It’s the vampire of diseases. It hides in plain sight, waiting to pounce. You don’t hear it coming. It’s too swift and clever for that. It sinks its teeth into your psyche, draining your confidence, your energy levels and your sense of self-worth.
You’re powerless to prevent it. Once it has you in its grip you cease to be the person you used to be.
You’ve been ‘turned’. Your first instinct is to keep this a secret. You mustn’t tell anyone for fear of becoming an outcast.
You struggle to fit in because your basic needs have changed. The things you used to love have been replaced with the ‘True Blood’ that is the confines of your comfort zone.
The sun burns. The darkness is your playground.
You want to tell someone… but it’s just too damn difficult.
So you suffer in silence.
There are many different types of depression. I am pretty fortunate that the type that I experience is quite low down on the scale. I mean, it’s enough to impact my day to day life but not enough to overly concern me.
If being Bi-polar is akin to riding a crazy roller coaster then my depression is more like taking a Swiss monorail. I don’t have the highs and the rampant desire to take over the world, yet thankfully, I don’t experience the extreme lows that plague a lot of people who suffer from this debilitating disease.
I just ride along, struggling to find much joy in my journey. Sure the scenery is nice and there isn’t much danger of crashing but dear God, can life get a little dull.
In that sense I feel lucky. Apathy and boredom is infinitely preferable to the alternative. I’ve never been one get too down over a little misfortune just as I tend not to get too over excited when something great happens.
I am just at that line where I can enjoy life in small doses, but it takes effort.
For some people however, this ‘happiness’ is just a façade – a mask that is worn to protect their loved ones from the truth. Revealing too much can feel like a sign of weakness, hence why so little is known about the condition.
It really is the silent killer.
Basically, if you are confused as to what depression is all about then please read on as I am going attempt to peel away some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding this criminally misunderstood illness.
1. It’s a ‘mental’ illness so therefore it isn’t a serious illness
I wrote an article a while ago that suggested depression is NOT a mental illness.
Of course a lot of people just read the headline, mounted their high horse and proceeded to inform me how utterly stupid I was. You have to love these people – taking the time to leave a lovely comment on my article without reading the damn thing first.
Well, as I write this it has over 80k Facebook shares/likes, so I think I did a good job with it. Check it out if you haven’t yet read it.
Anyway, one of the main problems many of us face is the stigma that comes with admitting that we need a little help. Our illness is hidden away – trapped within the depths of our mind. It cannot be seen, it cannot be heard and the only clue to its existence is when we choose to tell others about it.
Someone with a broken leg is given sympathy because we can empathise with their pain. A cancer sufferer is given sympathy because we can empathise with the fear of death. Hell, someone with a runny nose is given sympathy because we all hate getting snot everywhere.
Depression though? It’s a ghost. People can claim it exists but where is the proof?
It makes no difference whether the cause is a life changing event, an imbalance of chemicals or simply a state of mind – we are physical; every single cell in our body is physical.
You wouldn’t tell someone with heart disease that their illness isn’t real because it only affects one organ, so why is an illness of the brain treated differently?
It kills a lot of people. How can you NOT take that seriously?
2. People who are experiencing depression can just ‘snap out of it’
Everyone who has experienced depression has also heard these immortal words. To say that it’s frustrating is putting it mildly – it’s not only infuriating, it’s downright upsetting too – and this is because it proves the person you are talking to has absolutely no idea what you are going through.
And even more worrying, they are never likely to either.
I liken the feeling to being underwater and attempting to run. You can try as hard as you want but there is a limit to how fast you can actually move. It’s crushing – it engulfs – it is just… there, and there is nothing immediate we can do about it.
Sure we can seek help, receive medication (if that’s your chosen path) and work on changing our mentality, but this takes time and effort. There is certainly nothing ‘snappy’ about it.
I remember a particular morning a few years ago where it felt like I was encased inside of an electric force field. Every attempt to move was met with a metaphorical shock to my system. I was sitting on my bed, willing myself to move, but I couldn’t.
I mean, I could MOVE, but I couldn’t move towards any of the goals I had set myself that day. I sat there for what felt like hours – I may as well have been underwater because life just seemed so… slow.
“Come on, just open up the laptop and once you’ve done that, start typing. You can do it.”
It seemed so simple, and it was. But it wasn’t easy. It was one of the most difficult things I have ever had to do. That simple act of opening up my laptop, something that most people would take for granted, was beyond my capabilities.
I just couldn’t move. So I went back to bed.
Unfortunately for some people, this is their existence 24/7. Just getting out of bed is a bigger task than running a marathon.
Snap out of it? I’ll snap out of it when you perform a similarly herculean task today.
3. You can’t be depressed if you ‘have nothing to be sad about’
This is also a difficult concept for a lot of people to get their heads around. If you’ve never experienced depression then it’s easy to just assume that it is always linked to a person’s life situation. Rich and successful people are happy whilst the poor are wallowing in self-pity and a thousand crushed dreams.
Studies have shown that happiness levels around the world are pretty much equal. Joy and sadness are fleeting emotions and we always return to our own base levels given enough time. If your baseline is depression, then all the money in the world cannot change that. Like I said earlier; it is an illness and therefore it requires treatment and help, not deep pockets.
Depression doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care about your bank balance or what car you have in the garage. Your achievements and successes mean absolutely nothing because when it strikes, it does so without remorse.
It’s like the Terminator, but with a little more subtlety… and lot less leather.
What is the ‘go to’ response from the general public when a movie star or an athlete admits to struggling with depression?
“How ridiculous, how can he/she be depressed with millions in the bank? Get a grip. There are millions of people who would love to be in their position.”
The level of ignorance being displayed is astonishing. If you are reading this and you have uttered something similar then please slap yourself in the face.
4. You need a doctor to tell you that you are depressed
I’ve had this one thrown at me a few times in the past.
“But how do you know you’re depressed? Have you been to a doctor?”
Don’t get me wrong; doctors are pretty good with this medical lark. They even went to med school so I would expect them to know a thing or two regarding the human body, but to this day I have yet to meet one who has the ability to give you a brain scan with the power of their mind.
Just as a chiropractor cannot give you an X-ray with their eyes, a doctor is only as good as what they can physically see right there in front of them. Sure they may have a sheet of paper with a list of symptoms and a lovely flash pen to cross them off with, but whether they diagnose you with depression or not is largely based on guesswork.
Well guess what?
The person who is feeling like utter shit doesn’t need to guess. They know how they feel. It’s there tormenting them hour after hour, day after day.
A doctor can lead you into the hazy world of medication but you don’t need one to tell you how you are feeling. YOU tell them how you are feeling. YOU tell them that you are experiencing depression, not the other way around.
Change your thoughts, change their world
If you’re one of those people that believed depression to be a Mickey Mouse illness then please read on. This next part is what this article is really about.
The depression manifesto;
‘I (insert name here), promise to adhere to the following rules and to hopefully help change the lives of those whom may need my help in the future.’
- I will treat depression with the respect it deserves. I will consider it as a legitimate illness and I will not look down on those who may suffer with it.
- I will promise to keep an eye on any friends, family members or colleagues with whom I have noticed a change in personality.
- I will never again tell someone who is feeling down to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘deal with it’ when faced with a difficult situation.
- I will accept that it’s impossible to tell how someone is feeling by their outward appearance.
- If I ever feel depressed at some point in the future – I will promise myself that I will never suffer in silence.