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When I Tried to Capture Depression in a Photograph

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To say depression is a difficult thing does not begin to scratch the surface of its reality. I’ve thought for days on how to express this condition through a photograph. There’s no way to tell you with words or pictures exactly what it is to be depressed. Unless you’ve known depression yourself, all of my words and pictures could not possibly make you fully understand. My mind has searched continually for a poignant way to relate the reality of such a misunderstood thing. The artist in me wanted to go deep with elaborate work and staging to portray this topic. Finally, I realized elaborate was for another time and this photo must simply be real.

Woman seated and facing camera in front of window seal

This is the reality of depression. I hope it looks shockingly normal to you because people with depression look like people. They sound like people. They move like people. In fact, they even smile like people because they are people. Just like chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia and a host of other chronic illnesses, depression is an invisible illness. You may see the results of the illness at points, but you can’t really see the illness itself.

Depression is not a mood. You cannot just decide to be happy and it goes away. Depression is not merely sadness. A meaningful reassurance isn’t to respond with, “Sometimes I get sad, too.” Depression is a condition that eats away at your foundation and steals joy from every moment. It doesn’t mean you will never smile or laugh, but when you’re done smiling and laughing it will still be there. It taints every joy, plays into every fear and increases every pain, as if your eyes have been permanently altered to see the world differently.

More than one thing can cause depression and sometimes, these causes are just the circumstances of life. Living daily with chronic illness can be a breeding ground for depression. One common cause of depression is genetic vulnerability, and stressful life events can be a factor as well. For me (and many with chronic illness), it’s both.

Chemical imbalances” throughout the body can result in depression. While this explanation may seem like a scapegoat, chemical depression is difficult to come to terms with. It’s one thing to be depressed due to the loss of a loved one. However, when depression permeates your life regardless of circumstance, it’s excruciating and hard to understand. In these cases, prescription drugs become a viable option for help, which opens up an entirely new issue.

Besides side effects and cost, prescriptions also tend to come with an amount of shame attached. I remember when I first began taking an antidepressant. I was ashamed to tell anyone. All of these stigmas came racing into my mind, and I soon realized every presupposition I held regarding depression and medication was so wrong. Just like any other sickness, depression is an illness and I was taking the prescribed medication. Yet, it was hard to see through the remnants of my pre-depression viewpoint. To me, my daily pill said I was “crazy” and unable to deal with my life on my own. It said I was inadequate and not trusting God enough to carry me through. I felt as though it degraded my character and my faith, but I was wrong.

By taking that pill each day, I was being responsible and caring for my mind and body. It didn’t remove my integrity, nor did it degrade my faith in God. I believe medication is one of the many tools God blessed me with to survive my depression. Nothing about that should cause me shame or make me feel less than human. And so, like me, I hope you will take a moment to re-examine your thoughts on depression. To fully understand it is not a mood, but an invisible illness.

This is a chapter from my book, The Reality of Chronic Illness. To read more, order your copy at my website or through Amazon.

Originally published: September 1, 2016
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