So I’ve put off writing this one for a while. Partly because it’s an absolute minefield to write about, partly because I was worried what others would think and partly because there are a metric butt-tonne of articles about it out there already.
But I think we need a new take on depression. Nearly every day I scroll down my Facebook newsfeed and I see at least two articles about mental health. This is a great thing, the more it’s talked about, the less it’s considered taboo and stigmatised. What isn’t great is the approach I often see, there’s a few I’ve identified:
- “People With Depression Are Very Fragile, Special Snowflakes And We Must Be Wrapped In Blankets And Fed Pizza, Here Are 10 Ways To Tread On Eggshells Around Us”
- “People With Depression Are Going Through A Chemical Imbalance Would You Tell A Physically Disabled Person They Were Making It Up? Depression Is Real Okay And Here’s 10 Ways In Which Everyone Who Doesn’t Have It Couldn’t Possibly Understand”
- “If You Have Depression That Is Totally Cool And Fine And Okay And If You Don’t Want To Get Up Today That’s Fine, Don’t Do Anything That Stresses You Out, Here Are 10 Things You Can Watch On Netflix To Avoid Your Responsibilities”
There’s a reason that there are so many approaches to the topic and that’s that everyone experiences depression differently, it manifests itself in many wonderfully horrible ways which also makes it difficult to treat (more on this later).
My issue is that most of the time, articles targeted at those with depression are either perpetuating a false idea of how to deal with the condition or just emphasise how shit it is to have depression (‘you know when you just feel shit for no reason and you think there’s no hope for the future and you have a gut feeling like something really bad is going to happen, haha yeah don’t we all, anyway hope you enjoyed the article have a nice day thinking about that’). On the flipside, articles aimed at those who know someone with depression are outrageously condescending or aggressive, they either assume that because someone doesn’t have depression that they have absolutely no idea what it is or what it entails or they assume that everyone who doesn’t have it is against those that do and doesn’t believe them and isn’t giving them the help they need.
This has been a lengthy intro I know but I want to establish what this is and what it isn’t. It’s not me telling you how to deal with your condition. As I already said, it manifests differently so what works for me might not work for you. It’s not me telling you that you’re a bad person for not asking your housemate if they are okay, no are you really okay, seven times a day. It is me telling you from my own vast experience with this condition that it’s hard as hell to talk about and live with but it is also manageable. It is me telling you that we get that although it’s hard to have depression, it’s hard to see someone you care about have it too and it’s also hard to know what’s ‘right’ to do or say sometimes.
This post is going to be aimed at both groups at the same time, people dealing with the bullshit and people who know people dealing with the bullshit. It’s no good talking about depression in different ways to different groups of people because it is what it is. Oh and plot twist: many of us fall into both categories anyway.
So You’ve Got Depression Or You Know Someone Who Does
I’m not going to make light of it, for some people it’s a life sentence, for some it’s a killer and that’s a scary thought if you have depression yourself. I’m also not going to talk about it as a life sentence though because it doesn’t have to be. Now that seems like I’m insinuating that it’s a choice which I most certainly am not, if you have it you’ll know how soul-destroyingly helpless you feel when you wake up and it’s there and you would do anything to not feel that way but you literally can’t do jack. It’s dependent on your circumstances, your brain chemistry, your support network, your treatment, your environment and so much more but for the vast majority it get’s better okay so for this article I’m going to talk about it like that.
I’m going to discuss 5 things about facing depression that I think are important for everyone to remember. Since I’ve rambled enough already here we go:
#1 Social Media Cannot And Should Not Diagnose, Treat or Influence Your Thoughts on Depression
The Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook communities seem to have created their own special blend of self-help and motivational memes of late, that although are intended to be inspiring and helpful, are actually quite the opposite. How many times have you seen utter horse crap like this pop up on your feeds:
Shall we address these in order just to add some logic to this absolute shit show?
