People with depression do our best to hide it.
We conceal thoughts no one can understand and no one wants to hear.
We remain silent even though we feel like crying or screaming.
We pretend nothing is wrong.
Because we want you to believe it.
We want to believe it, too.
The truth is that if someone you love is battling depression they probably won’t be completely open about what they’re going through because they’re trying so hard to be strong.
Strong enough to keep it together.
So you never find out.
So you won’t judge them.
Because judgment hurts worse than depression itself.
However, if they could be truly honest and vulnerable, they would tell you:
- I have depression. Everyone gets sad, moody, angry or apathetic every once in a while. Those are normal emotional responses that come and go, and yes, I experience them, too. Depression is different; it sticks around for a long time and brings inexplicable fatigue, emptiness, numbness, fear, thoughts of hopelessness and more.
- It’s not the first time. Experts say experiencing one episode of depression places a person at a 50 percent risk for experiencing another. They’re absolutely right. Some of us battle flare-ups our entire lives, and we reluctantly accept the fact that treatment can’t completely cure the illness, but it can help us have fewer episodes, farther apart and with less intensity.
- I take antidepressants. The medicines have made it possible for me to live a normal life; however, they’re not perfect. For starters, many of these drugs cause very unpleasant side effects such as weight gain, dizziness or fatigue. Some can wreak havoc on the body if you miss a dose, and withdrawal symptoms can be horrific if you abruptly stop taking them. I won’t stop taking them, even though I’m tempted to quit when I feel better. If I do, the depression comes roaring back with a vengeance.
- It’s not my fault. There isn’t anything I did that caused me to have depression. It’s not because I have weak character, haven’t prayed enough or made bad decisions. Depression is not a choice or a consequence; it’s an illness triggered by genetics, hormones, traumatic life experiences, disease, exhaustion or a myriad of other uncontrollable factors.
- I see a therapist. I’ve regularly seen a therapist for many years, even when I’ve felt “normal.” It doesn’t mean I can’t cope with life on my own; it just means that I sometimes need a little help understanding my thoughts and feelings. Frankly, I think the world would be a better place if more people got a little help in that area.
- I try to plow through it. Many people picture depression as being this immobilizing condition that keeps a person in bed or weeping all the time. That may be true in some cases, but many people like me still go to work and take care of families during a depressive episode. Granted, we may not be performing at our best, but we plow through because so many others count on us. We keep our brains and bodies too busy to think about what’s going on inside and then fall apart later when no one else can see.
- I’m not crazy or dangerous. The term “mental illness” covers many conditions that range from unusual personality quirks to devastating conditions such as schizophrenia and psychosis that completely detach people from reality. While depression is more than a quirk, it doesn’t rise to the level of pathology. The news media do horrific damage when they slap psychiatric labels like “bipolar” or “depressed” on people who commit heinous crimes. Depressed people do not do that; psychotic people do. The reality is that people with depression are overwhelmingly more likely to hurt themselves than others.
- I need to be around people when I’m struggling. Depression causes me to isolate myself, which is absolutely the worst thing I can do. If I’m having a rough time, invite me to coffee or show up at my house with dinner we can share. I may cry a bit or sit in silence, and the best thing you can do is simply touch my arm or hug me to let me know I’m not alone. If my situation seems especially troubling, be strong enough to set boundaries that protect both of us. Direct me to professional help if I won’t go on my own. You are not responsible for my emotional response, and it’s not fair for me to even try to place that burden on you.
- Understand that depression does not define who I am as a person. I. am still a parent, sibling, co-worker, neighbor, friend – who simply happens to deal with depression from time to time.
- It can happen to you. I pray that it doesn’t, but know that if it does, I promise to help you get through it. This is a battle no one should fight alone.
Thanks to bad genes and rough life experiences, I have battled depression and anxiety my entire life. The episodes come and go, and I’m thankful they are less frequent and less intense than they were in my younger years.
If you are experiencing depression or anxiety, please seek help. Don’t be ashamed or worry about what others may think because, frankly, those who shame and judge have bigger psychological issues than we do. Therapy and appropriate medicines not only save lives; they also make quality of life better. You’re not alone, and you’re not defective. You are wonderfully made, loved and infinitely valuable.
Some great books on depression that have helped me (Affiliate links):
The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead
Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life