"Why aren't you happier? You have so much to look forward to- you have college, a new life, and a new location to explore. I don't get it." This was a question posed towards me very recently. The question made me angry and my mind started reeling. Should I be "happier"? Am I seen as ungrateful because I'm "sad"? What's wrong with me that I can't feel and act the way others expect and want me too? The answer to these questions can only be given through an explanation of what I go through. I want to bust some myths about depression to help others gain a better understanding
1. Living with depression does not mean that I am not thankful or understand my blessings. I am very grateful for the opportunities that I have been blessed with, and I look forward to my future. Depression does not necessarily (although it can) entail a lack of hope or motivation.
2. Struggling with depression does not mean that I am self-pitying. In fact, I actually feel confident with who I am as a person and strive to become a better individual. I can recognize my strengths and I'm working to understand my weaknesses. I'm not looking for sympathy- my circumstances are the "cards I've been dealt" and it's my job to adapt, learn, and live to the best of my abilities. No, I don't want pity, just real love and support.
3. The tendency to feel depressed is not a choice. Some people simply have the brain chemistry that "wired" them to feel a certain way. I can remember feeling unexplained waves of sadness as early as kindergarten. However, it IS my choice how I respond. I can pray, seek therapy and support, stay active, keep my mind sharp, and take proper medication. Living proactively is the best combat of mental illness. Everyone has their own battles, and they did not choose which war to fight in. But it is a choice on if and how you fight your destructive tendencies.
I have a pretty clear and logical understanding of my tendency for depression and anxiety. Through therapy, faith, and personal development, I have a hefty toolbox of coping mechanisms, reality checks, and ways to challenge my negative thoughts. However, knowing these things in your head is easier than living them out. When life gets hard and I go through things that are out of my control, I can feel my depression creeping in. When emotions run high, the voice of my depression becomes harder to drown out. Every single day is a battle against my own mind.
What does depression feel like? I'm sure it's different for everyone, but this is what it's like for me. Depression is getting a full night's sleep and still feeling exhausted. It's having a hard time staying engaged in conversation because your mind is blank; it's not being able to focus because you feel exhaustion all the way to your bones. Depression is dreading going out and having social interaction; it's cancelling plans and lying in bed because you simply can't will yourself to get going. Depression is also feeling restless and wandering around trying to find something that can engage you. It's taking a long walk and not even feeling your legs move. Depression sits in your throat and makes it hard to swallow because you feel like your esophagus in constricted. Depression feels like a brick on your chest; you feel heavy but also jittery at the same time. It feels like a knot in your stomach that makes the thought of eating difficult. Depression is crying for no reason- it can also be feeling a real need to cry and not being able to shed a tear. It comes in waves of powerful emotion that knock you down, followed by a wake of numbness. It makes you want to lash out at those you are close to. Some days the feeling in your throat is a distant memory, other days it feels like it will never go away.
So what do you do? You get up, you go to work or school. You see friends, you run errands, you take care of business. You work out, you do yoga, you read a book. You pray, you sleep, you force yourself to eat and drink. You repeat the truths to yourself over and over and sometimes you feel the light cutting through the darkness. You know yourself, you know your limits, and you push them. Every single day is a fight but life is still beautiful- try not to just go through the motions, find what brings you joy. Take care of others, be a good friend, but also take care of yourself. Mental illness is not something you are, it's something that you have. Your identity is more than your disorder, and your live has enough value to make the daily fight worth it.