This is a question I get on a regular basis, and after recent events it’s something I want to talk about somewhat in length. But, I shouldn’t need to explain that considering blogs exist for this purpose.
I have a mixture of helpful people and extremely unhelpful people in my life. In regards to my mental health, unfortunately members of my own family fall into the latter category. Mental health is a rather “taboo” subject in our society. You’re classed as an ‘attention seeker’ or a ‘mental case’. Some have even suggested I should be locked up as to not cause myself or anyone else harm.
Let’s clarify here that I’m talking about having clinical depression, not being overly sad about a particular thing. So it’s a mental illness. Unfortunately, the symptoms are mood related and not “physical”. Because there are no outward signs of depression, many do not understand that it is an illness and it’s not something that can be overcome with having a “more positive outlook” on life. I think my favourite comment on my depression has been “Have you tried not being depressed?” as if I choose to feel the way I do on a daily basis.
I have a bit of a secret to let you in on. Depressed people rarely talk about being depressed or show that they are depressed because of the stigma that is attached with it. It’s in no way anyone’s fault if they suffer from a mental illness. Just like it’s no-one’s fault if they suffer from asthma. I’m a bit of an anomaly when it comes to this because I decided a while ago to stop hiding something that’s not my fault.
My old counselor once asked me if I could describe up my depression in one sentence. My response was “I would not wish this hell on anyone.” Because that’s the thing, it’s utterly indescribable. But right now, I’ll try. Depression is like having an inner voice (although voice is the wrong word, it’s not an audible voice usually) telling you every single awful thing anyone’s ever said about you on repeat. But then it changes it and makes it worse. And it continuously makes it worse until you think “What’s the point?”. You start out feeling rather down. You become more and more tired even though you’re sleeping more than you probably ever have. You start to get weepy about ridiculous things. Then, you feel numb. Your body goes into some form of defense mode and you start to combat it and do things to feel something. Of course that never works and you end up in some kind of vicious cycle. Unfortunately in my case that became self harm. Which is something you can’t begin to understand unless you’ve done it, so I won’t start to explain it now. But I got addicted to hurting myself, which made me slip further and further into that abyss that we call depression.
If you have someone with depression in your life, you need to treat them with so much care. But not in a condescending way. Things like “chin up”, “it get’s better”, “think, there are people way worse off than you” and “you’ll be fine” are all things that in my experience make a depression sufferer want to scream at the top of their voice “You. Don’t. Understand.” Saying things like “I don’t understand, but I’m here.” or “Help me understand” or “I’m not promising I’ll have answers, but I can listen” are much more helpful things to say.
Forcing people with depression to do things that they’ve said they don’t want to do is also another thing that is not advisable. I have a deal with my friends. Sometimes about a certain event or situation I’ll go “I might tell you in 2 days that I don’t want to do this, but I need to do it. So don’t take no for an answer.” because I do need a nudge (or a shove) in the right direction sometimes. However, if I’ve not said that about something and I decide that actually, it doesn’t seem like a good idea given my current state, they know not to push the matter.
The last thing I want to say is actually the very reason I wrote this blog post. Don’t ever take advantage of someone with depression because in my experience – which is the only experience I can talk about obviously – we can be easy targets. Personally, I have found myself taken advantage of in friendships and my feelings toyed with in relationships. I ended up in hospital after one particularly nasty experience because I was extremely unstable after finding out I had been played.
So, why am I always smiling? Well, first I’m not a robot, I’m still able to express emotion and can enjoy myself when I’m not at rock bottom. And second, do you see how long this blog post is? It’s easier to smile than to recite this essay whenever I’m asked about my depression.
“So why am I depressed? That’s the million-dollar question, baby, the Tootsie Roll question; not even the owl knows the answer to that one. I don’t know either. All I know is the chronology.”
– Ned Vizzini, It’s Kind Of A Funny Story