I’m sitting here after a beautiful day out with my friends, a lump in my throat, unable to focus, and trying not to let the misery drag me under. I had such a good time, but it’s like I’ve got a monster sitting on my chest, and I can’t take a deep breath.
To the outside world, I seem fine. I drive to work. I string sentences together. I do a good enough job. People seem satisfied with what I make for them. My friends are happy to see me. The only indication that I’m going through a struggle is that I can’t stop talking about it – I’m going on and on about something that seems trivial to everybody else. And I guess it is trivial… but at the same time, it is not, because I. Cannot. Stop. Ruminating.
And yes, I seem ridiculous, comical. Compared to “really depressed” people, my life is hunky dory. I shouldn’t complain or burden people with all my feelings.
Does this sound familiar? Have you found yourself grabbing for your phone, desperate to talk to someone, anyone, who might be able to help? Have you stopped short of getting that help, because you felt like you didn’t deserve it? That, somehow, you didn’t meet an imaginary threshold for support?
What if I told you that a lot of people have these feelings? That, in fact, they can be a symptom?
Depression is achingly common, and not all depressed people are the same. Sometimes it overlaps with other conditions. Sometimes it’s the side effect of medication. And there is a non-zero percentage of people for whom depression looks like examining themselves, their lives, their relationships, and thinking all their fear and discontent must surely be a sign of them being a Selfish Snowflake Millennial who cannot handle a bit of sadness in their life without being “triggered”. People for whom the biggest sign of being depressed is the denial of being depressed, or the small acquiescence that they are “a bit down” but not so much they need to worry other people with it.
Unfortunately, because there is no agreed “depression threshold” everyone can recognize, that only makes it more difficult to access help. There isn’t a comprehensive set of literature to support depressives, no set of social norms that make it easier to reach out when you are struggling. Self-assessing yourself is fraught, too.
Pop culture doesn’t help, either. Movies, TV shows, books and music, no matter how well-intentioned, have only made things difficult. By associating mental illness with the most “cinematic” renditions, and melding several conditions together, they not only stigmatize individual sufferers, they make it more difficult, as a collective, for us to seek help.
And even if TV wasn’t trying to capitalize on “wokeness” – and failing completely at it – there is the health culture around mental illness, and the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” choice you are placed in when trying to get help. From dismissive GPs who won’t refill your prescriptions, to the disability system that only looks for ways to penalize you, to the newspapers running stories about depressed people leeching off the system, it’s a scary world out there, and it makes seeking help all the more difficult.
Who would want to be part of that? To be stigmatized, mocked, punished, for something that you have no control over and have difficulty managing?
When the deck is stacked so badly against you, it’s natural for you to self-censor and self-sabotage. It’s human – perfectly so – to try and tell yourself things are not that bad.
But please – if nothing else! – please, at least talk to your friends.
They are the ones who will have your back.
They are the ones who don’t want to see you in pain.
They are the ones who should be there, without judgement, without strings attached.
If nothing else, trust they will be there, because they love you.
And love shows up.