That’s a long title; I promise I wanted to do something clever, but I’ll take clarity over quirkiness this time.
We’re hearing more and more about the topic of mental health, which is great! Even so, it still holds a strong social stigma. I never knew how I was supposed to go about this topic, and there are plenty of reasons why I haven’t been open about it. Let’s lay down some groundwork first:
What is Depression?
Specifically, Clinical Depression is described as a mental health disorder characterized by persistently depressed mood or loss of interest in activities, causing significant impairment in daily life. Tying depression to a single route cause isn’t possible; it typically includes a combination of physical, psychological, and social sources. Some common signs of depression are typically things like loss of interest in things once loved, loss of appetite, decreased energy level, decreased concentration, feelings of anger or agitation, etc. In severe cases, depression also includes thoughts of suicide.
It feels like now more than ever depression is considered a very common occurrence. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t believe that “more” people are having mental health issues. It’s just that now there is more awareness of such issues and we are seeing more people come forward about it.
I struggle to define depression by definitions and statistics; for me, it was never the best way to do it. Describing depression to someone who has never experienced it for themselves is a challenge in itself. For the uninformed, depression may seem like simple sadness. When someone asks me to describe depression, I usually point them to performances or visual aids instead of articles. The articles can give you the facts and figures, but I believe artistic pieces are the only thing that can describe the emotional toll. Take this notable performance by Sabrina Benaim titled Explaining My Depression to My Mother from her collection Depression and Other Magic Tricks. Her last, and arguably most resonating line in this poem:
“Mom still doesn’t understand….Mom, can’t you see? Neither can I.”
I can’t speak from the experience of others, only from my own. And there has been a lot of fear of “exposing” myself as someone who has suffered from Depression. I wanted to go over some of the lies I told myself about it, which were all rooted in the fear of confronting my issues. Denial is real, and because I couldn’t acknowledge the following excuses and lies, I prolonged getting better.
“I Can’t Be Depressed Because….”
“I haven’t been to a doctor so I can’t claim that”
There’s still some truth to this statement; with there being several different categories of depression, having that clarity from a medical professional is essential to understanding how to combat it. I masked my fear of acknowledging my depression with “consideration” for the community affected by it. But this was simply a form of denial. I know this because, instead of going to verify that I’m fine, I continued to fall back on this excuse. I was so sure that I was fine, but somehow I still feared to talk to someone about it because what happens when I don’t have that excuse anymore? What happens if that professional confirms what I don’t want them to confirm? That would mean I had to face up to it, and acknowledge that it’s there. Because of this, I kept myself from taking that step. This way, I wouldn’t have to be real with myself or with anyone around me.
The reality of the situation is that I was quite aware of the signs and symptoms of depression. Even more than that, I was aware that I checked a lot of those boxes of symptoms. And when you are aware of illness and check an alarming amount of boxes tied to that illness, you don’t need a doctor to tell you what may be happening. It’s not different than someone with a lump on their body dodging a visit to the doctor. We put it in our minds that if something isn’t made ‘official’ then it isn’t here and it isn’t real.
“I have so much to be grateful for! I have no reason to be depressed!”
A lot of people have the false idea that if someone lives a prosperous life, if they have accumulated a lot of wealth and achievement, then there is “no reason” to experience depression. The big problem with this mindset is that it misunderstands the causes of depression while also perpetuating the stigma associated with the illness.
There is a big difference between “achievement” and “fulfillment”. Achievement is when something is done successfully, typically by someone’s effort and skill. Being fulfilled, however, is when one is satisfied or happy because of the development of their skill and character. Whether you are a celebrity with a lot of life advantages or just someone with a pretty nice lifestyle, you can still fall victim to depression when you are not experiencing fulfillment. Celebrities like Robin Williams, Kate Spade, Anthony Bourdain, Kim Jonghyun, and Chester Bennington had accomplished and achieved a lot in their lifetime. However, none of these achievements kept these celebrities from experiencing severe depression, to the point of committing suicide. Depression can affect anyone, regardless of your race, status, or economic background. Using your level of achievement to determine whether or not you are susceptible to depression only perpetuates the ideat that depression is rooted in a lack of perspective. We have to keep in mind that people of all walks of life, of all cultures, of all ethnicity, of all social status, can experience this illness.
