Generally, I’m the woman walking around my college campus with this massive smile on her face, seemingly happy about every little thing on the planet. I’m one of the last people on the planet people seem to think could have depression, especially of the severe form, but I do. I think I always have, but it took me the past two years to truly come to terms with it and seek help myself. Why not sooner? Because I’m stubborn, determined to feel normal, and generally like to help other people more than myself.
What I’ve realized through this acceptance, however, is that a lot of people aren’t so accepting of that fate. The majority of the people that I’ve met who have this disgusting sort of disease hide it just as well as I do, or slip into the background, as I have in the past when things truly started to get bad.
Imagine this: You have a fantastic day. All things went according to plan, you were able to get everything done, work through every meeting — but there was one person, or place, or something, that just didn’t sit right. Just one thing. Something, whatever it was, set you off in a way that you cannot control and now you’re going down this huge spiral of self-hate despite the fact that the entire day went well. Some of the things that might be running through your head after this happens:
- “Why am I not good enough?”
- “Why can’t I just get my shit together?”
- “Does that person hate me because of what they just said? Am I okay to be around? Oh god, they must hate me.”
- “I hate today. Today is a bad day. Well, I guess all those other things went well, but I feel crappy now. I’m going to go to bed.”
Now fast-forward to the next morning. You wake up and still feel self-loathing. That turns into not wanting to get out of bed. Now you call in sick to work or don’t go to class. You stay in bed and sleep. Maybe ’til 3 in the afternoon. Not because you want to, and not because you don’t have a lot to do. You just feel stuck, suffocated by the universe, and can’t fathom moving today. It’s truly hard to explain this to somebody who doesn’t have depression, but imagine that you’re so consumed by emotion that you literally cannot get your body to move.
Again, in your head, you say, “Why can’t I just get my shit together?”
Depression isn’t something that is easy to escape. It also doesn’t mean that your entire life is terrible, and that you’re just constantly consumed by this unending sadness. When I first started telling people I was withdrawing from my college halfway through the fall semester of junior year (with all intentions of returning the next semester), I’d mention family issues going on at home, saying I needed to take care of some things. In reality, it had nothing to do with my family. It was all about me. I was being selfish and leaving.
In the fall semester of my junior year, I had stopped going to class, my eating habits were getting bad again (The semester before, spring of sophomore year, I had pretty much stopped eating completely. I lost nearly 30 pounds. Food intake was something I could control when I became stressed.), and I couldn’t be in college anymore. With the majority of people I actually told the truth to, though, about having a severe form of depression, these were generally the reactions I got:
- “Oh my god, I am so sorry.”
- “I had no idea you were feeling that badly.”
- “What exactly are you depressed about?”
- “You need to go to the doctor. They can help you. Just go to the doctor.”
All of the above are reactions for obvious reasons. In society, generally when people say the word “depression” everyone squirms in their seats, feeling uncomfortable to be confronted with someone else’s pain. They also assume that persons world must feel like it’s ending, that they are completely suicidal, and that they could disappear into thin air at any moment.
I’d like to squash those notions. If you read back over the beginning scenario, you would note that everything in your day had gone well except for one tiny thing. Often, at least for myself, days can be like that. They’ve been that way since I was younger. I’d have a perfect day and then one tiny thing, like something somebody said, would set me off and I’d feel like absolute crap about myself. At my lowest point, I had some pretty disgustingly self-loathing thoughts. They would be along the lines of:
- “You don’t deserve that.”
- “Why should you bother if you’re just going to fail? You’re going to fail.”
- “Stop acting like such a freak, why can’t you just be happy? The rest of your day went so well and you felt on top of the world, why do you have to get so hurt over one tiny thing.”
The bottom line is that depression isn’t this all-consuming thing every day. Some days are pretty awesome. If you’re lucky, most of your days are pretty great actually, but that being said, it doesn’t mean that sometimes you don’t feel so badly that you don’t want to ever leave your room again. That feeling can last for a few days, but sometimes, and for a while in my case, it can go on for months. Those periods of time are absolutely miserable. Depression, in reality, is a chemical imbalance in the brain that prevents you from being a happy, functional, human being.
Martha Manning, a therapist turned author, summed it up best in her book Undercurrents: A Life beneath The Surface, about her own battle with depression:
Depression is such a cruel punishment. There are no fevers, no rashes, no blood tests to send people scurrying in concern, just the slow erosion of self, as insidious as cancer. And like cancer, it is essentially a solitary experience; a room in hell with only your name on the door.
I hope I’ve provided some insight, and I also have a few things to say, to those who are suffering:
You are important. You matter. The world does need you. You are a beautiful human being inside and out; do not let people belittle you or your ambitions.
The biggest thing that helped me when I was in the bottom of the pit that is my own depression was this quote: “You can make it through this, but first you have to get there.”
Sometimes, things are going to feel consuming, and that’s okay, but if you’re going to make it through, first you have to get to tomorrow. Focus on tomorrow. Not a week from now. Not a month from now — just tomorrow, and get there. I believe in you.