It’s hard to explain depression. It’s not an emotion, like sadness or happiness or anger or delight. It’s more like a way of life; it informs everything you say, think, and do. The best comparison I can come up with is to wearing dark sunglasses inside – you can still see objects, but they are discoloured. There are shadows where there shouldn’t be, and sometimes you bump into stuff because there are frames obstructing your peripheral vision. In my mind, a depressed person might also be likened to someone who is committed to a healthy lifestyle, but instead of eating clean, working out every day, and telling everyone and their mother how many squats you can do in a minute, a depressed person becomes withdrawn, stops taking care of herself, and loses interest in normally pleasurable activities, along with many other undesirable symptoms. The difference between these two “lifestyles” is that depression gives its sufferer zero choice in making decisions.
Talking about depression with people who have no personal experience with the illness can be difficult. First of all, depression can manifest itself in some embarrassing ways, and a lot of people don’t like to expose things that might embarrass themselves, or like i said earlier, make others uncomfortable. Second, depression is not a physical illness, though it sometimes presents with physiological symptoms. It is an illness of the mind, so it’s no easy task to point to a body part and say “this is where it hurts.” This is probably part of the reason that a lot of people don’t actually believe that depression is a thing.
These are major obstacles to open and productive conversations about depression, and they’re not going to go away overnight, but i’m going to do my part to help, even if it’s only a little bit. I’m going to talk about the ways in which I suffer, even though I will be embarrassed, and you may or may not be uncomfortable–these things are a lot easier to hear when they’re not said face-to-face.
This is only a small glimpse into what being depressed is like for me, but I hope you can see why people with depression hesitate to tell others about their illness. No one wants to admit to other people that they need to convince themselves to shower and brush their teeth. To me, being labeled as a lazy person because I physically cannot get myself out of bed when I’m depressed (which labeling I have experienced) seems similar to calling a diabetic person picky because they refuse to eat birthday cake. However, it seems callous of me to point that discrepancy out to other people because I, unlike diabetic people who can die from eating too much sugar, am not going to die from being tired.
But you see, that’s where society has it wrong. Depressed people with symptoms like extreme fatigue can die… and they do. I wanted to, and if I had been a little less squeamish, I might have dug deep enough into my wrist to make it happen. But I didn’t die, so now I have the privilege of sharing my experience and hoping someone can identify in one of two ways–either by coming to the conclusion that they are strong enough to share the details of their illness with their loved ones, or by realizing that someone they love is suffering from depression. No matter how you are connected to depression, I can promise you that you are connected, though you may not know it.
Depression shouldn’t be swept under the rug, hidden in musty closets. No one should be ashamed of having an illness. The responsibility for a better awareness of depression and its symptoms lies with all of us; each one of us can do more to destigmatize this devastating mental disorder. I’ll be here, doing my part, small though it is.
Should you be feeling depressed and need someone to talk to – get in touch with use here at Third Culture. As well as building a community of likeminded people who are sympathetic to your situation, we can direct you to expert councillors. It is important you know you are not alone.