- So starting off with the poorly composed and frankly embarrassing bear meme, no, clinically, scientifically, medically, how ever the hell you want to put it, straight up fact: not everyone is depressed. I’m not being a special snowflake saying only I can be depressed, everyone does indeed go through horrible situations and bad times and everyone can go through periods of extreme sadness but not everyone has depression. Normalising it helps nobody, depression is not a normal thing to have, just like having a broken arm or a chest infection is not a normal thing to have. Furthermore, ‘hiding it’? It’s an invisible illness, it’s hidden already, this just gives the impression that those who don’t go on about it are in some way braver and more sad (as if it’s a competition?), way to guilt people into not discussing their problems asshole bear.
- ‘Be Happy’. Shit, you’re right, I hadn’t thought about it like that, I will just make the choice to be happy. God how stupid have I been, thanks sand.
- Firstly, that’s a hideous shade of green. Secondly, if a teenager has depression they’d probably benefit less from isolating themselves. Music is great but it’s a temporary fix to a long term problem. Unless of course this meme was using ‘depressed’ as being synonymous with ‘in a sad mood’ (which I highly suspect) in which case refer to the discussion about the embarrassing bear meme.
- Nobody is in charge of my happiness except me? Well in an ideal perfect Instagram world where everyone is nice and the avocados are always perfectly ripe, yes, that should be the case but we are in fact humans in the real world with emotions which can be affected by others. Even if you don’t let anyone else bring you down, it’s not like you choose to be depressed, I am not in fact in charge of that funnily enough.
- Come friends, marvel at how stupid some people are. Depression has been so useful for me, I’ve really enjoyed this past year, I’ve learnt loads of great things like all the ways in which I can put myself down and all the ways in which I can fail to do the most basic of tasks. Seriously though, this is so paradoxical, so having depression reminds you to make a change and take action….to get try and get rid of your depression…therefore leaving you in the place which you started in before you had depression…so the having of the depression was pointless. So what we are lucky to be depressed because it’s a fun life lesson? Jesus Christ.
- Mate. Depressed people know themselves so very well, they spend a lot of time thinking about themselves and what they even are. I can tell that this one most of all was written by someone who hasn’t had much experience with the condition because anyone who knows anything about depression knows that it is not always at the forefront of your mind and some days it doesn’t rear it’s ugly head at all. There are so many days where it’s just fine, so in actual fact, depression is not ‘all’ we know, we don’t go round every day with a raincloud above our heads looking miserable.
Sorry for that incredibly angsty rant but these things are so so prevalent in the media right now and they all imply that we have the choice about how we feel. Even people who don’t have a mental illness do not have that luxury. If you have ever shared anything like this, odds are your intentions were purely good but sometimes when we take a second look at things, they’re not actually that helpful. This isn’t about being offended by everything, this is about knowing the difference between help and hindrance.
#2 Ignoring Depression Doesn’t Make It Go Away
In fact it will probably aggravate things. Those with mental illness are always quick to tell those who disbelieve or make light of their situation that it’s a genuine illness, as serious as a physical one right? But recently I’ve seen a new wave of approach whereby we’re told that ‘it’s ok to feel like this and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you don’t want to go to work today just don’t. If you can’t get out of bed just don’t. If you don’t want to do your laundry and wash the dishes and take out the rubbish then don’t. You are ill suffering and don’t need all that extra stress”.
Now I tread carefully here because believe me, from my own extensive experience I have tried this approach and do you know where it got me? It got me in a place where I couldn’t study and got myself in a vicious cycle that left me too scared to even go to uni because I knew I was going to fail, it got me with no clean clothes (aside from evening dresses and a ski jacket) and it got me with a hell of a lot of washing up and a messy room. Do you know how that made me feel? Like utter shit, it was horrendous.
Self -care is not the same as putting off the problems. Those tasks like getting out of bed or putting the laundry on are hard when you have depression, it’s ok to put them off a few hours but ignoring all these things exacerbates and inflames the problem you already have of feeling like you have no control. I know it’s so much easier said than done but from someone who has been on both sides, try to retain control on all the things you can. Your diet, your health, personal hygiene, chores, study, retain some control on all of them.
