It’s the vampire of diseases. It hides in plain sight, waiting to pounce. You don’t hear it coming. It’s too swift and clever for that. It sinks its teeth into your psyche, draining your confidence, your energy levels and your sense of self-worth.
You’re powerless to prevent it. Once it has you in its grip you cease to be the person you used to be.
You’ve been ‘turned’. Your first instinct is to keep this a secret. You mustn’t tell anyone for fear of becoming an outcast.
You struggle to fit in because your basic needs have changed. The things you used to love have been replaced with the ‘True Blood’ that is the confines of your comfort zone.
The sun burns. The darkness is your playground.
You want to tell someone… but it’s just too damn difficult.
So you suffer in silence.
There are many different types of depression. I am pretty fortunate that the type that I experience is quite low down on the scale. I mean, it’s enough to impact my day to day life but not enough to overly concern me.
If being Bi-polar is akin to riding a crazy roller coaster then my depression is more like taking a Swiss monorail. I don’t have the highs and the rampant desire to take over the world, yet thankfully, I don’t experience the extreme lows that plague a lot of people who suffer from this debilitating disease.
I just ride along, struggling to find much joy in my journey. Sure the scenery is nice and there isn’t much danger of crashing but dear God, can life get a little dull.
In that sense I feel lucky. Apathy and boredom is infinitely preferable to the alternative. I’ve never been one get too down over a little misfortune just as I tend not to get too over excited when something great happens.
I am just at that line where I can enjoy life in small doses, but it takes effort.
For some people however, this ‘happiness’ is just a façade – a mask that is worn to protect their loved ones from the truth. Revealing too much can feel like a sign of weakness, hence why so little is known about the condition.
It really is the silent killer.
Basically, if you are confused as to what depression is all about then please read on as I am going attempt to peel away some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding this criminally misunderstood illness.
1. It’s a ‘mental’ illness so therefore it isn’t a serious illness
I wrote an article a while ago that suggested depression is NOT a mental illness.
Of course a lot of people just read the headline, mounted their high horse and proceeded to inform me how utterly stupid I was. You have to love these people – taking the time to leave a lovely comment on my article without reading the damn thing first.
Well, as I write this it has over 80k Facebook shares/likes, so I think I did a good job with it. Check it out if you haven’t yet read it.
Anyway, one of the main problems many of us face is the stigma that comes with admitting that we need a little help. Our illness is hidden away – trapped within the depths of our mind. It cannot be seen, it cannot be heard and the only clue to its existence is when we choose to tell others about it.
Someone with a broken leg is given sympathy because we can empathise with their pain. A cancer sufferer is given sympathy because we can empathise with the fear of death. Hell, someone with a runny nose is given sympathy because we all hate getting snot everywhere.
Depression though? It’s a ghost. People can claim it exists but where is the proof?
It makes no difference whether the cause is a life changing event, an imbalance of chemicals or simply a state of mind – we are physical; every single cell in our body is physical.
You wouldn’t tell someone with heart disease that their illness isn’t real because it only affects one organ, so why is an illness of the brain treated differently?
It kills a lot of people. How can you NOT take that seriously?
2. People who are experiencing depression can just ‘snap out of it’
Everyone who has experienced depression has also heard these immortal words. To say that it’s frustrating is putting it mildly – it’s not only infuriating, it’s downright upsetting too – and this is because it proves the person you are talking to has absolutely no idea what you are going through.
And even more worrying, they are never likely to either.
I liken the feeling to being underwater and attempting to run. You can try as hard as you want but there is a limit to how fast you can actually move. It’s crushing – it engulfs – it is just… there, and there is nothing immediate we can do about it.
Sure we can seek help, receive medication (if that’s your chosen path) and work on changing our mentality, but this takes time and effort. There is certainly nothing ‘snappy’ about it.
I remember a particular morning a few years ago where it felt like I was encased inside of an electric force field. Every attempt to move was met with a metaphorical shock to my system. I was sitting on my bed, willing myself to move, but I couldn’t.
