My depression comes in waves, sometimes with changing life events, and sometimes on its own. I can’t remember the first time I felt depressed, but it must have been around eleven years old, when my family moved from Los Angeles to the South. I went through culture shock and withdrew to avoid the pain of losing my life as I knew it so far.
Since then, I’ve expended a lot of energy into recognizing when the fog has set in and how to get rid of it. I don’t believe my depression will ever go away, but I do believe that I can handle whatever black cloud floats in next.
Here are six things I wish I could make those who have never experienced depression understand about those who live with it.
1. We know we’re being irrational, but we can’t help it.
I used to think that my depression made me smart, and that happy people must be ignorant to the harsh truths of human existence. I thought it made me stronger to be a realist. Global warming was destroying the planet. Humans were going extinct. So, what was the point? Feelings of hopelessness can often sound logical to a depressed person. Once, I found myself thinking that I would always be alone because I could never exist as more than just me. Even then, I knew how ridiculous it sounded. A therapist once told me it’s like having a beautiful painting, taking a brush, and covering it with blue paint. I learned to recognize my irrational thoughts, and that provided a new tool for my depression-fighting arsenal. But it didn’t stop my depression from setting in again and again.
2. We can be depressed without suffering a major tragedy.
Sometimes we can feel like we don’t have the right to be depressed because no great tragedy has befallen us. But that’s not always how depression works. Sometimes it can be the direct result of a life event, but other times a chemical imbalance in the brain or an unresolved emotional issue sits at the core. Depression does not discriminate. It happens to the best of us.
3. The physical symptoms of depression are very, very real.
Sometimes we fail to recognize depression in ourselves because our physical symptoms overshadow the real problem. Headaches, muscle and joint pain, cramps, and even digestive problems can appear or be made worse by depression. That friend you have who is always complaining about how tired she is even though she gets nine hours of sleep? It is not just in her head, even if it started there.
4. We’re not depressed because we’re lazy; we’re lazy because we’re depressed.
Physical ailments like fatigue can exacerbate our inability to get moving and active. It can be tempting to be frustrated with a depressed person who won’t get out of bed and do something. Get a new job! Go to a yoga class! When you see someone not take action to better there situation, it can be hard to have patience. It can seem like wallowing or self-pity (and sometimes it is.) This confuses even us. Sometimes we stay in bed all day, unable to move, and watch Netflix, until we start to question how we got so lazy. The important thing to remember is the underlying illness that makes it difficult to get out of bed in the first place.
5. Things aren’t as fun when you’re depressed.
Remember how as a child you used to play with toys for hours on end without realizing how much time had passed? Imagine sitting in front of those toys as an adult. What are you supposed to do? This is supposed to be fun? That’s how depression feels when once-enjoyable activities lose their appeal.
6. We can’t just “snap out of it.” And if we do, it takes time.
When someone suggests you “snap out of it,” they reveal their own lack understanding of mental illness, and at worse, they reveal themselves as unsupportive. Depression can last for long periods of time, even when a person wishes more than anything to wake up and be over it one morning. I’ve learned over the years what will help me out of a rut. But it’s a process, and one that looks different for everyone. Some people go to yoga and others meet new people or taking up birdhouse building. The one method guaranteed to fail is telling us to “snap out of it.”