“I’m a Christian. It’s not right for me to be depressed!”
This was one of the biggest excuses I made to myself. Mental Health and the Church have an interesting relationship from what I’ve gathered in my experience. Depression is already a touchy subject, but even more so from the typical Christian church perspective. If people are like me, they may avoid being vocal about how they’re feeling because they feel that they will be criticized for not being a ‘good’ Christian. “God has done so much for you! Why would you doubt and feel this way? Why don’t you have faith that he will provide everything you need?”
‘The Church’ and ‘Christianity’ are, in fact, not truly the same thing. That’s a different topic for a different day. Sometimes the Church will make depression out to be a character defect or maybe even a demon. Knowing this, the Christian who is experiencing depression will continue to fall through a cycle of guilt and shame, which only circles back to their depression. The most important thing I learned while coming to terms with this is that depression is not a sin. It is simply brought on by a combination of genetic, biological, environmental, and/or psychological factors. So while staying in prayer and studying scripture, it’s still possible to search for additional resources to get ourselves better. Utilizing these tools does not mean a person lacks faith, it means they are making full use of all the resources that God has provided. Imagine if I fell down a flight of stairs and landed on my head. What would be someone’s first instinct? Thoughts and prayers are great, but I would hope someone would have the sense to get me to a hospital so I can get treated for my injuries. No one is going to jump in front of the paramedics and shout “Stop! Don’t touch her!” God will provide the healing she needs!” Meanwhile, God is wondering why you’re blocking the paramedics He sent to save my life.
“That only happens to weak-minded people”
Tying depression with being weak-willed is a common mistake. The ideat that people who suffer from depression are weak-willed, weak-minded, ‘pansies’, or ‘snowflakes’. To the uninformed, these people are just coddled and aren’t mature enough to handle the realities of life. I can only imagine how it feels to have the desire to open up to a loved one about what you’re going through, only for them to make such a hurtful remark.
Emotional pain is still pain. The brain is a vital organ, and just like any other vital organ, it can become unwell. When someone falls into depression, they’re not thinking clearly. I guess you could say they are “not in their right mind”. When someone harbors suicidal thoughts and then acts on them, they have already convinced themselves that A) Their existence in this world would make no significant difference and B) There is nothing in this world worth living for. If I’m not willing to ignore a physical medical problem: a bleeding arm, a broken leg, a common cold, etc. then why should I expect myself to ignore emotional trauma and just ‘get over it’?
What I’m Learning
The hardest part of learning a new habit is getting rid of an old one. When I decided to acknowledge my depression and finally take action in doing something about it, it meant that I had to do things that I found to either be weird or very uncomfortable. A few things I’ve been learning:
- Allowing myself to feel is fine. But continually dwelling on that feeling is what needs to change.
- Speak positively over myself and speak what I want. I have to talk to myself like I would talk to someone I love deeply.
- Surround myself with positive people and outlets
- Reduce or completely cut off negative outlets. This could be certain people, a particularly negative podcast, certain aspects of social media, etc. Essentially assessing what types of things steal your joy.
- Reach Out
The fifth one is the most challenging thing I have to change, and I would say it’s the same for anyone who has dealt with depression. Being vulnerable is hardly ever easy, but we have to have the willingness to be vulnerable to a trusted few to work out these difficult emotions. I had to get real with my best friend, I had to look for helpful resources and start working to find a therapist to book an appointment.
A close friend recently asked me if depression is curable. I gave her an honest answer: I don’t know. But we can do things to help ourselves through it. The right method is going to look different for everyone, but the biggest thing that is helping is to take consistent and intentional action towards it. It takes no energy to be sad or negative, but it takes a substantial amount of effort to be positive. Most of us, depressed or not, aren’t naturally positive people. I have to take action to be content, not happy. Happiness is a fleeting emotion that we can never catch up to, but if I can be content where I am while being excited about where I’m going, then things feel less scary.
The key thing is that I’m still learning. I haven’t mastered anything here. There are times when I do forget to practice my good habits and I sometimes fall back into ‘the pit’. The practices I’ve set up for myself aren’t a cure or a quick-fix, but if I do fall into the pit, it’s a hell of a lot easier to get back out.