“I think the saddest people always try their hardest to make people happy because they know what its like to feel worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.” – Robin Williams
Whenever my mother used to ask me how my day at school was, I would respond with “fine,” or “okay.” In reality however, it was never fine, okay, or good in any form of the word. When people would ask how I was, it was the same kind of response- I lied. It took years for me to be able to say that I was genuinely feeling okay. It took what seemed like eternity for me to answer that question with real happiness. In my own experience, being in a roles of responsibility at both school and my church, I was set in my mind that my depression and other personal issues were not to bother other people or get in the way of my work. Several people are struggling to battle with depression.
I wanted to hide my vulnerability and be an image of strength to the young people who looked up to me. When I went home, I felt insecure, isolated from my family even though they may have been standing right there. It seemed that they were oblivious. The old saying, “Walk a mile in somebody else’s shoes,” comes to mind. While people may mean well, sometimes their words can be seen as negative instead of positive. Of course, we would not want anybody to feel things that we have felt, but how can you know what someone else has felt without going through it yourself? Here are some things that I wish my parents [siblings or friends] knew about the battle with depression.
1. Yes, it’s actually happening.
I don’t like to post it around or tell everyone about it. I am not just saying this for attention because I don’t want it. You always ask what is wrong with me, but I don’t know how to answer because I don’t know how to explain. You say you don’t understand. Neither do I. All I know is that it is happening, and it is my reality right now. Just because you don’t see the illness physically, does not mean that someone is not suffering. Inside, you don’t know what is going on or their experiences. I wonder why I can’t simply choose to be happy, choose to be “normal” like everybody else. Why should I lie to myself by saying that everything is going to be okay? I do not know if it will be okay, but all I need you to do is try to understand.
2. I am just not interested.
In no way am I ungrateful for your attempts to “cheer me up,” but there will be days when I just don’t want to do anything. The things I usually would get a kick out of, like watching Friends at 6pm every night, going out with my friends or filling my scrapbook with my favourite textures and paint in a hundred different colours- it just seems so pointless. If I try to go and paint again, all I do is get frustrated.
There is nothing on television that amuses me anymore. There are no friends that I can call on the phone and talk to or go shopping with. They have moved on to more exciting people, and every time I have tried in the past to hang out with them I felt so fake, so separate to them. I can and have spent an hour or two just sitting or lying on my bed, staring at the floor. Do not disturb.
3. It is not just a bad day…
Sometimes, one may say something that they think is being helpful or being supportive, but it really isn’t helping. “You just need to get out more. Look on the bright side. It is not as bad as [insert situation here] so consider yourself lucky.” When people say that to me, I do not feel motivated in the slightest to “look at the bright side,” and nor do I find any encouragement by being told that it is not as bad as someone else’s problem. The fact is, it is a mental illness and my feelings, though difficult to understand at times, are just as valid as anyone else’s.
Saying things like this belittles my feelings and to be honest, makes me feel helpless. It is not just something I can “just get over.” While these kinds of words may come from a place of good intent, I need to know that you care about me, that you are with me and that I am not alone despite my feelings. I don’t always want advice, but I appreciate support. Yes, I want to go and get out more and look on the bright side of things, but this condition is preventing me from doing and enjoying life.
4. I don’t want this to be your burden.
I know I am pushing people away. It’s not out of spite or from not caring about you. It is because I don’t want this to hurt you or overwhelm you like it is me. I am so afraid of what is happening to me and I can’t let anyone see me weak or hurting. I don’t want you to feel the things I feel or for this to become your burden because I love you. Sometimes, people need space and right now I do. Do not think that I love you less because I withdraw myself. Believe in me, but please do not berate me for these things. This is a common thought for someone with a battle with depression.
5. I do not respond well to ultimatums.
Saying things like, “If you don’t fix this, I will leave you/I will break off the relationship/you can go elsewhere,” Only makes the person with the mental illness feel trapped and even more helpless. Even though I need my space to process my feelings, I still need you. I understand that this situation may effect you in some way as well, but ultimatums like this are only going to lead to more brokenness. It is a form of manipulation, and only inflicts negativity. If you feel like you can’t handle being a “support person” any more, then it is okay. You can set personal boundaries, make time for yourself to relax, or ask for outside support. However, threats are not going to help anybody.
