That doesn’t mean that I’m weeping inconsolably as I write this. Or that I need an emergency visit from Clarence Odbody, AS2. And it doesn’t mean that I’m just a sad guy.
It means that I have a diagnosable illness recognized by the medical profession and the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) that affects my life every day, just as it does about 350 million other people in the world, according to the World Health Organization.
There are handy guides all over the internet that provide checklists of symptoms. Here’s a little taste of what NIMH lists on its website:
- Persistent sad, anxious or “empty” mood.
- Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism.
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness.
The list goes on, and it’s very helpful.
But here’s the thing about those symptom checklists: They leave out a few of the nasty little surprises that this jerk of an illness has in store for you.
I’m here to tell you a few things about depression that you may not realize.
1. You’re not the only one.
We all like to think that no one has ever felt the way we’ve felt in the history of the world — even though if you watch any John Hughes movie, you’ll find that this is not the case.
And this is definitely what people struggling with depression think. When you’re depressed, you feel unbelievably terrible. You might not want to get out of bed. You might have a tough time concentrating. You might not want to eat. You might feel restless. You may even have actual, physical aches and pains. Surely, no one could have ever felt as low and empty as you do now, right?
Your situation, your pain, is not unique.
This is a good thing. Because doctors can diagnose and treat an illness that they’ve seen before.
2. Friends and family members who have never grappled with depression will find it tough to understand what you’re going through.
Some people might try to empathize and help, which is great. Other people might think they’re being helpful by saying things like “Get over it” or “Just buck up.” Heck, even the great Lloyd Dobler told his obviously depressed sister to “decide to be in a good mood, and be in a good mood.”
The point is that you’re likely surrounded by a lot of people who have no idea what you’re going through.
When 350 million people have an illness, though, you also are likely surrounded by at least a few people who do know what you’re going through.
You can talk to someone who understands. You can find online depression support groups. You can talk with a therapist. And then, when you’re feeling better, you can offer your help to someone else.
3. Your depression is smarter than you.
Anything you try to come up with to outwit depression, that little jerk comes back with something cleverer.
“I’m going to make a list of the good things in my life,” you say.
“I really like my job.” Yeah, but it doesn’t pay enough to cover all that student loan debt.
“I have a spouse/partner/family who really loves me.” Oh, gimme a break. Remember that big fight you had last week? This is the beginning of the end, and you know it.
The bright side: With therapy, self-care and, maybe, medication, you can start outwitting that little voice until eventually you drown it out.
4. Every day is a struggle.
If you don’t fight back against your depression — actively fight back every day — then it will sneak up and punch you in the back of the head.
“But I’m cured,” you say. “I went through therapy, and I’m feeling better.” That’s great, but your depression isn’t cured; it’s just in remission.
Because that little jerk never really goes away. And, honestly, this is the worst and most, well, depressing part of depression. You may have locked him up, but he’s got a rock hammer, pressure and time, and eventually he will tunnel his way back into your consciousness … unless you keep fighting him.
The work you do every day to combat your depression can help make you feel alive. Your therapist can recommend daily habits and tasks to help with your symptoms.
- Actively taking notice of the things that you’re grateful for.
- Keeping a journal of your emotions and activities.
- Spending time with friends.
In the end, depression really sucks. But I hope these little heads-ups will help you as you step into the ring to fight it.