Most people that know me are unaware that I suffer from depression. I just started an incredible new job, I’m engaged to the love of my life, and things couldn’t be better, and yet I still use “suffer” in the present tense.
To me depression is like an addiction. While I’ve never dealt with any substance abuse, I’ve read statements from people who have and they all seem to indicate that you don’t truly get over an addiction, you just learn to cope with it, and that’s exactly what depression is like. I’m addicted to negative thoughts and everyday I have to resist them.
I think one of the toughest parts about depression is that it tends to manifest itself around high school and it’s incredibly tough to distinguish generic teenage angst from clinical depression, and I think there’s an important thing that teenagers and those suffering from depression (or any “invisible” illness) have in common; the need for validation. Teenagers seek validation that they can handle adult responsibilities and people with depression seek validation that their feelings are legitimate.
My 11th grade history teacher once said to the whole class, “You don’t even know what suffering is. There are people who are way worse off than you so stop complaining about your ‘problems’.” I don’t remember any of the history lessons she taught, but more than a decade later I still remember her saying that, because at that time it was the worst thing for me to hear. I was very near my lowest point then, and I felt like she was talking directly to me even though I knew she wasn’t.
I grew up white, Christian, upper-middle class, straight, and with no disabilities, so there were/are plenty of people who are “worse off” than I am, and I knew that. My privilege actually contributed to my depression because I felt like I didn’t deserve to feel depressed; technically nothing was really wrong with my life, so I didn’t have the “deserve” to feel that way. I spiraled down in a cycle of self-loathing.
I tried going to see therapists and take medication, but that didn’t work for me, HOWEVER I am absolutely not saying that therapy and medication don’t work, and in fact I personally believe that they should be the starting point for anyone suffering from depression. For me they just made things worse and I learned to cope with my depression on my own, but that comes with its own side effects, such as being so exhausted from putting on a happy face all day that I am completely unproductive when I get home. We share stories like this in the hope that people will find some sense of camaraderie and hope, but every individual is different and should be treated as such, so I will never say that my way is the best way. We all need to find what works best for us.
I don’t usually advertise that I have depression, not because I am ashamed of it (in fact I’m glad that society as a whole is more open to discussing mental health, although we still have a long way to go), but because I still struggle with the validity of my feelings. There is still a “what’s so bad about your life?” stigma that is associated with depression. I think part of the issue is that the word “depression” has multiple meanings. Everyone goes through periods of depression in their life usually associated with loss of one sort or another and so when you compare that to clinical depression which is not necessarily associated with loss, it can be hard to understand why. You have no way of knowing that my brain is simulating the experience of loss all day every day, but that’s what is going on.
So if you know someone who suffers from depression, don’t try to reason with them or put things in perspective; a simple statement of validation in the form of “I know” is what they need.
– by Becky Krantz