Depression. Depressed. A word that seems to be bandied about a lot these days, both in serious and not-so-serious ways.
“I’m so depressed that there’s only one more season of Downton Abbey left!”
“The weather depresses me”
“The state of this country depresses me”
“I think that my friend/partner/sibling/child/coworker is depressed.”
But when was the last time that any of us publicly, or to our colleagues or even to our closest friends and family, said, “I’m depressed” because we were actually truly feeling depressed? As in, not wanting to get out of bed, not wanting to eat or bathe or do anything. At worst, wanting our lives to end. That’s depression.
Despite all the anti-depressant drugs that are now advertised on television and prescribed so frequently by doctors, talking IRL about depression is something that is still a bit frowned-upon. But global statistics about depression (one estimate is that 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide) show that many people suffer from it, so why is it so hard to talk about? I myself use the world self-referentially quite rarely, though I’ve suffered from mild to severe depression probably since I was a child.
Most people don’t like to talk about depression because it—like grief, sadness, serious illness or pain of any kind—makes people feel uncomfortable, out of control, and because in the US in particular, we are supposed to be ‘happy’ all the time, and if we aren’t happy then it’s somehow our fault. From new-agey quotes and memes along the lines of you alone determine how happy you are and that attitude is everything when it comes to happiness or mood, to harsher and more primitive perspectives that depression is somehow a made-up ‘disease’ suffered only by weak-minded people, or that you should just pop a pill if you’re depressed so you don’t have to let it get in your way anymore—off with you, pesky Depression!—the public discourse about depression is generally far from healthy or even helpful to those of us who actually suffer from it. If anything, these types of messages can make those of us who get depressed feel worse about ourselves—which in turn can fuel depressed feelings.
Personally, I think depression is just as much about despairing about or feeling intense disconnection from each other and from nature, about feeling very deep pain but not having that pain acknowledged, as it is about any flaws in brain chemistry or attitude. Psychiatrist Judith Orloff talks a little bit about depression as a potential portal to spiritual awakening and the need to address spirituality when treating depressed individuals. And in our ultra-individualistic American society in particular, needing others or depending on others has generally been seen as some kind of character weakness, when in fact we all need others not only to survive physically, but to survive (and hopefully thrive) emotionally.
The first step is to break the silence about depression—easier said than done! A major reason it took me so long to start this blog was that I was afraid of what other people (especially colleagues, clients or other people who know me more on a professional level) would think of me if I ‘came out’ as a depressed person. Fortunately, as I’ve opened up more about my struggles with depression with my colleagues and others, I’ve received supportive responses and encouragement. Not everyone, though, is so fortunate. Suicide is the ultimate expression of depression, and I can’t help but think that if we could talk about depression more openly, that less people would feel so desperately alone that they would actually go through with trying to kill themselves (and too often succeeding).
So I believe that it’s up to all of us, including non-depressed people, to help break the stigma that surrounds depression, so that more people can get the support and help that we need.
When I was a child, I was often called ‘moody’ and made fun of because sometimes I could be quiet and brooding and would go into my room and want to be alone. Now that I know better, I was probably depressed—perhaps because my father abandoned my mother and I and I never knew him when I was growing up, perhaps because I was not allowed to express any sadness or grief around that very primal loss, and later on, probably because I was sexually abused by my step-father. As a teenager, I felt suicidal off and on—no doubt my depression was exacerbated both by the intense hormonal changes of adolescence as well as the ongoing emotional and sexual abuse I was facing at home—and as a young adult I would go through periods of one or more days at a time when I would not want to do much more than lay in my bed and stare at the ceiling (and I did do that many times).
I was never ‘treated’ for depression until I was in therapy many, many years later, in my early 30s, when I saw a caring, competent therapist who named my ‘disorder’ and helped me work on myself and my brain in ways that helped me feel less out of control of my moods. In future posts, I’ll write more about how I dealt with my various levels of depression—especially the major depression I experienced frequently after my daughter died.
But for now, I want to just break the silence as person who has suffered and will likely once again suffer from depression:
I am a depressed person. It is not my fault that I get depressed. I didn’t ’cause’ or create my own depression but I can learn how to live with and change my depression and perhaps event appreciate it at times.
I welcome you to share your own experiences of depression here or with others around you to help break the silence.