I think one of the most frustrating things about depression, is trying to explain what it’s like to someone else.
I’ve gone to enough therapy to finally accept the fact that depression is a disease. I know that, I understand that there is something off in a part of my brain–a chemical imbalance, neurons misfiring–some physiological explanation attributing to my depression. Like any disease, it needs to be treated as such. But, not everyone sees it as a disease and even still, I find I have to defend myself or try to put into words what it’s like to live with depression.
This infuriates me. It infuriates me because:
a.) Mental Illness isn’t something most people recognizes a legitimate disease despite the fact depression affects over 15 million Americans in the US .
b.) Because depression and anxiety don’t usually have visible symptoms, saying you suffer from depression is almost always accompanied with skeptisim or demands an explanation.
c.) If I had a friend come to me and tell me they had a disease like Chrohn’s disease (a disease in which the physical symptoms aren’t typically visible to other people), I would never ever ask that friend explain to me what it feels like (unless they wanted to) or make them feel like they need to somehow prove to me they suffer from it.
Sigh. I’m sorry if that came off a bit aggressive (my aggression is not a symptom of my mental illness, but most likely caused by my raging Italian hot blooded temper I was born with) but it’s just so frustrating. But, such is life. So, I find myself trying to articulate what depression looks like, feels like, etc. in a way that will provide some semblance of insight into the disease and also, legitimize what I’m going through.
I’m unoriginal when it comes to my depression, so I typically use the ‘black hole’ metaphor. This is typically how the conversation will go (kind of..I may be fabricating a bit to make a point here.)
Non-Depressed Person: Jen, why do you cry all the time?
Me: I have a disease called depression. Heard of it?
Non-Depressed Person: Yes, but isn’t it just like…your sad? I’m sad some times. Am I depressed?
Me: (Spicy italian blood boiling) Being sad doesn’t necessarily make you depressed, but let me explain how I feel when I have depression. Being depressed, being in a state of severe depression for me, feels like being at the bottom of a big black hole. Like a dark, ditch. Sometimes I can’t see any light at all. Sometimes it’s just complete darkness and I’m at the bottom of the hole and I don’t see any way out because I can’t see anything but black. Sometimes I can see a tiny bit of light–a little sliver of light–but when I try to climb out of the hole, there’s nothing to hold on to. I keep trying to climb up, to claw my way out, but I keep falling back down back into the black hole.
Non-Depressed Person: ……
Me: (In my head) Well, you asked.
I’ve found if I ever want to get out of having to make conversation at a party, I just bring up the black hole and poof, gone. Turns out depression is a real buzz kill. HA.
Sorry. Back to the point of this post. Having to explain yourself sucks. I don’t want to have to do it but until the stigma associated with mental illness is gone, I probably will always need to.
So, whether you describe your depression as a black hole, tidal wave, roller coaster, arch enemy, thick fog, twister, hurricane, Donald Trump–WHATEVER–find something that helps. Because as annoying AF as it is to be asked to give an example to explain your disease, you may also find some clarity or peace in it yourself.