So I had a conversation with a friend recently that upset me quite a lot. I was trying to open up about my experience with depression and the remarks she said to me like “How could you get depressed over something like that?” and “Wow, you are so weak.” at first infuriated me. But then it helped me realize something. Most people have no idea what depression really is. The basic knowledge on depression is so lacking in my friend but that’s only because this foundational understanding of depression is nonexistent in society.
So rather than go on a rant over everything I feel is wrong about how my friend responded, I’d like to take the route of education. People need to understand what depression is because it effects more than 350 million people worldwide. That means your friend, your co-worker, a family member, someone you see every day could have depression. And yet so many people are kept silenced about it because of a simple lack of knowing. So here are some things I feel every person should know about depression.
1. You’re Not You When You’re Depressed
Depression is a disorder that robs you of your identity. Your innate personality completely disappears when you are depressed. I am a naturally cheerful person. I love to laugh and talk on hours on end. Most people would describe me as hyper and animated. That is the propensity I was born with. But when depression entered my life and my body that old me was gone. That is how powerful and detrimental depression truly is. It can erase all of your characteristics and leave you feeling like nothing. Literally nothing. There is just an emptiness inside of you.
One thing I really hate is when people believe that who I was when I was depressed is who I am now afterwards. People may say things like, “Oh you can’t handle being on your own.” or “You’ll just cry about it.” or “You cry a lot.” But that’s not me. That was depression. Who I was when I was depressed is not who I really am.
2. Depression is More than your Situation
I suffered from depression during college. It was after freshmen year when I had transferred to a much bigger university. I had left all of my friends only to enter into a new environment completely alone, with people who already seemed to have made their friends and weren’t looking for new ones. I felt so lonely and alone during that time, which I believe contributed a lot to me becoming depressed.
But I’d like to add a pivotal fact. Depression is bigger than your situation. Yes, how you feel after a certain trauma, shock, or change in your life are big contributing factors to getting depression. But depression is more than how you feel at a certain moment or season in your life. It can come out of nowhere, for no particular reason. It can occur from something big or small or it could happen with no relation to how your life is going at all.
I like to compare it to getting a cold. Do you ever blame someone for getting a cold? No. Sure they could have worn more layers or washed their hands more but we never say “You got a cold. That’s your fault.” It’s the same with depression. So why do we show compassion for people who get illnesses like a cold or even cancer and yet blame people for getting depression-another illness? Most of the time, getting depression is out of your control.
3. You Can Not Force Yourself to be Happy When You Are Depressed
Forcing yourself to “just be happy” when you are depressed it mentally and emotionally impossible. That’s like asking someone to get out of a cage without a key and then blaming them when they inevitably fail.
Your brain actually changes when you are clinically depressed. Your level of serotonin decreases which is a chemical in the brain that helps produce positive emotions. Not only that, many of your brain cells in the hippocampus which affect emotion shrink and die.
It’s as if happiness and joy gets locked up in your brain as it steadily deteriorates and fades away. So to tell a depressed individual to just try and be happier is not only impossible it is painful advice. Because when you’re depressed and you try to make yourself feel happiness again, and you most likely fail as it is biologically impossible, this could have you end up feeling only more depressed and dejected afterwards.
4. Depression is More than Sadness
I feel as though people use the word depression so recklessly nowadays. Saying you are depressed because the weather is bad or you did poorly on a test, to me is insulting. It minimizes the pain I endured when I was going through actual depression.
So what is the difference between sadness and depression? Sadness I’d say is still on the same spectrum with happiness. In a given day you could range from happy, to normal, to sad. But depression is a world away from that spectrum.
When people ask me what depression feels like the only way I can describe it is through an image. Picture yourself lying at the bottom on an entire ocean. But there is no sunlight it is all just pitch black dark. The weight of the ocean is on top of you but you don’t have the strength to move, to breathe, or even to swim to the surface. It’s too far away and the weight is so life crushing you are just stuck. You can’t even tell where the surface is anymore.