6. I am not a statistic
I often hear the statistic that “1 in 4 people are depressed,” and perhaps, statistically, I could be that one. There is more to me than just being Depressed, but in the midst of it I can forget myself. The things that make me who I am are the things that I need to be reminded of and not that I am just one depressed person out of the 350 million who have a battle with depression. I very likely already feel insecure about myself and who needs a voice other than their own, slapping a label like that on you?
There is a certain heaviness in being labelled with a mental illness that locks you in a state of feeling you are wrong, inept and vastly undesirable. Instead of putting labels (of any kind) on others, we need to encourage one another to grasp the freedom to find who they are. This is where I am at in my journey, and I am working through it because I don’t want it to become me.
7. I do need you.
Keeping tabs on me is a good thing and I appreciate your concern. Don’t hesitate to check in on me, and ask to catch up every now and then. If you are checking in on me every now and then I know somebody cares. While I may not open up fully about my deepest thoughts, it helps to know I have you there. Sometimes, I may not be in the mood to talk, but try not to take it personally. Some days are worse than others and those are the times I need some space for a little while.
8. There is not always one specific reason.
Our Doctor’s tell us that Depression is (scientifically) related to a chemical imbalance in the brain, genetics or hormonal changes. Depression, Anxiety or otherwise can also be the results of trauma or losing someone who was close to you (eg; divorce, death, a broken friendship). This being said, if somebody asks me why I am depressed, I will likely not be able to answer the question, as it is not an easy subject to speak about. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, there are various kinds of medication that attempt to assist with the chemical imbalance and level out our moods.
Please, do not treat this as a “quick fix,” as it is much more complicated than that. It take time to heal mental illness and is not only an attack in the biological sense, but an attack on our self esteem to experience Depression. Speaking words that show you are supportive and well informed about the situation can help a lot more than you realise.
9. Depression and sadness are two different things.
Putting it plainly, sadness is the state of being unhappy, whereas Depression is a clinical diagnosis of a constant sorrow. We can not choose to be depressed, whereas, we can be cheered up if we are merely expressing sadness. As said earlier on in the piece, Depression is stemmed from an imbalance of chemicals in the brain, often caused by genetics, hormonal changes or trauma of some form. It can last weeks, months or years, and can play a part of changing your perspective on life, relationships and the future. Feelings of not being good enough for something or someone, criticism of self-image and feelings of disinterest are all apart of it, and it is not something that should be ignored by the people around that person. Saying that “everybody gets sad sometimes,” is not encouraging, but true. Everyone gets sad, but Depression is a very real issue. If you have a battle with depression, you aren’t alone.
10. There is more to it than just sadness.
There are nights when I can’t get to sleep at all, where I will wake up constantly, and also nights when I am exhausted and sleep through till the late morning. Sometimes I don’t feel like eating until I feel I “deserve” it, or until I know I have to. When I do eat, I have to pick food that is has minimal mess with it or I get stressed out. I am easily irritated by things, and have trouble adjusting to changes in routine as it makes me anxious. Additionally, I don’t put my effort into my appearance so much now as I used to. I used to wear makeup a lot, shower and straighten my hair every day.
Now, I wear my hair however and I don’t have the energy to apply my foundation, matte lipstick and Streisand inspired eye makeup. I always have bags under my eyes, black leggings and a baggy shirt on because I don’t really like anything else anymore. I don’t like alcohol or parties or people I don’t know, and I won’t go to an event if there is nobody with me. There are times when the feelings are so overwhelming and I am too mentally exhausted to function. I come out, acting as if nothing is wrong, and I try and get on with my day despite it all. There are so many things that I do not tell you, but I have only shared some of them to give you a glimpse into the reality of the situation.
The sad truth of the matter is, so many people struggle with Depression and often there are other forms of Mental Illnesses that can latch onto it. For many (myself included), struggling with Anxiety and/or OCD only magnifies the issue. Some of the most simple things can trigger upset, withdrawal from social interaction and this kind of mental downward spiral into the depths of a hole we almost grow accustomed to being in.
I encourage you, if you or someone you know are showing symptoms of depression, ask them how they are going. Keep tabs on them and if need be, ask if they would like to come with you to see someone who could help them. Let them know that you are there for them and love them. The battle with depression is an on going fight.
For further support or information:
Beyond Blue: Ph 1300 22 4636 (24/7 service)
Let us know what you think about YOUR battle with depression in the comments below!
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