I have been in a deep but short-lived depression for the past ten days or so. I think it was hormone related in my case. Because of my funk, I missed some important stuff, like Blogging Against Disablism Day and I am pissed with myself about that. But better late than never! This post is my unofficial contribution.
Of all the invisible disabilities, I think severe depression is probably the most insidious. Because most people think they understand what depression is all about: Everyone gets sad. Everyone has had loss, disappointments or setbacks in their lives, so that's the same as depression, right?
Or they think severe depression is relatively common and easily cured. Just take a happy pill and you will be fine, right? Well, sometimes medication does help. And sometimes it doesn't. There are lots of drugs and advertisements for drugs out there (cue sad music: "Where does depression hurt?...) which will sneakily if inadvertently (or deliberately?) back up people's misconceptions.
In my opinion, it is more dangerous to think you understand a condition like depression and to act accordingly, than to admit you really haven't a clue and to question/research the thing. Because if you question, you learn. Whereas if you assume you know... well, chances are probably >90% that you don't know everything and much of what you do know is probably wrong.
Still, many people think they get it.
Many people are wrong.
Personally, and despite the fact that I am writing this post; I don't fully understand severe depression. I'm not ashamed to admit that. I think people who suffer with severe depression probably don't understand it either. Or they do, but the understanding doesn't help. It is one thing to understand that you are depressed because you are bipolar or have PMDD or low serotonin. But understanding the "why" doesn't make one feel any better, although it may provide some tools or clues about how to address the problem.
Despite all I have been through recently, I don't generally suffer with depression -my serotonin levels are naturally elevated for some unknown reason. This recent funk I suffered (it really does no merit being called a depression. I have looked into the holes into which some of my friends have fallen, and the one I was in was nothing. A mere undulation in the landscape when compared to a real depression) was a little reminder to myself that I am lucky. I would far rather have seizures and some of the shit I have been dealing with that a real-life, full-out, balls-to-the wall depression. I know some people very close to me who have suffered with very severe depression and I have lived with them and talked with them while they went through it.
It is truly awful.
Someone I know who is recovering from a very severe depression said "you have no idea what it is like not to have had a happy thought for 3½ years" That was said perfectly seriously, no exaggeration.
That's right. I have no idea. I tried to picture it in my head. Tried to imagine gleaning no joy from life whatsoever, and yet still getting out of bed everyday. Still eating, shopping; going through the motions. I couldn't. I can't. Even in some of my darkest hours, say when convulsing violently and being worked on in the ER, I have laughed at a joke a nurse has made (that got me some funny looks, I tell you).
There are many awful aspects to depression. Most people cannot grasp the overwhelmingness (yes it's a word. Now.) of most of them. Some of the awfulness comes from well-meaning people who don't get it and are trying -in their own ham-fisted way- to help. So they give pep talks. Or they say shit like
- "why don't you just snap out of it?"
- "can't you just pull yourself up by your bootstraps and get on with your life?"
- "how about counseling?"
...and these are not necessarily bad suggestions in themselves, but the answers usually go something like this:
- um.. You think I didn't TRY that? But I can't snap out of depression any more than I could snap out of ...say ...Multiple sclerosis. Or diabetes.
- No. I can't. See answer #1
- If I could leave the house, counseling would be lovely. Do shrinks make house calls?
So the well-meaning friends start to back away, feeling helpless and useless and the depressed person, having lost most of their friends, gets even more depressed.
It is a vicious cycle.
Here's the thing with depression. Here is the thing most people don't understand: When you are depressed, everything is very difficult. Everything is a drain. Everything uses up "spoons" (which may be few to begin with).
- It is difficult to drag yourself out of bed.
- It is overwhelming to shower.
- Making decisions -even simple ones like what to have for breakfast can be anxiety riddled
- Simple tasks, with multiple steps, like cooking a meal or doing a couple of loads of laundry can take all of one's concentration and therefore, one's strength and be overwhelming.
- For some: There is no happiness in the world. it is like having your own personal Dementor, who follows you around everywhere you go, who thankfully, doesn't effect those with whom you come in contact.
- Paperwork: Forget it. It just isn't happening. Waaaaay too overwhelming...
Most depressives are engaged in a massive struggle against depression all day, every day. This struggle is exhausting. It is like trying to swim in a giant vat of molasses, with more molasses pouring down on your head each time you break surface. You keep struggling just to get your head clear. Forget the rest of you. You are struggling just to breathe.
Other people can't see the molasses.
They just see a person going nowhere, struggling and depressed, for no particular reason.
Depression is very isolating for two main reasons:
- Depressives tend not to reach or to people for various reasons: They may not want to get the other person down, They may not be able to get it together to go out, or to pick up the phone or even send an e-mail or text. They may fear rejection.
- People tend not to reach out to depressives because they may think that the depressed person has chosen their isolation and doesn't want to see anyone. Or they may think there is nothing to say -on either side. They may feel that the depressed person brings them down (and it may be true).
But one thing I have learned about depressives from people in my own life is to keep contact with them. Keep the door and lines of communication open. Arrange a regular activity, like to drop by once a week and watch a DVD together -something not taxing. It will help. maybe not immediately but it will.
The best way to help a depressed person is to accept that they are depressed. You may not understand it. Hell, they may not understand it, but if you accept that this is how things are right now, stop trying to change them back to a non depressed state, and accept who they are NOW, things will be a lot easier for both of you.