect the way my brain processes my emotions. Though the rougher times in my life have contributed to the severity of my illness, my depression was never caused by any situation or lack of effort on my part. I am not to blame for my mental illness. Despite what stigma and ignorance might lead some to believe, depression is a medical condition. Medical conditions do not improve by changing situations or with sheer force of will alone. I believe treatment is needed.

Follow this journey here.

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Thinkstock photo via MishaBelly 

Originally published: November 9, 2017
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