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I Wish Depression Wasn’t Real

April 1, 2014

I hate that depression is a thing.

Last week when Cindy posted about possibly being depressed I cringed a bit at the word, feeling fairly confident that Cindy’s low mood was just that, a bit of a down time in a lifetime of millions of other emotions. To call it depression is to align it with the ‘real’ kind that brings to mind drugs, shrinks and so many other dark connotations. Surely Cindy isn’t THAT bad, I told myself, real depression is a chemical, biological imbalance that definitely isn’t her.

But what is ‘real depression’ and who has it anyway? I have countless friends who’ve told my they’re depressed over the years, ignoring me as I advised against drugs and insisted we all get low sometimes. I tell myself they’re over reacting as they go to weekly counseling sessions and post melancholy facebook status updates, told them to drink more water and get more exercise as they pulled away from the world. I’ve never quite believed they were really depressed, categorizing them more as bored, lazy, unsure, insecure, scared or just plain 20-something. Depression is for other people, not for smart, capable people who are just in a rut.

But yesterday my brother told me he’s been at the lowest part of his life for the last few weeks, that he’s really felt this badly for a few years now but has been keeping it hidden, that he doesn’t trust another person in the entire world with all the darkness that is the real him.

At first I reacted like I always do when people I know to be fully capable and functioning humans tell me they’re more than unhappy, reminding him everyone fails classes and gets angry with the world sometimes and that things can change anytime. Feeling sad today doesn’t mean you have to be sad tomorrow or that you have a problem that needs external fixing. Categorizing yourself as something doesn’t help other than to give you an excuse to act a certain way. But this only made him angry at me for calling his problem common, though he countered with the very common argument that everyone else seems to have their lives figured out.

We all obviously don’t, just from reading this blog I’m sure you can see four fine examples of people still figuring it out, and in truth just a few hours before talking to my brother yesterday I was thinking to myself that I miss being joyful, that in the last few months I’ve forgotten how to really laugh.

I’ve been traveling Europe for two months now and while I’ve seen and done a ridiculous amount of wonderful things, I haven’t been particularly happy. Moving from place to place so often I’ve felt much more lonely, insecure, reserved, grumpy, and disappointed than I expected. Finding myself jealous of the giddy and loud school groups who tromp through museums and train stations without any regard for anything except their own immediate joy. There have been many other times I’ve felt grateful and impressed and content and in awe and confident and excited and relieved and proud on this adventure, but rarely have I felt really blissfully happy and while I wouldn’t ever call myself depressed, I would say that I’ve been down, in a rut that I will someday shake.

When I realized this and tried to snap out of my melancholy mood I just couldn’t quite get there, ending up more frustrated than happy, worried that I wouldn’t figure out how to be the person I wanted to be anytime soon. Not that I’m stopping to think about it I can see how easy it would be to let a small scale issue like that get exaggerated into a larger one, how scary it would be to feel like you have no control over your emotions or moods over weeks and months and years. Maybe depression like that would require some extra help and I’ve been doing more harm than good by discouraging the word.

After listening to my brother say he was just sick of feeling this way I started to consider that maybe getting a little outside assistance wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, that even though I know he doesn’t have ‘real depression’ he may have some mild form of it that would pass faster with a little help.

I still think his is mostly situational (he’s a 20 something male with a poor dating record, bad grades, no real career goals and mediocre friends); if even one of these variables improved I think he’d be fine, working through it until more things fall into place. It would be a shame if he got addicted to antidepressants or convinced he had a lasting problem just because of these changeable things.

But maybe I’ve been the wrong one all along and depression isn’t only a biological emotional state that you are powerless to change. Maybe depression isn’t as scary as all that, maybe all these people are just ‘down’ like I’ve been and instead of getting through it in the ways I do, they’re taking other paths. We’re all different, maybe it makes sense that all of our depressions are different too.

Blah, I hate that people get sad and that we have a term for it that somehow makes it okay and terrible all at once.

In the meantime I’m going to keep sucking it up and doing my best to learn and grow and be grateful and joyful. I’m going to take each day as it comes, assuming it to be entirely independent of the day before and in no way indicative of what is to come. And I’m going to do what I can to help my brother because I know the things that make me feel better (Thinking about more than just myself, going outside and interacting with the world) can’t hurt.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. April 1, 2014 12:33 pm

    update. two hours after posting this another unrelated friend just let me know she’s offically depressed as well. Not only have the last few weeks been not so great. she’s been seeing a counselor every two weeks for the last 5 years. she tried to commit suicide twice. i’d had inklings that she’d had thoughts of hurting herself in the years before we were friends but she’s never admitted it to me until now.

    i think she’s mostly fine now. just the melancholy quiet sad that comes with winter and having a counselor tell you you’re ‘seasonal bi polar,’ but still. What do I do? what does she do? why does depression exist?!