I mean, I could MOVE, but I couldn’t move towards any of the goals I had set myself that day. I sat there for what felt like hours – I may as well have been underwater because life just seemed so… slow.
“Come on, just open up the laptop and once you’ve done that, start typing. You can do it.”
It seemed so simple, and it was. But it wasn’t easy. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. That simple act of opening up my laptop, something that most people would take for granted, was beyond my capabilities.
I just couldn’t move. So I went back to bed.
Unfortunately for some people, this is their existence 24/7. Just getting out of bed is a bigger task than running a marathon.
Snap out of it? I’ll snap out of it when you perform a similarly herculean task today.
3. You can’t be depressed if you ‘have nothing to be sad about’
This is also a difficult concept for a lot of people to get their heads around. If you’ve never experienced depression then it’s easy to just assume that it is always linked to a person’s life situation. Rich and successful people are happy whilst the poor are wallowing in self-pity and a thousand crushed dreams.
But this isn’t always the case.
Studies have shown that happiness levels around the world are pretty much equal. Joy and sadness are fleeting emotions and we always return to our own base levels given enough time. If your baseline is depression, then all the money in the world cannot change that. Like I said earlier; it is an illness and therefore it requires treatment and help, not deep pockets.
Depression doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care about your bank balance or what car you have in the garage. Your achievements and successes mean absolutely nothing because when it strikes, it does so without remorse.
It’s like the Terminator, but with a little more subtlety… and lot less leather.
What is the ‘go to’ response from the general public when a movie star or an athlete admits to struggling with depression?
“How ridiculous, how can he/she be depressed with millions in the bank? Get a grip. There are millions of people who would love to be in their position.”
The level of ignorance being displayed is astonishing. If you are reading this and you have uttered something similar then please slap yourself in the face.
We are all human – therefore we are all vulnerable.
4. You need a doctor to tell you that you are depressed
I’ve had this one thrown at me a few times in the past.
“But how do you know you’re depressed? Have you been to a doctor?”
Don’t get me wrong; doctors are pretty good with this medical lark. They even went to med school so I would expect them to know a thing or two regarding the human body, but to this day I have yet to meet one who has the ability to give you a brain scan with the power of their mind.
Just as a chiropractor cannot give you an X-ray with their eyes, a doctor is only as good as what they can physically see right there in front of them. Sure they may have a sheet of paper with a list of symptoms and a lovely flash pen to cross them off with, but whether they diagnose you with depression or not is largely based on guesswork.
Well guess what?
The person who is feeling like utter shit doesn’t need to guess. They know how they feel. It’s there tormenting them hour after hour, day after day.
A doctor can lead you into the hazy world of medication but you don’t need one to tell you how you are feeling. YOU tell them how you are feeling. YOU tell them that you are experiencing depression, not the other way around.
Change your thoughts, change their world
If you’re one of those people that believed depression to be a Mickey Mouse illness then please read on. This next part is what this article is really about.
The depression manifesto;
‘I (insert name here), promise to adhere to the following rules and to hopefully help change the lives of those whom may need my help in the future.’
- I will treat depression with the respect it deserves. I will consider it as a legitimate illness and I will not look down on those who may suffer with it.
- I will promise to keep an eye on any friends, family members or colleagues with whom I have noticed a change in personality.
- I will never again tell someone who is feeling down to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘deal with it’ when faced with a difficult situation.
- I will accept that it’s impossible to tell how someone is feeling by their outward appearance.
- If I ever feel depressed at some point in the future – I will promise myself that I will never suffer in silence.
Have you dealt with ignorance in the past regarding depression? Do you sometimes feel like nobody understands? Have you ever treated someone differently just because they admitted they were depressed? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below.
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I’ll admit I haven’t done a lot of homework on the science of depression, but I do agree with your message here.
Depression hits some much harder than others. Those highs and lows are something I deal with myself. But what I’ve started to find is it’s pretty damn normal.
Most people have their ups and downs. We are humans. We are supposed to feel. But there are definitely folks out there who have a stronger chemical imbalance.