My boyfriend has often called me up (long distance yay) and encouraged me to go and do my laundry and change my sheets and make myself some food or go to the gym when I wanted to just lie face down on my bed. On my return from these activities he sometimes asks, ‘Do you feel better?’. And my answer is almost always ‘No’ but I do feel more in control. Doing those things didn’t improve my mood, I’m still depressed, still sad but I now don’t have the stress of a big ass to-do list on top of that thing I can’t do anything about. Telling people it’s ok to do nothing might sound supportive and reassuring but the product of that is far worse than the original problem. Small breaks from reality are fine and perfectly good way of practicing self-care, ignoring your problems leaves you with more of the same.
#3 Talking About It Will Help (Or Get A Blog And Write About It 😉 )
Depression-havers: We are lucky (I use that term loosely of course) that we live in the time that we do, in a time where mental illness is becoming very widely regarded as a real thing and where there are treatments often readily available. There’s a huge stigma to battle through still of course, we can’t pretend that doesn’t exist, but so many people are so ready and willing to support. I know you think that people will talk behind your back, that people will see you differently and that people will think you’re a bore and get fed up of you but that simply isn’t the case.
The first time I ever mentioned it on a public platform was on Facebook, to a group of women who I’m really lucky to have in my life. There were about 6000 women in this group and every single person who responded was supportive of me mentioning it. This opened the door for me to continue to be open about it and eventually I started to get messages from people, asking for advice or just telling me they felt the same or asking what they should do about it.
It was then that I realised that this is so much more common than I ever thought, I didn’t feel like such a freak and a f*ck-up. We’ve all heard the statistic that 1 in 3 people will go through mental illness at some point in their life and I always thought that was an over-exaggeration but I’m beginning to think it isn’t. I have been shocked on numerous occasions, to open up to someone I was scared about opening up to, only to hear them say they have gone through the same or similar or that they have close experience with it and understand. These are people I was so sure didn’t have depression or anxiety or anything like that and yet I was so wrong, thing is you can never truly know and that is the reason why talking about it makes it all the more important, you don’t know who you’re giving an opening to.
On the flipside, you will probably incur some negativity, there’s always going to be people who say things like ‘what do you have to be sad about?’ or ‘just change our point of view’ or ‘people in Africa have it worse than you’ and my personal favourite ‘but you’re too young to have depression’. These people aren’t worth the extra paragraph though and as a general rule, everyone else in the world thinks they’re idiots too so you just keep doing you.
Depression-Non-Havers: It seems there’s a lot of pressure on friends and family and partners of mental health sufferers to always do and say the exact right thing and the moment you don’t you become this inconsiderate asshole who clearly doesn’t understand what it’s like. The thing is though we have all experienced sadness in our lives, bad things happen to everyone so of course everyone knows what it’s like to be sad, but there was never any handbook on what to do when a person is perpetually sad somewhere in their head but seems fine right this moment.
We’ve established that essentially babysitting someone with depression isn’t the answer so what is? You care about this person but what can you do? You can’t fix the illness, neither can they and you can’t always be a shining beacon of happiness and positivity because you’re a person too and for all I know you have depression as well (the average post on here gets a few hundred views that makes what like 150 people reading this a likely candidate?). The thing is, nobody expects you to fix anything.
Maybe knocking on their bedroom door just to say hi, asking how the day went, offering a cup of tea – y’know general friend stuff – is usually enough. People with depression know it’s hard to deal with and there’s no great expectation on you to learn to read when a depressive episode is coming up or how to deal with someone who is clearly in one, crying for hours on end over seemingly nothing. What is pretty hard is talking about it so if someone opens up to you about it, I’ve found silence on the other end to be the most horrendous feeling. You know they’re silent because they don’t know what to say but also you desperately want them to say something and I think sometimes people are so caught up in worrying that they’ll say the wrong thing that they say nothing.