5. Depression is an Actual Medical Disorder
Like I described in #3, depression is biological. It affects the neurons, cells, and chemicals in your brain. Depression is classified as a disorder and it is an actual medical illness. I feel as though people don’t understand the gravity that depression has on a person. It can wipe away who you are. How you think. It can take away your ability to feel. It can have all the light in you wither away. It can break you and ruin you. It can make you forget your reason for living. It takes all of the power and strength out of you. It can take away your ability to fight, to laugh, to smile. Depression has the power to do all of that.
6. Having Depression Does Not Mean You’re Crazy
If you have depression please do not think you are crazy. You are not crazy. You are suffering from an actual mental illness. Depression isn’t who you are but I understand that it can take away all of you.
I like to compare it to allergies. If your eyes or nose are itchy, you’re going to itch them. In the same way if depression effects your brain you are going to feel the way you feel. It is a cause and effect. You’re not crazy.
Being crazy I think, is when you lose your grasp on reality or when you are unable to feel compassion for anyone else. That is not depression. Furthermore, if you have suicidal thoughts that doesn’t make you crazy either. If your brain does these things to you, then the logical result is to feel hopeless and suicidal.
But please don’t think that it should end there. I’ve battled through depression and can say that you can survive, you can endure, you can heal, and you can cross over. But you must seek help and you must keep trying even when it feels like there is no use and that it is impossible. Because it is possible to heal. You must believe that. Just the tiniest bit of strength and hope can help you get through it. Depression is a beatable and treatable disease.
7. Depression Effects All of You
Although depression stems from your mind, it can impact so much more. When I was going through depression I had terrible digestion problems. Indigestion and nausea happened on a weekly basis. It went so far as having blood in my stool and having to get a colonoscopy. The way you feel emotionally and mentally has a proven impact on your physical body. You can get headaches, migraines, you could throw up or faint from it. Depression can tarnish your mind and your body.
Not only the physical aspect, depression can effect your social relationships. During my depression, I knew that I had to seek out new friendships and social relationships. But depression kept me from making the effort. Depression made it too hard, too terrifying. It filled me with anxiety and stress. I’ve also seen relationships end because one person is affected by depression and the other just can’t handle it. Depression can effect every area of your life.
8. Ways to Get Help
If you feel like you identify with any of the symptoms I’ve described about depression please seek out help. I know that is a very hard thing to do especially with the stigma surrounding it but you are worth it. You are worth the effort of getting out of this terrible disorder.
There are many different ways you can seek out professional help. If you are currently a student, there are student health services with counseling that can really make a difference. Sometimes you just need to let all the emotions out by talking to someone, and that someone should be a licensed professional who knows what you are going through. Whether it is a public grade school or at the university level this counseling could be free or at very low cost to you. They can also refer you to people who can help you even better.
I didn’t know this before but many medical insurances actually cover the cost of therapy. You can set up an appointment with a therapist and have the cost already covered!
If you don’t have the resources for free or affordable counseling you can talk to someone for free! The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is open 24/7 and is available in English and Spanish. You can contact them at this number: 1 (800) 273-8255.
There are so many resources available if you are battling depression! So many I wish I had known about while I was going through depression. It is so necessary that you talk to someone about what you are enduring right now. You can not get through this alone. You need support. If you have trusted friends and family I’d also recommend telling them about your depression. Having someone to lean on during this extremely difficult time can really lift some of the weight off of you.
When people ask me how I got through my depression I can think of a combination of things. Family who stood by me. Writing helped me a lot as well. But what I really believe to be my saving grace during depression was God. If I hadn’t had my faith in Him and his love for me I truly believe that I would not be here today.
I know it can make you angry to go through this. I was angry. I questioned God why he would put me through something that seemed so unbearable, too much for me to handle. But amidst all my pain I saw Jesus bear the pain with me. The love of God can heal you through any battle including depression.
Now I’m not saying that with faith, hope, support, and therapy you will be instantly healed. You won’t. It is important to know that depression and healing is a long journey. It took me three to four years to really feel unaffected by depression any longer. But you must keep up the fight. Life is worth living even in the darkest times. You can get through it.
Thanks for reading through this extremely long post. I hoped you gained a better understanding of what depression is really like. If you have any questions or would just like to talk feel free to leave a comment below. Until next time!