Real Talk About Depression
Some of the comments I’ve been reading in reaction to Robin Williams’ tragic suicide tell me that some people still don’t get it when they talk about depression.
Depression is not a real bad mood. It’s not something that can be shaken off or just pushed through. It’s not a cowardly reaction to the hardships of life. It’s a combination of unfortunate wiring, chemistry, genetics and programming that creates a vicious nemesis that sometimes won’t rest until it can get you alone in a room and kill you.
Some people who suffer from serious depression may know every one of the following points as a hard truth… and if you think you know what depression really is, you may be shocked to learn how much you don’t know… and how dangerous it can be.
1. Most of the things people will say to help you are profoundly and dangerously unhelpful. Thanks to a plethora of misinformation about what depression actually is, people often seem to think that saying things like “just be happier,” “don’t be depressed,” and “just try harder” are legitimate pieces of advice. They are not.
2. It physically hurts. In the human body’s least amusing attempt at metaphor, many depressed people report physical symptoms like muscle ache, joint pain, and stabbing sensations in the chest. If you are depressed and feeling pain, check with your doctor to discuss possible causes.
3. Asking for help feels counterintuitive. One of the many lies depression will tell you is that nobody cares about you, so you won’t want to “bother” people by reaching out to them. Fight this lie. Wrestle it to the ground. Punch it in the face. Somebody will listen to you.
4. Your relationship with food changes to “it’s complicated.” Whatever moderation there is between “forgetting to eat for a day” and “eating all of the things” just isn’t on the menu anymore. Poor eating habits can make depression worse, though, so seek medical help if your diet becomes worrisome for you.
5. Some “friends” might ditch you (and that is OK). Some of your so-called friends won’t know how to be around you and will vanish in the haze. Let them go and keep doing you. It’s the people who stay that will make a difference.
6. You feel like you are absolutely losing your mind. Depression is a shape-shifting mental disorder; it co-manifests with panic attacks, compulsive thoughts and habits, social phobia, and any number of other issues. Remember that you are not “crazy.” You are sick and you can get better.
7. Everything will start to annoy you. Even you will start to annoy you. Irritability is a symptom of depression that doesn’t get enough attention. Feeling grumpy is just a part of the process, and you shouldn’t be made to feel bad about it.
8. Everyday tasks will feel overwhelming. Something as simple as making a bowl of cereal suddenly has too many steps and now you’re frustrated with yourself and oh dear, don’t cry…
9. It’s nearly impossible to tell when it’s just your “depression talking.” Trying to tell your healthy, rational thoughts apart from the stuff that wouldn’t cross your mind if you weren’t depressed is like scooping only the pee out of a swimming pool, but being able to tell that difference is an important step on the road to recovery.
10. Depression will wreak havoc on your sleep schedule. You can’t sleep when you want to, but when you actually have somewhere to be you get knocked out with a completely unplanned, five-hour nap.
11. Depression can also mean not feeling anything at all. If you’re depressed it’s assumed that you’re sad, but depression can also make you feel numb and/or emotionally exhausted. No matter what other people say, that’s still depression; if you feel emotionally numb or blank you should report it to your doctor or therapist.
12. It’s incredibly boring. Imagine that you can only watch one thing on Netflix, and it’s an 80-season show with 24-hour episodes. Imagine that you have no interest in this show or its characters or its plot. When you are depressed, your life might feel like that TV show. Try to distract yourself for brief periods of time with anything that will hold your attention and stave off the boredom, however temporary the distraction is.
13. You’ll feel guilty. What’s worse than being depressed? Feeling like you’re a selfish, ungrateful failure for having a disorder you can’t control. This is a common depressive thought, and is not true. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you identify depressive thoughts and emotions (like guilt) and can give you tools to work through these feelings.
14. Probably because people will tell you things that make you feel judged. Yes, people are starving. Yes, there are people with “real problems.” That doesn’t make you any less sick.
15. Your dreams get weird. Some studies say that as people move through the stages of their depression, the content and quality of their dreams fluctuate.
16. Mirrors become your worst enemy. Low self-esteem is a symptom of depression, so your mirror can remind you of how much you dislike the way you look or who you are. Sometimes it’s best to just cover them up for a few days.
17. Depression will seem like a “logical” state to be in. Some studies show that depressed people have an unusually realistic worldview, so you might rationalize your depressive thinking (“I am a bad person”) as an incontrovertible fact. This is not true, and therapy can help you understand how depression flaws your logic.
18. So you will earnestly argue with people over how terrible you are. “I think you’re awesome.” “NO YOU DON’T, I’M CLEARLY THE WORST PERSON EVER GO AWAY.”
19. Trying to reenter society after being depressed for a long time is very awkward. It might be a while before you feel good around people again, so it’s OK to take your time and slowly reintroduce yourself into social situations.
20. You won’t be able to think clearly about your future. Not only does this nuke your capacity for hope, it also renders meaningless the idea that at some point things will get better. If you feel like this, please take steps to seek medical help or talk to a trusted friend or counselor.
21. Depression will make you feel that you are alone. You are not alone. If you need information on depression or want to talk about your depression, you can call the Crisis Call Center at any time of the day. Their national number is 1-800-273-8255 and all calls are free of charge. If you don’t like talking on the phone but still want to be heard, forums like the Reddit boards r/depression and r/anxiety have strong communities of people who may be working through an illness similar to yours. For more information on your depression, the National Alliance on Mental Illness has up-to-date research in the field of psychology as well as articles and fact sheets on mental illness. To find a doctor or support group in your area, try searching on the Healthfinder for nearby support groups or use this GoodTherapy online tool to locate therapists in your area.
Thanks to Alexis Nedd and the BuzzFeed staff.