Depressed individuals tend to be more sensitive than the average person. We can feel disgruntled, victimised by our illness, alone and desperate for someone to understand. This can mean that when we see a representation of depression that does not resonate with us, we feel angry. “Great, another misconception – this is not what it’s like!”
I think something we all would benefit from understanding – whether we suffer from depression or not – is that it is a highly individual mental illness. One size doesn’t fit all and neither does one definition – or one prescription, for that matter.
If you trudge through your depression like a zombie, numb to all emotion and forgetting what happiness even feels like – that is valid. If you feel sad most of the time and your depression is punctuated by crying fits or random bouts of panic and anxiety – that is also valid. If you have one great day out of nowhere and appear to others as a happy, motivated individual but you go back to “square one” the next day – that is so, so valid.
All these “concrete” definitions flying about, one seemingly aiming to trump another and invalidate it, doesn’t bring more togetherness and understanding – it can actually create more walls between people and bring more confusion. The point here is that depression takes many forms and if your depression looks different to someone else’s depiction on the internet, it doesn’t mean you don’t have “real” depression.
This mythologising of depression and assigning it one absolute definition is something that is definitely perpetuated within healthcare. In all fairness, it’s understandable that doctors need to be able to measure it and categorise it in order to “treat it”; but it can also mean that if someone’s symptoms don’t fit into a rigid list that a doctor has in front of them (maybe they’re sleeping okay but they’re actually feeling suicidal on a daily basis) they can be disregarded.
People are already generally apprehensive about going to the doctor to speak about depression and mental health – the level of empathy and understanding we will be met with can vary dramatically from doctor to doctor. In our vulnerable state, it is easy to feel invalidated. When we feel invalidated, it is common for us to internalise shame and guilt: “I’m an idiot for feeling like this”, “What’s wrong with me?”, “I need to just snap out of it and grow up”. These feelings of shame and guilt inevitably provide more fuel for a depressive episode and potentially self-destructive behaviour.
Whilst I don’t necessarily endorse self-diagnosing, there are some great resources available to help us navigate our feelings and try to understand the extent to which they might fall under the umbrella of depression. One which I think is excellent is Moodjuice – a mental health resource provided by NHS Scotland that is available to everyone online. It’s a self help resource that has a section at the beginning allowing the reader to navigate their symptoms a bit.
Once we’ve done this and have come to the conclusion that we think we might have depression, it means that we’re armed with a bit of knowledge and understanding so that when we go to that doctor’s appointment, it’s easier for us to articulate ourselves and display the fact that we’ve taken the initiative to understand the way we’re feeling. In my opinion, this can provoke a better response from a doctor.
Raising awareness for depression has become a priority in the west in recent years. I’m really happy that it’s finally being recognised as the debilitating illness it is. And I’m really happy more information is being spread about how to prevent it and stay as mentally healthy as possible.
One of the downsides of raising awareness for depression is that it prompts more people to talk about it who don’t really have personal experience with it. One of my personal fears is that if I were to be more transparent about my depression with people at work, I’d be met with faux empathy: “I know how you feel”. To me, I wouldn’t find this validating at all, if anything I would feel like my feelings were being undermined. People can be quick to say they empathise with you and follow it up with something like: “You don’t see me taking days off work, I come in every day”. In some ways, this would be worse than being given a blank stare.
Mental health has only ever been discussed in a negative light in my place of work, so I’m apprehensive to share that I’ve been struggling. I’m planning to go to the doctor on Monday to request time off and that’s another thing I’m apprehensive about – despite the guidance I shared above. I even doubted myself yesterday because I had an overall great day at work and I was conscious of the fact that I was smiling a lot (“maybe I shouldn’t be smiling if I’m about to tell them I have depression”).
I got home yesterday feeling good more or less and later on, I went for a shower. I’m notorious for taking long showers, I just feel so content and comforted that I hate to leave. I think also because I have poor circulation and I’m cold so often, it’s such a relief to finally be warm. After about 15 minutes, my mood dipped. I started to feel guilty for having been in the shower so long but I just couldn’t turn the shower off. I felt frozen and overwhelmed. With the wave of guilt came an urge to self harm. I felt powerless all over again, the good day at work a distant memory. Then I thought about how others would feel if I did self harm which added another layer of guilt. Then I felt angry that I should have to feel responsible for other people’s emotions when I was already in the grip of depression. I felt like lashing out: “I don’t give a shit what you think about my self harm, it’s none of your business!”
In the end the razor stayed on the shelf and I dug my nails into myself instead. To have gone from having a good day at work to that…reminded me that yes, I do need the time off and no, one good day at work does not mean I’m “better”. The people at work didn’t see that and they don’t need to. I know the way that I feel and I’m sure that once I explain myself to the doctor, I’ll get the time off that I need.
Are there any myths about depression you think need to be debunked? What symptoms do you suffer from that are underreported and do you feel the need to prove yourself? Let me know in the comments!
Thanks so much for reading, all my love,
– SMUT. ❤ xxxx