The Depression Standard
Depression looks a certain way.
A teary visage. A set, sullen expression. Throw in a questionable 2002 MySpace haircut, and you’ve got it:
Except depression doesn’t always look the way it’s supposed to. Sometimes, depression is tears and an unkempt appearance. And, sometimes, depression is the first joke and the loudest laugh.
Sometimes, we rely too much on the outer appearance of a person to determine the inner workings of their mind.
No, depression doesn’t look a certain way–it feels a certain way.
With all the dramatization depression gets in romance novels, you’d think that realizing you had it would be a somewhat dramatic moment.
Not so much.
It was too late to be considered the night and not early enough for it to be the next morning, a bizarre time of day that was effectively isolating. My cheek felt numb against the wall as I peered through the blinds to stare at the lone tree outside my window. My eyes hadn’t stopped tracing the twisted branches since I crawled into bed. It was a distraction from the thoughts that were seeping into my mind.
I had grown accustomed to the sounds and light patterns in my room at obscure hours in the morning. More of my nights were spent awake, lying askew on my bed, looking up at the ceiling with the word “Why?” running through my mind.
Existential despair, casual pessimism – neither were novel ideas. But instead of serving as dark comic relief in my constant stream of consciousness, they were starting to cripple me. No amount of words could accurately sum up the vacuum in my mind that left me feeling more like an empty shell than anything.
And as time passed, no matter how hard I tried to distract myself with the way the street light shone through the leaves of the tree out front, the word surfaced. The single label that I feared. It surfaced and I couldn’t drown it again.
Once the sun rose, I called a friend who I knew was dealing with depression.
A lot of things made sense after I spoke with her:
The tiredness that drained my muscles every waking hour, and the buzzing of my mind that wouldn’t let me rest despite my lack of energy. The struggle to finish summer assignments that went beyond ordinary procrastination. Desperately, unsuccessfully searching for some way to feel the highs of emotion.
Shutting myself in my room because at least there, I only had to comprehend my own thoughts and not the expectations of others. And then, the self-hatred that got so bad it felt like there was no safe place for me at all.
And those were the symptoms, symptoms that people would never guess I dealt with because I was–still am–rather good at disguising it.
I got too good at disguising it.
When I told one of my friends what I was going through, she was skeptical. Kind, but skeptical.
I seemed happy. Everyone gets a little sad, a little stressed. Why did I think I was depressed?
The first time I asked myself if I was happy was in sophomore year. My answer to the question at the time was, “Yes, I’m just a little stressed out right now.” The answer to the happy question evolved into “Yes” with a question mark at the end of it. Today, there is no question mark, and, unfortunately, there is no yes. I am not happy.
My point is, I know what stressed feels like. I can describe exactly the claustrophobic pressure on your chest and head that you feel when there’s a thousand things to be done at once. So I can say with absolute certainty that what I feel is not stress.
I wish I had the same absolute certainty when it came to the question ‘Why?’
I don’t know, and no one is satisfied with that answer, least of all those with the illness.
My friend didn’t ask out of spite, just general ignorance, and an ignorance that isn’t her fault. I understand her confusion.
But what people need to understand is that depression doesn’t come with reason. Everyone wants everything to make sense. Depression is, in itself, an innately irrational thing. It has its triggers, circumstances and instances that amplify it, but there is no making complete sense of it.
The scary part of telling someone about depression is that they are likely someone very close to you: parents, friends, or family. Their reaction is important. They can either comfort you, or they can isolate you even more. It’s a gamble, really, a gamble that I am mostly grateful I took. I am constantly amazed by the human capacity to care, and I have some of the most caring friends I could possibly ask for. It’s scary to bare your soul to someone, but a support system is essential.
It’s so hard to talk about depression because it is easily one of the most stereotyped mental disorders out there.
The most common misconception is that depression indicates suicidal tendencies. It absolutely can. Suicidal thoughts are the most serious symptom, but it is not always present. Conversely, suicidal thoughts does not indicate depression.
Propagating that the two are synonymous is harmful, as it furthers the inaccurate image of the mental illness.
We have normalized–satirized, even–some of the worst aspects of depression. The word “depressed” is thrown around as a casual synonym for stressed or sad. You can’t go through a day in school without hearing someone joke about “wanting to die” or being “dead inside.” These are real feelings that are not to be taken lightly, and I highly advise people who make these comments to find a new sense of humor.
We assume that depression is visible, when in actuality, it can be the lonely kid in the back of your English class who never talks just as easily as it can be the prom queen who is constantly surrounded by friends.
We assign personality traits to depression: lazy, boring, negative, weird.
But depression is not my personality. It is not all encompassing, even if it feels that way from time to time.
Let’s stop holding people with depression to the depression standard when the spectrum of human emotion is far more complex.
Depression is so well hidden that you would be surprised by how many people deal with the illness that you know, or how many people are suffering through the same thing as you. There are 16 million documented adult cases in America alone. The prolificity and severity of the illness makes a conversation about it absolutely necessary.
When a friend trusts you enough to tell you they are going through depression, don’t take this lightly. This means they think you’re a pretty awesome person. Ask them how their day went, or ask them if they want to talk. Often times they won’t ask for help out of fear of being an annoyance. By no means do you have to coddle them; but it’s comforting to know that someone cares.
If you are reading this now, and you are starkly aware that this may apply to you more than you would like, seek help. Psychologists and doctors are trustworthy people who you can talk to and receive help from. I know it’s so hard. Believe me, half the time I’m convinced the people in my life hate me. Don’t give into that feeling because it one, makes things even worse, and two, the notion is completely false. The world is full of good people who want to help, who care about you, so don’t be afraid to ask.
In the case that a doctor is not available to you, there are ways to help yourself. Maybe your outlet is drawing, or dancing, or surrounding yourself with loved ones. Find your outlet that makes it a little less worse; it’s out there, I promise you.
I can’t promise that it gets better. I’ve read a lot of articles that give me hope that depression can be cured, and I’ve read a lot of articles that make my heart sink. No, I can’t promise that it gets better, but I also can’t promise that it gets worse, or that it stays just as bad.
We will get through it, though. Day by day.