I’m definitely not a fan of anti-depressants however as I’ve heard some serious horror stories.
I appreciate you bringing this topic up man. More people (myself included) need to be educated on this.
Kevin Cole recently posted..How To Cut Through The Bullshit & Get What You Want
Yeh high’s and low’s are an essential part of life but as you’re aware, these and depression are two different things and it’s good that you are seeking to understand more about it. The thing about anti depressants is that, while they work a treat, they drastically affect you in other ways. Not for me thanks!
A dream becomes a goal when action is taken toward its achievement.
Ultimately, we owe it to ourselves to recover. Some people will just never get to work, and the only person who can truly help is yourself. But it takes effort. I totally can relate to point no.2!
That being said, sometimes I can understand why people tell you to just “snap out of it.” I mean, I’m pretty sure there are many immature people who THINK they are depressed. But then again, you really can’t get into a person’s mind. So it can be a whole new topic I guess, in discovering your inner self.
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I don’t see maturity having anything to do with one’s potential to feel depressed. Of course, unless you mean actual brain maturity as in a lack of development? That could be why a lot of teenagers feel depressed, because their brains are changing as they mature. Who knows?
Thanks for your comment Jeremy
Thank you. I am REALLY struggling with this right now – but I come from a long line of cops and firefighters so I suck it up and keep doing what I need to do. In my case that’s raising 2 special needs teens and 3 Alaskan Malamutes on my own whilst working 5 jobs. I smile around others and then when I’m alone it comes on like a dark shadow engulfing my mind. I make sure there are no friends or family in my circle so they don’t see the truth that I am not coping well. I keep exercising more, pushing myself more, telling myself to “snap out of it and be grateful before I manifest something to REALLY be depressed about” : )
So… thank you for this. It helps. More than you know.
Hi Debi – I can imagine that being from a ‘macho’ family can cause a bit of conflict with your inner emotions as well as the amount of pressure you are under in your life. Keep strong and remember that speaking about it is another sign of strength. Thanks for sharing!
Excellent post, my friend. There was news a few months ago in the UK about the problem of depression. I was horrified by the level of ignorance around it and how people didn’t consider it a real illness. When I was a kid growing up with stammering, I suffered quietly in silence for years. I wholeheartedly agree with point that if anyone experiences depression they promise themselves to do something about it.
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Yeh, the British are not too great at sharing emotions. It’s the whole ‘stiff upper lip’ culture and it’s still seen as a sign of weakness here. Ignorance is a pretty nasty disease by itself and sadly one that will never go away. Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts!
Of course, part of the misconception problem is that we throw around the word “depression” to describe everything from a true case of clinical depression to a mild case of the blues. People exclaim “I’m so depressed!” when their sports team loses…and it clouds the issue. It’s great that you’re addressing clinical depression – the real deal, the monster in the closet, the terrible fog that keeps you pinned to your bed. Glad you’re tackling the issue. It can only help to have more understanding.
Exactly. The word has been trivialised so much that to many people it’s almost as interchangeable as the words ‘sad’ or ‘down’. Therefore when someone says they are depressed the immediate thoughts are that of them being temporarily sad, when that is not the case. I forgot to mention this aspect, so thanks for your input!
Hi Jamie, I really like the points you make – especially about everything being physical. Some people have this view that our brain (mind, thoughts) are separate from our bodies. It would behoove us all to read more science books!
If one is not suffering from a physical affliction of any sort, it is very difficult to imagine oneself in one. For example, I was in a serious car accident when I was 17 and spent over five weeks in the hospital. My pelvis was broken in five places, and I had to learn to walk again. Even though it was a 10 on the pain scale, I can’t put myself back in that pain, no matter how hard I try. The same goes for when I took an antibiotic (yes, antibiotic!) that wreaked havoc on my nervous system and I had to be on Klonopin (anti-anxiety) medication for over a year in order to be able to function in daily life. While I wish I hadn’t stayed on it so long, and wish I had a doctor who was a bit more on top of things, I was able to slowly decrease and continue the medication as it’s not one you want to be on for too long if you can help it. But, then again, sometimes the pain is just too much, and medication can be a life saver (though I now can get by on daily exercise and a very good diet).
