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What I Wish People Without Depression Would Understand

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My depression has a voice. It tells me things, and I instinctively believe them. I’ve carried these thoughts with me since early childhood. Some days I’m so used to this inner dialogue that I don’t realize it may not be based in reality. Some days I realize they are distorted thoughts, and yet I’m too exhausted to counter them with something positive.

Some people don’t understand why I have low self-esteem and why I seem pessimistic. They can’t fathom how I’m so emotional and why it takes me longer to work through things. To them, I may look less resilient and weak.
Or, as my depression manifested in early childhood, I may seem like a big cry

I wish people who don’t live with depression could understand what it’s like to live in my shoes, even for a little bit.

I want them to understand depression is like an abuser who constantly whispers insults into my ear. It tells me I am a bad teacher, wife, caretaker, daughter, friend, employee, patient and person in general. Depression causes me to feel so tired I can barely function, while simultaneously making me feel guilty and ashamed I don’t have more energy. (The contradiction is not lost on me, but it’s crippling nonetheless.)

Depression isolates me from everything I love and makes me believe people close to me would truly be better off without me. It turns living into an act of survival; every step becomes a trudge, and every day feels like a lifetime. It makes basic tasks like getting ready monumental chores. Food loses value, exercise seems impossible and work is completely burdensome and unfulfilling. It tells me I am useless, lazy and have no value on this planet. It makes me irritable and on edge, like I could burst any second. It makes me feel like I am walking around without skin — I’m just one big, raw nerve that could explode at any time. It’s a vacuum that sucks the joy out of any activity, no matter how exciting it may seem to other people. It intensifies every difficult emotion ten-fold. Sadness becomes despair, anger becomes rage, and loneliness becomes complete and utter seclusion. It turns people and social events into complex problems; I want to be with people, I know I need people and am extremely lonely, and yet I feel like I don’t deserve to be around them. I feel I’m a hindrance, a wet blanket and that I don’t belong. It makes me feel like a problem, and the solution to that problem feels impossible to find. It makes me feel like I am consistently failing in all aspects of my life.

Words don’t fix me, and certain words really, really hurt. I don’t need to be
told this will pass, or that I need to cheer up, or that I need be anything other than how I am in this exact moment. I don’t need to be told to be grateful for what I have or that I’m lucky. I’m fully aware of my privilege. I recognize the reasons why it’s suggested, but it implies I’m unappreciative and that making a few simple gratitude lists can fix this serious mental illness. I don’t need to be fixed or offered superficial advice. Have I tried exercising lately? Have I tried eating organic?  I can identify the desire to feel helpful, but if someone has never had depression, offering simple fixes feels trivializing. What worked for them, their friend or so-and-so from work, may not work for me. Consistently trying to fix it reinforces the idea that I’m broken.

Depression is not a phase. It is not a mild case of the blues that a little jogging can fix. Most people will go through a period of depression in their lives: to be human is to experience pain. Where my depression differs is that it is chronic, it is severe and it requires medication to keep it under control. I can still
experience serious symptoms of depression on medication and still when
everything in my life “seems great.”

“Depression” is not a word to be used casually, and it’s not something to take lightly. My depression had me self-harming at 14, contemplating suicide from ages 16-21 and attempting suicide three times in the past two years. It was not for attention, or sympathy, or even a cry for help — I came seriously close to losing my life. When you live with this monster for so long, the thought of leaving this earth becomes an obsession. Like a constant companion, it reassured me no matter how bad things got, there was always a way out of this. After years, the thoughts become plans, the plans become actions and the actions can be frightening and devastating.

People experiencing depression like mine are silently imploding. They are stifled by their fears, their thoughts and the voice that tells them they are not good enough. They are often exceptionally intelligent and bright people. They may be beautiful and socially gifted, amazingly talented, clever, creative, loving, seemingly “happy” people. They may be sensible, wise, goal-oriented adults or quick-witted, high-achieving, smiling children or teenagers. Depression wears many masks and lives within so many good people. A lot of the time it is most severe in people you would least expect.

If you know someone going through depression, have experience with it and have found a way out or a way to manage your symptoms, don’t be afraid to be a light, a helper or a friend. The best thing you can do is reach out and let them know you understand. Validation and connection can make a depressed person’s day seem a little less bleak, even if it’s only for a moment. If you haven’t experienced depression but know someone who currently is, it’s OK to not understand. You can still offer support in your own way.

“You are loved.”

“I care about you.”

“You matter to me and ____, ___, and ____.”

“I want to support you.”

“What can I do to help?”

“I’m here for you if and when you need me.”

Just know that regardless of your experience with depression, it may take your loved one a while to absorb your words. They may not be in a place that allows them to accept support, and that’s OK too. Even though the voice of
depression may be loud and screaming in their ears, a small whisper of a person who cares can make a huge difference. Who knows, it could maybe even save a life.

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Originally published: June 10, 2016
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