There is something you should know about me: I struggle with mental illness, specifically, clinical depression. I have been diagnosed as clinically depressed for several years now. In other words, I have been diagnosed as “sad.” At least that’s what it seems to be referred to most of the time. I’m “sad,” or “negative,” or “pessimistic.” It’s my own fault that I feel this way. I could choose to change my attitude whenever I want to! That’s my problem… I’m choosing to feel like this; I’m choosing to be sad, right?
Depression isn’t crying. It isn’t yelling, or forcing your problems on everybody you meet. Depression isn’t spilling hot coffee on your favorite shirt or missing your bus and thinking it’s the worst day of your life. It isn’t that simple. It exudes itself in everything you do. It takes over every aspect of your life, and it doesn’t care that it’s destroying you. Depression is when your favorite part of the day is the moment when can curl into a fetal position under your blankets and pretend like you’re asleep so the rest of the world can’t bother you. It is being so used to pretending like you’re okay that it has become second nature to you. It is loving someone else more than you love yourself. It is seeing that your sadness makes your family and friends sad, and trying to spare them the details. It is knowing that you are negatively affecting those around you, wishing you could change yourself, wishing you could be a better person, for them. Depression is not an overreaction. It is a chemical imbalance in the brain. Yes, I have a chemical imbalance in my brain, as does my brother, my mother, my uncle, my grandma… you get the picture. I was born with this, as are millions of people around the world. For us, happiness is a distant goal. I’m not saying it’s impossible. I’m not claiming that life for the clinically depressed is an endless black hole with no hope or happiness in sight. I’m simply asking you to be patient with us.
There’s something I want you to understand, and that is that you don’t understand, and that’s okay. Now, I know how cliché it is to hear from a self-deprecating and emotional twenty-something female that “you just don’t understand.” But hear me out. You don’t have to understand. I don’t expect you to understand why I randomly broke down crying in the middle of our lunch date. Hell, I don’t even understand why I’m sad most of the time. How could I expect you to? If you ask me what’s wrong, my answer will most likely lie somewhere along the lines of, “Oh, I’m just tired.” Please don’t get angry with me for not sharing my every emotion with you. Because you know what, most of the time if I tried to explain to you “what’s wrong,” it would take me hours to map out what I’m feeling at that moment. Sometimes, I would rather be by myself. Sometimes, I want to play introspective music and sit on my bed and write about how I am feeling. Alone. And sometimes, that’s okay. I’m not pouting; I’m not trying to be dramatic. I’m simply doing what I feel is necessary in order to save you the burden of dealing with my “negativity.”
People struggling with mental illness don’t need someone who can understand and relate to us. We just need someone who can be there for us when we are at our worst, who won’t judge us and tell us to “just get over it,” who won’t say that they understand because they “had a bad day too.” My depression doesn’t stem from what happens to me throughout the day; it’s a mindset. A life. It’s something I struggle with every second of every day. I think of happiness as a privilege. Some people have attained that privilege; some have not gotten there quite yet. If you happen to have the privilege of having found happiness, the least you could do is stop pretending to understand those less privileged than you. Don’t get me wrong, I expect to be happy someday, I do. I hope to gain a sense of positivity and self-love so great that it can overpower the inevitable sadness that takes over my daily thoughts. And I’m working to get there. But depression is not a case of spilt milk. It’s a journey, a voyage, a story. My depression makes me who I am, and while I anticipate the journey to be a long one, I hope to find my own inner peace someday. And I think I can. I think everyone can. But it isn’t done with an on/off switch. So here is what I, we, need from you: We need you to love us for all of the parts of ourselves, sadness included. We need to feel your acceptance, and we need to know that we aren’t alone. We need hugs, sometimes. We need your encouragement, but not you telling us to “just smile!” We need support, but not empathy. And we don’t need you to “understand” us. We simply need some love in our lives.