My housemates have this down to a pretty fine art at this stage, at my lowest times when I just couldn’t bring myself to get out of bed they’ve even lit my candles for me and changed my contact lens solution because I’d forgotten. All without me saying a word, they just knew. Of course I’m one of the extremely lucky ones to have those people in my life so to everyone who cares about someone who has depression this is a thank you and congratulations on being a great person on behalf of everyone who does have a mental illness. Every little effort you have made goes noticed and I know it feels helpless, like you can’t do anything and sometimes like they don’t even notice that you’re trying or that you’re not helping them but you are and it is noticed even if sometimes unacknowledged. You’re literally helping someone get through an otherwise minefield of a day so go you for being a nice person.
#4 Treat It However You Damn Well Please
A lot of people have a lot of very vocal opinions on how to treat depression and here’s a fun fact: you aren’t at liberty to take any of those opinions into account. The best person you can possibly go to is your GP. It can be really hard and I know lots of people, myself included, have put it off but I spoke to my GP in the end and she said that she has heard everything to do with mental illness. There is nothing that surprises her so you don’t need to worry about anything or beat about the bush when you tell them. So if you’re feeling suicidal, if you’re feeling you can’t cope much longer, if you’ve self harmed for example, you can just come right out with it. It’s easier for them if you straight up tell them how it is which can make diagnosis easier.
On a side note, if you haven’t been diagnosed by a doctor that doesn’t mean you aren’t depressed, the distinction is that when diagnosed it’s known as ‘clinical depression’. It’s really advisable to go to a doctor though as being officially diagnosed can help you get treatment, support and documents if required by your University or workplace. A doctor will never laugh at you or think you are wasting time, even if you aren’t sure you have depression/anxiety. In the UK the diagnosis usually relies on a questionnaire given to you in which your practitioner will use your answers to place you on a numerical scale which represents the severity of the depression. This is then followed by a chat based on your answers and what methods of treatment you feel best suit you.
There’s a huge misconception that doctors will just try and push the pills on you and from experience I promise you this isn’t the case. Counselling and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) are usually prioritised as methods before medication is suggested. I could talk for hours about the medication vs holistic therapies vs counselling argument but nobody has the attention span for that, least of all me. IF you choose medication then that is to be your choice and your choice alone, do your research on treatments, talk to other people if you can, talk to your doctor and most importantly, do not listen to people telling you ‘you don’t need a pill to be happy’ because literally, some people do and saying shit like that is just cruel and unhelpful and you shouldn’t be shamed for trying to get better.
If you can treat your depression by taking up yoga twice a week, meditation each morning, being more social, CBT, weekly visits to a councilor, medication, taking up a new hobby or any combination of the above then that is your prerogative, your choice and your right. It’s your illness and you treat it how you want.
#5 Don’ t Feel Guilty
Yes I’m nearly done rambling don’t worry. This applies to both parties too. You don’t have to feel guilty for having a condition you have no control over, nor should you feel guilty for not always dealing with it in the best way because honestly who knows how. Don’t feel guilty if you’re trying to help someone who has depression and you don’t think you’re helping. Don’t feel guilty if you think all you ever say is that you’re here for them and that you don’t sound sincere. There’s too much stigma attached to all this for you to add more guilt on top of that.
So there are the 5 things you need to know. There are many more but this is a huge topic with so many opinions. What I have to stress in the Terms and Conditions is that I am one person who experiences this in one way. The people I see experience it in an entirely different way. Some of this might not apply to you or sit well with you but that is the nature of the beast. This post took everything I have confidence-wise because who wants to throw their hands up to everyone they know and then some and be like ‘Hey sometimes my brain doesn’t work’ but it’s there now on the internet and we all know that the internet is forever. This is all worth it if it helps someone, that’s the point so I really hope it does.
I’ll channel my mother now and tell you that you’re doing great and you are amazing. I once got a U (unclassified because u did so bad) on a Maths A-Level, purely through my own doing, as in I could have definitely got at least a B had I given it 100%, and she told me I did my best when I cried on results day. I was like ‘but Mum, no I didn…”you did your best’. So if you’re feeling like you’re really not doing your best then just remember my Mum thinks you are.
Hope you’re having a good week!