I want to talk about depression.
I was first told I had depression when I was around the age of sixteen; this was not news to me. By the age of sixteen I was (thankfully) about two years free of self harm but I would be lying if I said that my life had gotten significantly easier. I was living with my mind being in a constant overdrive of feelings. I was experiencing these intense emotions that I just could not understand. I have memories of crying fora seemingly endless amount of time and having no idea what was making me so upset. When my family doctor listened to things I was telling her and them presented me with depression, I was not surprised, but I was scared. I didn’t tell my parents she had said this to me. I didn’t think I could. I was scared that it wouldn’t be taken seriously by anyone: friends, family, teachers, or coaches. I was worried that people would think I just wanted attention, or that they would think I was just weak.
That was six years ago. I wish I could say that things have gotten better for me; sometimes it really feels like they have and at other times I feel like I’m worse off than when I started.
Depression, at its core, is a chemical imbalance of the brain. It has been proven that depending on the levels of certain chemicals your brain produces can have a huge effect on someone’s likelihood to develop depression. Now this is not to say that there are not other factors that play into someone developing depression; there are likely going to be emotional factors, environmental factors, certain circumstances or perhaps even genetics. All of this to say- having depression does not make someone weak. I (now) personally think it’s quite the opposite.
Within the past twelve months, my depression has unfortunately been extremely present in my life and I’ve encountered some stuff that just bothers me. Considering depression affects over 5% of the Canadian population aged fifteen and older, I thought I’d share these things in hopes that someone takes them to heart and avoids some potentially awkward interactions.
- Just because I live with depression does not mean that I do not have other feelings. What I mean by this is that let’s say I (a person living with depression) get hurt or offended by something, it does not mean in any way that it is because of my depression. Now for a drastic comparison take someone with a cold/sore throat and let’s say someone punches them in the throat and says that it only hurt because they have a cold? Does that make sense? No. So if you do or say something to me and I get hurt or offended and I try and explain that to you, please do not say that it’s “just your depression acting up.” What I interpret that as is someone saying to me that my feelings are not actually valid and that were I not a person living with depression, the thing that someone did to offend me wouldn’t matter.
- Depression is not all that I am. I get that people like to talk to me about my mental health, in fact I love being open about it and doing my part to create conversation surrounding mental health. However, I like it to be remembered that there is so much more to me than just my diagnosis. I’m a social service worker, a daughter, a sister, a proud cat mama, a writer, a fiancé, a graduate and so many other things. So next time you’re telling me a story about someone else you may have met who also lives with depression and refer to them as “someone like you,” please just take a beat, and reconsider your wording.
- Please stop suggesting ways for me to feel better. Look I appreciate it when people try to help me. But the amount of times I have had people tell me that exercise is going to magically cure my depression is so frustrating. I have an academic and professional background in social work, I’ve read the studies and understand them. I know that physical activity can sometimes be a huge help for people living with depression. But what I also know is that when I am at my lowest points of depression, I have little to no energy and the last thing on my mind is exercising. The thing that is hard for people to grasp is just how debilitating depression can be and that a lot of the suggested remedies are the very things that depression makes it hard for me to do. If you know someone living with depression and they come to you for advice, that’s one thing. But giving unsolicited advice is ridiculous. Unless you’re a doctor of some sort, if I haven’t asked for it, maybe I don’t want your advice.
- Understand that taking medication is acceptable. I’m sure you’ve all seen that picture on Facebook- a split screen image where the top has a picture of a gorgeous forest and says “This is an antidepressant” and the bottom image is of some pills and says “This is shit.” I have so many issues with this image that it would take me countless pages to describe. Depression is so much more than just being sad, for me it is sometimes the inability to get out of bed, the inability to properly take care of myself in so many ways. Getting out into a forest would do nothing for me when I am in those states. Medication helps with what depression is at its core- a chemical imbalance. Please do not belittle someone for taking medication for an illness; you wouldn’t say that to someone receiving treatment for a physical illness and this is no different. Someone taking medication is trying to get better and trying to recover and it is a hard enough road without those kinds of comments. (See image below for reference.)
All this being said, remember that depression does not look the same in everyone. If you want to be the best possible friend/loved one/partner/supporter etc., to someone living with depression, the best thing to do is to ask them what they need from you and really listen. Understand that sometimes they may not know what they need because navigating a chemically imbalanced brain is hard and that’s okay. Be an open ear for them and do your best to be what they need; they’ll thank you for it one day.