The Archives: A Small Look Into Depression
This post was written in April of 2016. At this time, I had no idea that there was a spiritual warfare aspect to my depression (which I will write a blog about soon). Regardless, this post entails what Depression can be like: spiritual or mental.
Growing up, I was never well educated about mental illnesses. I had misconceptions about Depression and hardly knew what Anxiety was. Forget knowing anything about any other mental illnesses. But no one I knew at the time had a mental illness, and it isn’t part of elementary education, so I didn’t think it really mattered to know about it. Because of this, when I got Depression in sixth grade, I didn’t realize that was what it was until my sophomore year of high school.
Half of the battle of education of mental illnesses, is that if you don’t have it you can’t understand it. Descriptions of mental illnesses are so vague, it’s no wonder half of us aren’t able to realize for ourselves that something is wrong. Even in high school health class we were taught “Depression is when you’re sad for a longer amount of time than normal” and that “Anxiety makes you worry a lot”. What length of time would you classify as “normal”? And won’t that length of time change depending on the circumstance anyway? At that point, I’d already been depressed for five years; Depression was normal to me.
So how did I figure it out? How did I know I needed to see a doctor and get help? Honestly, I’m not sure. One day it just clicked: What I’m feeling isn’t “normal.” Back in grade school I had had suspicions that perhaps I had Depression. But I wasn’t suicidal, I didn’t want to hurt myself, I had a lot of days I was happy. That went against everything I had thought depression was.
Newsflash: Depression affects everyone differently and to different extremes.
So, if Depression can’t be so simply described and it varies for everyone, what is Depression? I think the best way to try to understand what it is, is to first know what it’s like. As a writer I keep a lot of journals, and each journal has its own topic. Last year I began a journal that I write in in the midst of a depressive “episode.” The idea is that it’s a place for me to channel the negative feelings, and when I’ve come back to being “myself” I can look back at what I’ve written and better understand what was happening in that moment. Here are just a few pieces of what I’ve written.
“I hate how I feel. I feel nothing. Not even emptiness. Not even numbness. Simply nothing. My emotion is simply a black void, a vacuum. It is nothing. And yet though I am frustrated by this, and though it angers me so, I still feel nothing. Because the part of me that is me is so small now that it has no effect on this brain and this body.”
“I feel trapped…shoved into a corner of my brain–left with only enough space to know that something is wrong. This isn’t me. These feelings aren’t mine.”
“Sometimes the worst part is that when I’m feeling so awful, just crying my eyes out, I realize that I’ll wake up in the morning like nothing ever happened the night before. Like that hurt doesn’t even exist. And no one will be the wiser.”
But what I think best captures the struggle with Depression is “the sadness sloth.”
“You’re simply being yourself, trying to live your life, when suddenly, this sloth-like, Gollum-looking, creature grabs your hand…No matter what you do, the sloth won’t come off. He’s just riding piggyback, weighing you down and tiring you out. And no one else seems to see this sloth, so you’re forced to pretend like it’s not there. So you try to move on with your day, and you feel like yourself, but there is this constant nagging, reminding you that the sloth is still there. Eventually you get so frustrated that you lose it. Maybe you scream…maybe you cry… And then the sloth will slink away, and you wipe your eyes and fall asleep thinking it’s over; you’re okay. Until you wake up the next morning and feel something grab your hand. Climb onto your back.”
Having Depression is not the same as being a “depressing person.” My friends who have Depression are some of the nicest and most optimistic people I know. Depression is not who someone is, but it is a part of that person’s life. When I “put on a mask” to hide my Depression, I don’t feel like I’m pretending to be someone I’m not. I’m just pretending to be the happy version of myself. And I’m not saying it’s okay to put on a happy mask all the time. It’s necessary at times, but it’s important to have people you can be around, happy or not.
So what is Depression? Sometimes I’m tempted to say “It’s hell”–as it is living with any mental illness, really. But after all this time? It’s just part of life. Depression is something that can’t so simply be defined, which is very problematic when trying to tell someone what it is. But people who have it experience loneliness, hopelessness, loss of enjoyment in activities, nagging negative feelings. There are more physical symptoms too, such as changes in appetite and problems sleeping.
Because Depression varies from person to person, if you suspect you may have it you shouldn’t dismiss the possibility just because your feelings don’t match up with someone else who already has been diagnosed.
If you think you or someone you know has a mental illness, tell someone you trust to help you take the correct next steps, like talking to your doctor. Remember that Depression makes life hard sometimes, but not impossible (though sometimes it may feel that way). You’re not alone in your fight, and more often than not, you’ll be surprised how many people are there for you.
May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. Psalm 20:1