What I want my loved ones to understand about my depression
Three words that are commonly used to describe me include: happy, optimistic, and confident. No one has ever described me as sad, which is why I was shocked when I recently discovered that I was entering the initial stages of depression. I work at a place that assists people with disabilities and I talk to people dealing with mental illnesses on a daily basis, yet I couldn’t recognize that I also needed help.
According to the World Health Organization, depression is a globally common mental disorder that an estimated 350 million people of all ages suffer from. For a condition that’s so prevalent, there’s not enough conversation about depression and mental health. That means that there are many harmful misconceptions about this illness that persist. The main one being that depression means you’re sad all the time, which means happy people cannot possibly be depressed. There isn’t a universal image because not everyone experiences depression the same way. The truth is that the severity of depression varies depending on each individual and it definitely doesn’t make you sad all the time.
It wasn’t until a close friend of mine pulled me aside one day and opened up being diagnosed with depression several years ago. This was the last thing I expected her to tell me. Before I could even close my jaw, she said, “And I think you might be dealing with depression as well.”
She began explaining how she recognized the signs from her own experience and started listing things that she noticed in me. I could relate to everything she said, but I found myself feeling defensive.
Depression? That seemed a bit extreme. My argument was that I was just lazy. My friend totally shot that down and explained that there’s a difference. I was isolating myself more than my usual ways. She also mentioned that if I wasn’t at work, I was home in bed.
This may be shocking to some because I display no hint of my problem to the outside world. I’m able to maintain a full-time job, crack jokes, socialize, and above all, experience moments of happiness, as evidenced on my Instagram. You would never guess that underneath the smile, I experience feelings of anxiety, fear, anger, fatigue, irritability, and despair.
There isn’t a stock image of depression. It’s difficult to point out, and it’s often those we least expect to be depressed. I shouldn’t have been completely shocked that I may be entering depression because earlier this year I was diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and anxiety. Hyperthyroidism is basically an overactive thyroid gland, which can mimic mental illness. People with an overactive thyroid may exhibit anxiety, problems hearing, fatigue, insomnia, loss of appetite, and depression.
Depression is definitely not an all-or-nothing kind of deal. You can see a person who has depression laughing and making jokes, or dancing and having fun. On the other hand, telling people with depression to have more fun is equally wrong. The worst thing you can tell someone with depression is to just “get over it.” It’s so easy to say, but no one ever teaches you how to. In the history of human existence, no one has ever heard those words and were magically cured of whatever they’re dealing with. If it were that easy, then all the world’s problems would be solved with three words. People can’t simply get over depression; they learn to cope with it.
I’ve never been more thankful for having such an amazing friend in my life who cares so much for me. I haven’t magically woken up completely healed—I still have days where I am against an invisible wall, cry, and cocoon myself in my duvet all day. I haven’t magically “gotten over it.” I’ve figured out coping strategies. For some people, that means medicine, for others, it means therapy.
My friend has helped me in coping with the illness, but despite all her support, it is up to me to help myself, even though I may find it to be an impossible task. Having good support is amazing, but ultimately I have to be the one who has to get up and seek help from a doctor. I have to be the one to find the energy to get up and face the days when I feel I can’t.