Last week I was at a conference talking to an old friend over deep dish pizza (HELLO, CHICAGO!) and depression came up, as it does with me. Despite being so unable to shut up about it that I have both a blog and a podcast about it, I was at a loss when she asked me to explain how it manifests. “Does it come in bursts, or is it constant?” she asked, after asking if I’d be willing to talk about it (see above blog and podcast for the answer).
I thought about the Carrie Fisher quote, “I am also happy. Happy is one of the many things I’m likely to be over the course of a day and certainly over the course of a lifetime.” And that’s true for me. But there’s also this river constantly flowing below carrying depression throughout my day and underneath my happiness. Her question made me realize that I don’t know how to succinctly describe depression to someone that doesn’t have it. I also didn’t have that rive analogy at the ready just then.
But more than that, I generally don’t feel prepared to give The Definitive Answer. There are so many venn diagrams lying over one another when it comes to depression. The experience and expression is so different for everyone and at different times. So I asked some friends. Here are their unedited (I wanted their voices to be heard as-is and not project my own thoughts into it) answers about what it feels like:
“People with depression are wonderful actors. When you ask them how they are, they probably aren’t going to tell you the truth because they realize it’s probably too much for most people to handle. So when they force themselves out into the world, they are wearing a mask to make other people comfortable and wearing that mask is exhausting for them.” – Anne
“I get exhausted by people who think their ‘love’ will cure me. Like I’m a literal manic pixie dream girl.” – Anonymous
“When depression comes up I hear a lot of rhetoric that’s like ‘Take care of yourself’ ‘Don’t beat yourself up!’ ‘I like you just how you are!’ Those are all nice sentiments, but a lot of the time they miss the boat because it’s not necessarily that I don’t like myself but rather that I can’t see the point in anything. When I hear that type of narrative I get worried that the apathy that comes with depression is getting overlooked.” – Allie
“1. The question ‘How are you doing’ is my enemy. You know how I’m fucking doing. 2. Just because I’m depressed doesn’t mean you need to shut me out of me your life because you think I want to be left alone. 3. When I have things to say…I’ll say them. Don’t try to fix me..only I can do that.” – Ryan
“I have absolutely no control over it. I can’t stop it because they ask me to. I can’t get over it. I don’t understand it. I don’t know why. There’s a difference between my sadness and being depressed. I want to be happy about things I should be happy about, it’s not that simple. I see how my depression affects my daughters and it breaks my heart. I don’t want them to be depressed too. I’m a mess of anxiety. I tear my cuticles apart constantly and I can’t stop. I want to wake up tomorrow and be happy and carefree.” – Heather
“My depression and anxiety have nothing to do with you. Don’t take it personally when I’m not sociable or cheerful.” – Erica
“The struggle to do things is real, and where a change in plans might be no big deal to someone without depression, a change in plans will likely make me want to say ‘fuck it’ and stay home. Living with depression for me means feeling like a burden. And I can’t just ‘snap out of it.’ And I don’t necessarily want people to try to make me happy.” – Ruth
“I wish people understood that I can also see all the good around me, and that pointing it out to me is not really helpful. I wish people understood that some days, cooking, showering, moving is just too fucking light, and if the choice is between hopping in the shower and killing myself or staying in bed stinky, I should stay the hell in bed. I wish people understood that I don’t want this and I’m not doing it for attention. I want people to leave me alone. But I don’t want to be alone. I wish people understood that it isn’t always something big breaking in my life to send me into the spiral. Sometimes it’s a word, a tone of voice, a memory, a song on the radio, or nothing at all.” – J.D.
“My therapy isn’t “not working” because I am not ‘fixed.'” – Anne
“I would like to say that no, we can’t ‘just put one foot in front of the other’. And that medication is helpful. So quit saying what/how much meds we should take” – Anonymous
“Don’t try to cure me. Don’t pity me. Don’t make it about you. Don’t be more upset than I am by MY problems or situation…And don’t ever ever ever mention suicide. ‘If I had to go through that I’d just kill myself’ ‘I can’t believe you haven’t tried to kill yourself!’ Seriously?! How TF do you know that? What if that’s the last thing you ever said to me?” -Mindy
” If I can’t make it to your dinner or event, it’s not that I don’t like you. My mind goes into protective mode and I sleep a lot. It’s just how I’m wired. And I’ll feel bad later about cancelling.” – Anonymous
“I hate how I am down in the dumps but still put on my lipstick and some people treat it like it is a bad thing I wear makeup but inside I am screaming…just because I am depressed doesn’t mean I should look like shit. [also] You can care for others as you sink deeper into depression.” – Perla
“For me, depression can come in many stages at anytime. I could be having the greatest day, but something in me will give me a reason as to why I shouldn’t be so happy.” – Anonymous
” I can’t help others if I can’t help myself. In my experience people have grown frustrated with me because I am not ‘there for them’. Truth is, I do my best but it is hard for me to be there for someone when I can’t handle some of my own shit. I love and care for my people deeply and I tend to give too much of myself to others. There is a delicate balance and I’m doing what I can to find it.” – Amanda
“My depression is mostly hormonal. Certain times of the month it gets really bad but I know it will pass so I work thru it. Being on Zoloft helped drown out the voice that said I was the most useless piece of garbage that ever lived but I ran out and haven’t made a doctor’s appointment yet so I’m dealing with the insanity that is 2018 and being dumped and alone without drugs and I don’t like it.” – Julia
“A thing I wish people understood about my depression is that I’m incredibly good at hiding it, won’t say anything, and will actively drain myself trying to help others with their mental health stuff because I don’t feel like I can stick up for myself/prioritize my own depression. Also that when I’m dealing with depression a lot of times I need space!” – Carrie
“When I am anxious, I sometimes over react and snap at people. My friend thinks I might have PTSD. It feels like I am an animal, trapped in a snare clawing at the very hand reaching out to help me. I am so sorry when I treat people that way. I strive to be kind and upbeat and compliment people and thank them constantly. My therapist and I are working on me becoming less reactive. Please forgive me, my friends. I am reminded of the story of the man who told his son to put a nail in the fence every time he was angry. Then, take the nail out when he apologized. After all the nails were out, the holes were still in the fence. The damage was done. It hurts my heart to think I have damaged other people, especially the people I love.” – Anne
“- It never goes away, just recedes