Fortunately I am happy most of the time now, but I will never, ever think someone can just snap out of it. Pain is pain, “mental” or physical. Thank you so much for writing about it!
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Ouch! That is insane. The one bone that I can’t imagine breaking is the pelvis because it IS our core. It is the more important bone in the body. It’s surrounded by most of our organs and… argh. A mother of one of my students told me a story the other week about how a bus ran over her as a child and it shattered her pelvis and leg. She said she felt no pain for a week or so but then it was horrendous.
You’re so right that pain is pain – I have always found that dealing with depression helps me with physical pain also which lends me to believe that ‘mental’ pain is as prominent and real as any physical pain. As a suffer of sciatica I know I can deal with it a lot better than I could 15 years ago (before I recognised depression in myself).
It may not be as acute or intense in that sense but it can be just as bad in a different way.
Thanks for sharing Tammy!
Depression suck big time.
I would say the first half of my 20’s was all about that and had to fight hard with myself to figure out what was wrong.
I think the biggest hurdle anyone has to go through is the acceptance of having it in the first place because no one wants to admit to themselves that there’s something wrong.
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Hi Onder, acceptance is the key to anything. You’re right with this idea that people don’t admit things because in a way it means admitting something is wrong to their own ego. Thanks for your thoughts!
Thanks for your words. I actually blog about anxiety and depression. It is amazing what connections you can make with other people who are experiencing the same thing. I found myself nodding over and over as I read your articles.
Thanks for speaking up!
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Thanks for your comment Chelsea. It’s always good to hear from others who experience a similar thing!
I like your roller coaster metaphor. That sounds like my life.
Honestly, I have to read the power of now multiple times a week (not the whole book, just parts) to keep myself in this present state of mind where I’m not losing myself in my thoughts.
This is definitely a life commitment/struggle but I don’t mind it. The things I experience by becoming so present are priceless.
SebAstian recently posted..Don’t Listen To People
That’s interesting, have you tried listening to the audio book instead? I find that works much better and it feels more powerful to hear the words as I’m walking around, mingling with the world as I listen.
It’s a bit ‘wishy washy’ for me but in small doses I found the message quite powerful.
I have not. I might give it a try. I just love reading. And when you read, you can simply scan and skim and go directly to the information you want.
Not sure if that’s possible when listening to the tapes.
SebAstian recently posted..Don’t Listen To People
It’s easier to do on the fly. You can listen when commuting, walking in the park or beach and any other situation when you haven’t got the book to hand. Why not do both?
Personally, I’ve deal with depression at times. For me I’ve found that nourishing myself is a helpful way to move through and away from it. I nourish myself by doing the things I enjoy, through personal growth (reading good books and listening to motivational audio), and spending time with family, and making sure to focus on my faith.
I think self-care at times is better than mediation. Loved reading this post, so helpful!
Exactly, Dan; life is all about enjoying the little things! Find what works and then continue to do it. Thanks for your comment!
There is a fifth.
Antidepressants are the answer.
Treating depression works much better (when it is mild or moderate) without using medication.
The only real evidence for efficacy for medication is in severe depression.
It is a condition with potential long term effects, so if youfeel itcomingonserk help quickly and try to adjust your lifestyle to help.
Dear Jamie – thank you for normalising yet taking seriously something that has affected my life and those closest to me for many years. I am outwardly on all accounts successful – not rich, but money enough, a career I love – a beautiful daughter. But there are times when blackness pervades my life, thankfully not thoughts of death, just nothingness, and the heaviness of my body & thoughts “wading through treacle” is how I describe it. Do I discuss it openly? With a few close friends who I meet once a week to play guitar with. In my own experience music really does soothe the soul – I’d encourage others to try too. To those who don’t know me I’m probably a little quirky and an acquired taste. But aren’t we all. What you see is rarely what you get in most cases xx Lisa