Baby Steps

I didn’t write this in time to fit into the National Mental Health Awareness week. I blame my depression. I’m writing this to be one more voice trying to explain sad people to happy people. For the purposes of this post, we will call the people who don’t struggle with depression “happies.” We will call the people who struggle with depression “sads.” I am fully aware that this is diminishing of struggles that people without depression experience and of the biological reasons people experience depression. I’m going to use those terms anyway. It’s just easier.

First of all, let me say that I am happy to be living at a time when so much is known about the brain and what causes certain behaviors. If I had lived even 50 years ago, I probably would have been institutionalized for “hysteria,” the old-fashioned term for “bitches be crazy.” But I would say more progress in understanding depression is still in order.

If you are a “sad,” you get tired of “happies” giving you solutions to your problems. There are no easy answers. People are complicated. Especially people with different mental resources than the average person. If you are a sad you have been trying to find solutions for as long as you can remember. You know there’s something very wrong with you because of the way people respond to you. You know there’s something wrong with you because of the way you respond to things that is so different from everyone else’s responses. If you are a sad, lots of people have written “smile more” in your yearbook. Boys especially have told you, “it’s all in your head,” “suck it up,” “get over yourself,” “you have control over your emotions,” “feelings are a choice,” “you’re a drag,” etc. Girls have told you, “think positive,” “set your intention and the universe will fall in line,” as well as all of the above statements. Usually though, happies will just look at you weird and avoid you because they have no idea how to respond to your complications.

If you are a sad, you have done google searches like “how do I control my anger,” “why am I sad all the time,” “best therapy styles for depression,” “side effects of xyz SSRI,” and most commonly, “what is wrong with me?” If you are a sad, you have read books or articles with these titles: “19 Habits of Happy People,” “21 Things That Sad People Do,” “55 Ways to Be Happier,” “Hoity Toity Academic Article About the Latest Research in Depression,” “How to Still Be a Good Parent Whilst Being a Basket Case,” and “Here’s What’s Wrong With You.”

If you are a sad, you have had well-meaning friends, family, and therapists give you advice. They are well-meaning because they really want you to feel better! They really care. But what a sad has discovered over the years is that all of the solutions are not nearly as helpful as you hope. Every time. As a sad you go through times of being victim-y. You respond to advice with, “that won’t work for xyz reason.” You reject all of the solutions. But dammit! You do this because you’ve tried lots of solutions and failed miserably and you are not in a place emotionally to try more helpful things.

Sometimes sads feel up to trying more solutions. And sometimes those solutions do help. Not entirely. But they do move us in a better direction. Because the truth is that some of what the happies say is true. It is true that exercise and healthy eating helps our mental health. It is true that thinking positively, being grateful, doing nice things for others (and doing those things habitually) is incredibly helpful. It is true that those habits of happy people are really good for us mentally and emotionally. It is true that we can take baby steps — a series of small decisions and lifestyle changes — that will move us toward happiness.

It is also true that our brains are changeable. Our brains can change. That is incredible! And it should be a source of hope for sads. All of that positive thinking and gratitude, exercise and being around people, those actions are baby steps to being happier.

BUT. What the sads say is true also. If you are a happy, you don’t know what it’s like to be a sad. You can’t know that it most certainly is NOT a matter of “sucking it up,” “getting over yourself,” or “trying harder.” Sads are literally functioning with fewer or different resources than the average person. Sads brains are different. Sads can be sad because of depression, which means their brains are not producing enough serotonin, a necessary resource to cope with life, or their brains aren’t good at regulating mood. Or sads can be sad or “over emotional” because of trauma. Trauma makes your amygdala overactive, causing you to constantly be in survival mode. Trauma also inhibits the development of the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain responsible for reasoning and decision-making. Let me say it again: SADS ARE LITERALLY FUNCTIONING WITH FEWER OR DIFFERENT RESOURCES THAN THE AVERAGE PERSON.

The new brain research that is being done would indicate that it is possible that this could change. That brains can change. This is exciting! But brain change does not happen overnight. What sads really need from happies is support. If you have more resources, you should probably give to those with fewer resources. And what do we need from you? Two things: empathy and unconditional acceptance. We will take our baby steps. We will try to incorporate healthy habits into our lives and thinking patterns. We will move towards happy to the best of our ability. But in the meantime, we need all the happies of the world to be patient, be understanding, and accept us — even if we never change.