Hello, and welcome to my very first ever #MentalHealthMonday!
If you’ve been following my blog, you might notice that I talk a lot about mental health, and depression in particular. I’ve dealt with clinical depression on and off for about a decade now, both with and without meds and therapy.
Over those years, I’ve encountered a lot of people who don’t really “get” depression. It’s a difficult thing to understand when you haven’t experienced it yourself. I think most people with mental health struggles will tell you that at some point, someone has said something wrong and potentially extremely harmful about what they were going through.
I decided to make this post to hopefully dispel some of the misinformation and misunderstandings as well as to find some healing in writing about it.
Top 5 Misconceptions About Depression
5. Depression looks a certain way.
People tend to think of mental illnesses in general as looking a certain way—namely, the stereotypical appearance of “crazy.” Depression flies under the radar simply because it’s often silent and invisible. This is one of the main reasons that suicide warning signs are so difficult to catch. It’s also a good reason not to judge anyone else when it comes to what they’re going through.
For example: when I was a kid and a teenager, I was often very high-energy, so much so that a friend once (harmfully) joked that I should be on Ritalin. When I was around people I was comfortable with, I was often bubbly, giggling, and goofily grinning. And yet, for all those moments, there were definite warning signs for the depressive episodes that were to come. As I grew up and began to recognize that depression, I wondered how I could be depressed when I was such a bubbly, vibrant person—because I’d internalized this understanding that depression had to be dramatic and obvious.
The reality is that someone who struggles with depression can often have moments of joy, even happiness. They can laugh with friends and enjoy a comedy sketch or a good movie. There are most certainly levels to any one person’s experience of depression. For me, there’s this base level of general restlessness and inability to choose an activity—an inability to enjoy things that I once would. Of course, then there are other times when I’m not in the midst of an episode when I appear relatively normal and happy.
Moral of the story is, depression doesn’t look a certain way. It depends on the person, where they’re at in their process, and more factors. Never assume you know everything about someone else’s mental health.
4. Being depressed is the same as being sad for an extended period of time.
This is another one I’ve struggled to explain to even well-meaning people. If you look up depression in a dictionary, the definition isn’t all that far off from sadness—the base emotions are, in theory, the same. The difference is that clinical depression takes on other forms than just emotional sadness, and this is different for different people.
For instance, in my case, my main depressive symptom is this weird form of anhedonia: disinterest in normal activities, loss of pleasure in things that once gave me joy, and a sense of restlessness, indecisiveness, and inability to figure out an activity that would bring me joy. This doesn’t necessarily manifest as “sadness” in the traditional sense, in that nothing in particular sets it off. which brings me to…
3. You can only be depressed if something bad happens to trigger you.
Whenever I tell a person that I’m depressed, they immediately want to know why. Most of the time, they’re pretty unsatisfied with my answer: “I was born like this, and it just comes out sometimes. Sorry ‘bout it.”
A friend of mine is a therapist who also struggles with depression. She explained to me that depression doesn’t always work in the logical sense of (a) something traumatic happens, like loss of a loved one or a breakup and then (b) depressive episode occurs. Sometimes there isn’t an obvious explanation or traumatic event to point to.
So in my case, I tend to blame myself for depression taking hold of me when, in theory, I have everything going for me in life. The reality is that clinical depression doesn’t care how well things are going for you. It will find a way in.
2. Depression is selfish and attention-seeking.
Guys. This one is so hard.
It’s been years since anyone outright told me I’m selfish and attention-seeking, but I still hear those words in my head every time I have a particularly bad day and need support. For years, I blamed myself every time I got depressed. I told myself that it was my fault for being “sensitive” and that I needed to take care of it myself so as not to burden others. Then I came across this quote from Stacy Pershall’s memoir, Loud in the House of Myself:
“A depressed person is selfish because her self, the very core of who she is, will not leave her alone, and she can no more stop thinking about this self and how to escape it than a prisoner held captive by a sadistic serial killer can forget about the person who comes in to torture her everyday. Her body is brutalized by her mind.”
Of course depression is selfish. It’s literally a survival tactic. Being depressed is exhausting on the mind, because you feel like you can’t escape the aching feeling of being inside yourself. But to call someone who’s depressed—especially suicidal—selfish is to invalidate the pain they’re experiencing. Calling a suicide attempt attention-seeking is to say that wanting to end your life isn’t worthy of someone extending a helping hand.
(Side note: there’s a moment in the Netflix series, 13 Reasons Why, when Hannah anonymously tries to reach out, expressing the wish to cease to exist, only to have her classmates dismiss the comments, claiming that it’s just attention-seeking, or possibly a joke. I started crying at this scene. This kind of insensitivity is unacceptable.)
1. If you’re still Depressed, it’s because you’re not trying hard enough.
There’s this weird thing that happens when we tell people we’re depressed. Somehow, non-depressed folks seem to think they have the answer to our problems. Like “have you tried yoga? what about vegetarianism?” and it’s like, “ok, even if I haven’t tried said thing that you’re suggesting, what makes you think that I’m not giving everything I have to keep myself from slipping any further?”
People seem to have this weird idea of what “recovery” looks like, some idea of the threshold of try that we have to reach before we’re let off the hook. Nobody wants to say to a depressed person, “it’s okay that you’re feeling this way, and I’m sorry that it sucks for you.” A simple thing, and one that’s a lot helpful then saying or even just implying that we should try harder.
Let me tell you, recovering from depression is hard fucking work. When you’re in the midst of an episode, a period of two weeks or more of total self-hatred, the very idea of trying to get better seems like absolutely too much. Getting out of bed, getting dressed, and going about your life seems nearly impossible. You don’t have the spoons to think about how exercise might help, or meditation, or whatever it is that everyone seems to think is the magic cure.
Don’t get me wrong, yoga has definitely helped me over this winter. But it’s not magic cure, because there is no magic cure for depression. There are things you can do to manage it, absolutely. But keep in mind that it’s a long road, and you don’t know where somebody else is on that road.
If you struggle with depression and you want to talk about it, leave me a comment, find me on social media, or email me (address is on my “about” page). I want to hear from you! Talking about it is the best way we can keep from feeling like we’re all alone.
As always, thanks for reading and I look forward to hearing from you guys!