  2. thelittlemerskank permalink*
    April 1, 2014 3:34 pm

    Like you, Booty, I have generally tended to be slightly skeptical of some of my friends’ ‘depression’. I feel like happiness is in many ways a choice, rather than a present that is handed to you. I remember thinking like this last year when my friend at Oxford complained to me that she ‘just wasn’t happy’. I figured she was in a beautiful place, studying the subject she herself had picked, with friends, and plenty of money to eat and have fun: that basically there was no excuse for her unhappiness. Honestly, I still kind of believe this– and agree with you that it is too easy just to turn to drugs or other aids when there are problems you could solve yourself.

    But I also know this is not the whole picture. It is impossible to know another person’s experience, and that I shouldn’t assume that everyone else’s mental experience mirrors my own. For me, this point has been driven home by my newly acquired fear of flying. I had no real experience with phobias prior to this last year, and had naively thought that I was a ‘strong person’ who could never get bound up like that by a silly fear. I had never experienced any anxiety which felt so completely outside of my control. All of a sudden I have way more empathy with people who suffer from other phobias–and realize just how judgmental my opinions were before.

    So yeah- I tend to think that depression can sometimes get exaggerated and that people don’t always do enough to solve their own problems- but what do I know? I have never really battled any deep depression. On an individual basis, I don’t really feel like it is my place to judge what another person is experiencing– so I guess all I can do is take their word for it.

    • April 2, 2014 12:20 pm

      i feel like it used to come down to the question of the chicken or the egg. are you depressed because you have things about your life that suck or do you have things about you life that suck because you’re depressed? I used to think it was mostly the latter, but you’re right, who am I to know which came first?

  3. April 1, 2014 8:13 pm

    I have definitely been skeptical too, and I’ve always felt worried about antidepressants…honestly everyone I know who has taken them hasn’t seemed too happy–go figure! Like Merskank said, I tend to think we have some choice in the matter. I still do…but the season I recently went through showed me how I could be vulnerable to feelings I never thought I would have. It was never as dark or hopeless as what a lot of depressed people seem to experience, and I certainly never thought of hurting myself, but all the same it felt bad. It felt…depressing, like being weighed down by something outside of my control. Thankfully I have been feeling much better lately, and I think a lot of the triggers were situational, and therefore temporary. But it was still scary to see a peek of that world. I definitely know too many people who are stuck there somehow. And it will sound trite, but prayer and faith are the most powerful weapons against it–the only things I’ve seen that really worked.

    • April 2, 2014 12:18 pm

      i think you’re right, now that i’ve seen a peak at their world i understand a bit more. I’d be frustrated too if I didn’t know I’d come out of it.

  4. thelittlemerskank permalink*
    April 2, 2014 2:15 am

    Btw, Booty, my comment was somewhat self-involved– I wanted to mention that I am really sad that your brother is going through such a tough time! I hope, as you said, something starts to improve soon. Also, I hope he doesn’t get too lonely with you all gone away for the next few weeks.

    • April 2, 2014 12:16 pm

      he told my parents. they’re all freaked out. i hate being so far away. but i’d likely feel just as helpless even if i was close. i had a really good day wandering around the city today. it’s crazy how the brain can compartmentalize.

  5. snowwhore permalink*
    April 3, 2014 8:15 pm

    I definitely know that depression is real because I have a close friend who has struggled with it for years. After walking with her and having a first hand insight into her world I know for certain that depression is not something that you have a choice about. She resisted medication for a long time, and thought it was temporary and she could get herself out of it, but sometimes it is something that is completely out of your control.
    Of course every case is different, and I’m sure that some people use the word depression too mildly, but I’ve seen how real and heartbreaking it is for her. Especially because she has always actively been fighting against it. I think we have a tendency to always think we can do it on our own and we don’t need help, but that attitude can be dangerous. Even if you don’t want actual medication, you should never feel bad about asking for help. We never want to seem vulnerable, but honestly, I think vulnerability is one of the most beautiful emotions there is. The best relationships and experiences happen when you open up and take a risk letting someone in to help, even if its in a very tough situation. We are relational beings, but we like to pretend that we don’t need others when times are tough. There shouldn’t be a taboo on asking for help.

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