When I tell people I suffer with depression and panic disorder I generally get one of three responses:
- A slightly panicked look and shocked expression before carrying on the conversation as normal
- An understanding nod followed by the phrase if there's anything I can do to help...
- And my least favourite, 'yeah I know what you mean, I was so depressed when [insert everyday occurrence]'.
"No she's not depressed. It's just being a teenager"
The word depressed is banded around in all occasions now, sometimes honestly, sometimes to express how bad a day someone has had, and sometimes as a way to gain attention. Because of this there are many people that look on dubiously when depression is mentioned. In fact when I was first diagnosed with depression my parent's response was, "no she's not depressed. It's just being a teenager." I'm pretty sure this was partly due to complete shock and part denial - no one wants someone they love to be ill. Either way it's seen as an attention seeking trait and you now have to prove that you're ill.
In the meantime, I am sat at home obsessing over the fact that I couldn't get my words to come out fast enough when we were talking today and when I did they weren't right anyway. I'm wondering if anyone noticed it and thought I was being weird or I was on drugs. I'm thinking that it's probably why I don't have many friends. I am rather odd after all.
I'm sat on my sofa watching a program on TV that I have no interest in because reaching for the remote requires a level of energy that I just don't have, trying to be 'normal' at work today has drained me. I can feel my stomach rumbling and I need a drink but I just can't seem to think about what I want to eat, never mind get my body to move so I can make it. I'm already starting to worry about tomorrow; planning in my head the simple things like getting out of bed, washing my hair and putting my make up on because I know it could be hard, and the simplest of actions could feel like the most tiring journey. But when I go into work the next day I look like I always do; clean hair and minimal make up, there and ready to start work, so everything is fine, right?
"But you look so normal."
No it's not. The thing about depression, about most mental illnesses, is that the people who suffer from them look fine. Of course we do, it's not like a sickness bug that makes us pale and clammy, or a physical disability that you can see. It's not something to be brushed off with the phrase, "but you look so normal." Of course we look normal (!) we just find some things more difficult than you.
For those who still think it's just an attention seeking personality let me clarify a few things:
It comes in waves
It isn't constant. There are days when I don't have to gee myself up to get out of bed or spend half an hour working up the courage to get a cup of coffee. I can smile and laugh and enjoy things. But then, the next day, month or year, I have to live my life from one hour to the next because the idea of anything beyond that is too exhausting to comprehend. I have to break every action down into minute steps because even the thought of getting in the shower and getting washed is too overwhelming. I know it doesn't make sense; it sounds as crazy to me as it does to you, but this is the way I have to live my life sometimes.
I don't want this
No one in their right mind would choose to be miserable over being happy. I don't want to live my life like this, if I could fix it I would do it in a heartbeat. I don't want to be so scared of going to the shop for some milk that I drink my coffee black and eat dry cereal because I have nothing else in the house. I don't want to second guess every social interaction and assume people are only being nice to my face and bitch about me when I'm not there. Living like this is exhausting. I wish it was a tumor that could be cut out but it's not and I'm doing the best I can. People don't choose to be sick - this is exactly the same. Saying 'if you just try to be more positive' or 'just pull yourself together' doesn't immediately snap me out of it - this is an illness.
It can steal your friends
Or your significant other, your family or your job. Mental illness can ruin any relationship, and it hurts like hell because we don't want to be like this. We know that we're being crazy, we know that it's annoying that we cancel plans, we know there's no reason for us to be snapping at the slightest thing or crying in the corner. No matter how patient and understanding the other person is, if they don't know how to deal with depression, or understand the difference between when you're ill and when you're not, it can be frustrating and confusing to the point that they just have to walk away. I live with this illness but I'm not sure I would be strong enough to watch it affect someone I love, so to everyone that has stayed, thank you. I love you.
It can be managed
I've been dealing with depression for over 10 years now. I don't believe it's ever something I'll be cured of sadly, but it is something I've learned to live with. Some years are worse than others, and as with every life there are slip ups and set backs along the way. A big part of managing depression, or any mental illness, is the lifestyle that you lead. Whilst I can't simply choose to be happy, I can choose to look on the bright side of each situation, work in an area I love, spend time doing things I enjoy and pay attention to my physical well being - all of which will help me manage this illness.
So really, what people mean when they say they suffer with depression is that while parts of life can be tough, we're trying to make the most of it. And if you're willing to roll with the punches and put up with our crazy when most other people would run, we think you're pretty damn awesome.
Published by Hannah Graham