Depression is not a state of being sad. It is not caused by loss or difficult times. Some of the people who seem to be the happiest people you know are in fact depressed. There is no quick fix for the disease and there is absolutely no cure. It is an ebb and flow which follows the depressed person throughout their life.
Often outsiders assume that they can fix the problem. They have already taken the first step in the wrong direction when assuming this approach as valid. There have been studies done which show that positivity given to a depressed person only serves to make them angry and hostile towards the person presenting to the un-thought-out cure. There isn’t a magic rainbow sprinkling of positivity that helps the depressed person. Also, the problem with understanding them lies in the way the outsider sees them.
The outsider sees depression as being sad. They then think that if the person in question is just sad that they can cheer them up. You cannot cheer up a depressed person. It is often assumed that if a depressed person smiles or laughs that a great breakthrough has been reached in their mental state. The reality is just that, depressed people can find things funny too. Also, sometimes we laugh because it is the socially acceptable thing to do. When those around you laugh, something is funny, you are supposed to laugh as well. This is how young children learn what is and isn’t funny, from the social clues of those around them. Surprise, depressed people use those same social cues to fit in.
Not all depressed people want to fit in. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t want to waste the energy on making everyone around us feel okay, because guess what… We don’t feel okay. No we are not sad, we are depressed it is different. Depression is so much more complicated than sadness. To simplify the disease to something so base as one emotion alone is to rob the depressed person of their right to feel as they do. It then makes depression a choice, which it is largely not. I have never met a depressed person who when asked if they would prefer to not be depressed said “no.”
There is not a one size fits all cure for depression, just as there is not one way to be happy, only one job in the world, or even one religion. We might believe that there are only one of these things which work for each of us individually, and this is true of depression as well. Just because it worked for your cousins-sisters-friend Sally however doesn’t mean that it will work for me, or the next person down the list of depressives which you will encounter in your life.
While depression is not about being sad, at times it can feel like sadness. Depression for me, and many others, is more about the lack of emotion. Where I was once a passionate person eager to change all the wrongs and injustices in the world, since depression came to live with me, I just try to remember to shower and eat some days.
Also, depression isn’t all the time every day. We don’t walk around with the intent of being or acting depressed. We occasionally feel emotions just like we did before the depression and instead of catching us off guard we just go with it, those are things we are supposed to feel and so there is no reason to stop and analyze or rejoice in the fact that we are smiling or laughing or not worried about something. I don’t believe that non-depressed people put any extra emphasis on these feelings, and neither do we. Every once in a while we will stop later and think about the fact that we felt something akin to happiness. It isn’t false happiness, just something slightly different, our brains process these feelings and emotions differently because our brains process everything differently.
Depression is like the ocean. It flows like water and with the tides it changes its effect on the depressed person. When we are in a low tide place in our depression we feel mostly normal. The chemicals in our brain are receiving almost normal signals, we are like we were before, and this causes those around us to feel like there is hope to this disease coming to an end. Then the tides change and again we are under water with our brains unable to process the chemical signals sent to us in a proper way. It feels like we are swimming just under the surface, watching the world around us but unable to completely hear or translate what we are seeing and hearing. We are separated. We have a sense of what is happening but it cannot reach us.
While depression can make it difficult for us to feel happiness at times it can cause an equal difficulty in feeling anger and sadness. A depressive may not respond as others think they should to the death of a loved one. They may not get angry at the loss of a job. We may in fact just stay inside out emotionless bubble floating along the ocean where emotions live. We are kept outside this ocean at times, but always subject to the way its tides change. Only later after the fact might we be able to process the emotions of loss and sadness or even anger. At other times those emotions overwhelm us. They become the anxieties which often accompany the depressed person. It is rare to have one without some aspect of the other. So the disease becomes two fold, depressed and anxious.
Because of this two fold aspect of the disorders which a depressed person can live with it can make diagnoses of depression and anxiety difficult. Due to the ebb and flow nature of most mental health disorders a depressive with bad anxiety can often be misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder. This leads to the person being put on the wrong medication, a break-down of communication with their families and a total lack of understanding as to why the meds aren’t working if the doctor prescribed them. Not all medications work for all people and all symptoms. There is a lot of science as to why, but I will just start out with the basics.
