Depression, what is it exactly?
Many have used this word so loosely and freely that many of us don't actually know what it means to refer to the event that is called depression in the noun sense. It's definitely not the Monday blues, or feeling down for a short period of time, in which the word in this context is really a verb.
I am by no means an expert or doctor myself, but certain experiences I have had personally over the past 1.5 months had got me thinking and getting very concerned over this medical condition. Although there are increasing awareness of this health issue, I do feel that many are still not quite informed when it comes to this.
It's often said that depression results from a chemical imbalance, but that simply does not convey the complexity of this disease. Yes you heard me right, i'd like to call this condition a disease. It's no different from the more commonly known health conditions such as Asthma, Dengue Fever and the Common Flu - which are also known as diseases. Research suggests that depression has many possible causes, including faulty mood regulation by the brain, genetic vulnerability, stressful life events, medications, and/or medical problems. More often than not, a person would be experiencing several of these issues, thereby resulting in depression.
This also meant that anyone and everyone is capable of suffering from depression.
To be really really honest, I do believe that I was suffering from mild depression in the past month, although I was never properly diagnosed by a physician. Depression is a really difficult condition to understand and explain, and even till now I find it difficult to put my feelings or my thoughts into words. And because it is difficult to understand, it does make it hard for friends and family members to offer meaningful support. Depression isn’t exactly the same for everyone, so there’s not a fixed rule or a model to identify depression.
Myth #1: Depressed People are Suicidal All the Time
Depression isn't all about feeling suicidal or sad - although those feelings do come by every now and then - more often than not, it is the lack of emotions and the ability to feel anything. I’d akin this to a meaningless fog, where you become detached from your own emotional self and have lost the ability to connect with any of the things you love. It’s a void in your heart and in your mind, where you just about feel as calm as still water can be.
To be honest, it was a really boring and scary place for me to be. You just get through the day meaninglessly without feeling any happiness or sadness and you didn’t have the energy, empathy or motivation to feel (even for your friends). It’s as if your emotional capacity was gone, and you went through the day thinking that nothing mattered, and you’d quickly start to question your life purpose.
Basically, “Meh” became the word that properly describes you, and your life.
Myth #2: Depressed People Aren’t Helping Themselves
This is something that I have to emphasise which is totally untrue.
You’d think that the person isn’t trying hard enough to get him/herself to recover. You'd think that the person doesn't want to recover. You'd think that the person probably gave up and it doesn't matter if you tried to help them.
What I have to say to this is, that this is all not true. For most cases, it is definitely not true.
Often, people who are struggling with depression do not want/like the state that they are in, and it's in their wishes and prayers to be back being "normal" again. It definitely would not help if you were to tell the sufferer that he/she should "be more positive" or that he/she should "try to be happy", because that simply does not work. What could be even worse than saying those things, would be to downplay their health issue and tell them things like "stop being sorry for yourself", "try not to be depressed", "it's just in your head" or that "life is not fair, you just have to deal with it".
If you do not say such thoughtless words to people suffering from cancer, or a couple going through a difficult divorce, you probably shouldn't say it to someone with depression.
It's not nice, and it doesn't help.
Myth #3: Depressed People Can Control Their Emotions
Sufferers often talk about their life as if they are living in a kind of dream or nightmare, where everything feels somewhat meaningless and surreal. They'll deal with irrational thoughts and feelings and many have described their mental state using analogies like being stuck under water or down a well.
I personally have unknowingly used the analogy of being in a well, and I'd tell my other half that I do get that he is trying to help me. It's akin to seeing him holding a rope, trying to get me out of the well, but I just didn't have the energy or strength to pull myself out of the ditch that I was in.
“Every minute of every day was lived as if I was almost at the point of drowning. The point after you’ve stopped struggling and you’re just lying there, watching the rest of the world as your lungs fill with water and the water envelopes you and you think 'I don’t belong here anymore.' ”
Myth #4: Depressed People Always Pretend to be Happy
True, and False.
People struggling with depression sometimes have moments when things feel real again and they seem to be able to get a grip on life. It's a short glimpse of what it feels like not to be depressed. This can last for minutes, hours or days, and within that period I feel like I was alive again, and that there was hope in this world. The only downside? These feelings never lasted very long.
For the remaining periods of time, you'd just put on a 'happy mask' for your friends and family to see. Considering that people want you to be fine and happy, they tend to believe you if you try to fool them - it can be pretty easy to do if you want to. After a while, you teach yourself how to act normal and it successfully prevents people from getting upset and worried.
To be honest, while struggling with depression, sufferers would require and need that one friend who sees past the happy mask. We may not acknowledge the fact that we need them, and we may not respond to their attempts to help, but little messages on a daily basis - be it texting or post-its - are greatly appreciated and it lets us know that they truly care.
It's a support system, and it does help.
For some reason, we’ve become a culture that thinks asking or looking for support is weak.
Why is that weak? Connection is a key human need. Denying that need is false bravado.
I am truly and deeply grateful for the love that I was receiving while going through that difficult phase. I might not be what you call a typical patient suffering from severe depression, but I do believe I was on the verge of stepping into hot water. I am currently feeling much much better, though there are instances here and there where I step back into negativity, and anxiety.
Slowly but surely, I believe we can all help that person at risk in our lives. The main point is to be supportive, let him/her know that they are not alone in this. Sometimes, a hug goes a long way and will benefit the person in ways you can never imagine.
One last thing though.
Do avoid telling the person things like "you have a lot to be happy about". I'm pretty sure they know that fact - just as I did while I was struggling. What I DO notice from my own experience was that, you pointing out all the reasons I should be happy is only going to have the opposite effect.
I wish all of you nothing but the best.
We will all get through this.