Bipolar disorder is considered a type of psychosis, as it treated with anti-psychotics this is generally how the medical profession treats the disorder. While bipolar disorders may not actually be a type of psychoses it certainly acts enough like one for the medication to work. Depression and anxiety are not the same type of disorder and so the chemical reactions in the brain do not respond to the medication the way they are expected to with someone suffering from bipolar disorder. Once the doctor sees no change in the depressives’ problems often they will change to a different medication and approach, which can lead to a separate diagnosis.
Even if you have a great doctor it can take months or even years to find the right balance of medication for you. Once that is determined then it is ideal if the person taking the medication is not on them forever. While this may be the goal, it is not always what happens in practice. While doctors ideally want their patients to get better if they do not include an aspect of therapy into their practice then their patients end up staying on medication past the point where it continues to have the desired effect. That is where you get the new depression medications which come out as supplements to the medications which a depressed person is probably already on.
Beyond this the medications are created using out of date understanding of the nature of depression and how it works in the brain. So why the medications work at all remains a mystery to the scientists who invent them and the doctors who prescribe them seem to have missed this new scientific information. Then past this you get the outliers like me. Those are the people who cannot take depression medication at all because it has extreme effects on the personality which do not help the person on the medication at all.
When I take depression medication one of three things happens: First it has no effect on me what so ever. While this is not a big deal it does cut out a large amount of medications which I could take and have anything useful happen. Second it causes me to be insanely happy with no regard to anyone else. In essence it throws me into a complete manic phase where I cannot eat, sleep, or remember much of anything that is happening in my life. Third it causes massive suicidal tendencies, thoughts, and actions. This is the most common result when I take depression medication. Being that these are the three options I have when taking a medication for depression, I am sure that most people would not be surprised as to my aversion to the medications for myself. They work well for many people, for me not at all.
In daily life it is difficult to navigate depression on its own. Most people do not understand that it is a disease and the scientists and doctors working to cure it do not understand enough about how the brain works to have consistent results that carry the long term effect of a cure. If one has to take medication for the rest of their life then they are in fact not cured, but are just managing a disease. While depression doesn’t kill you it does make you feel often like it would be better if you weren’t around.
Since people do not understand you and you cannot understand or navigate the complex world of emotions with consistent accuracy it is easy to get into a state where you just want it to stop. This does not mean you are suicidal. Although the expression of this thought often is misinterpreted as a suicidal thought it is just the honest reaction of a person who cannot feel the things which they are told they should. There we add guilt to the depressed person, who is already carrying enough guilt of their own for being in the state to begin with. Why wouldn’t we want to get away? The idea is to disappear because it is easier to be surrounded by people who you do not know when you feel like you are alone.
That is often the state which the depressed person spends their life. They are alone and there is nobody outside other depressives who they can speak to with a relative level of understanding. It is not that we want to be alone, in fact it is quite the opposite. We want to be around people, but we want them to understand us, and we want to again join in real life outside our bubble. Trying to force the depressive to be happy so that you can spend time with them is counterproductive and will often lead to the ending of that relationship. We understand that people who are not depressed cannot understand our depression. We know that you don’t want to be around someone who you perceive as being sad, or negative. We don’t want to be around someone who is shoving rainbows down our throats. So we all get angry and defensive and it leads to the total breakdown in communication between the two parties.
Understand enough about yourself to know if you can handle being around a depressive. If you can’t don’t try to form a new friendship with someone who has depression. On the other hand if you leave a friendship which is already established because the friend becomes depressed that is negative as well, and probably more so. We understand new people don’t have time to navigate our tidal patterns, but our old friends should already have a general idea of them. The reality is that depression, outside of post-partum, does not just happen overnight. You or your friend will have symptoms possibly for years before the understanding of actual depression is known. Therefore it is unfair both to you and your friend if you just cut and run because “negativity brings me down, man.”
If you don’t like negative actions and words, then don’t use them by abandoning the depressed person. You don’t have to check in with them every day, or even see them often. Just maintain a state with them where they will understand that you are there, and you do care. Because it is all too common for the depressed person to become abandoned by their loved ones, feel as if they are not wanted, and become suicidal. The feeling that “nobody will miss me when I’m gone,” comes from the fact that the friends and family who used to be present and active in a depressed person’s life are no longer there. You can’t miss a person who you don’t interact with. So how could you miss me if I’m not here at all? This for me has been the mindset I have had when I want to run away and leave it all behind. Alone in a room of a hundred people I know. I prefer to be alone in a room of a thousand people who don’t know me, because I don’t expect them to care.