(Photo credit to Rabbit00)
So many people just don’t understand depression. I often talk about this subject because I have suffered from depression, as do so many others. If we talk about our struggles in the open, then it reduces tendencies to stigmatize depression or other mental struggles. Too many times depressed people hear, “Why can’t you just snap out of it,” or when you tell someone, “I’m feeling overwhelmed right now,” The person says, “We have ALL been through a lot.” That may be true, but it’s not helpful to someone who is feeling hopeless and having a difficult time even getting out of bed in the morning. There are a multitude of reasons why people can become depressed: for some, it is situational (death of a loved one, financial or health troubles–the list is endless) and sometimes it is biochemical. As a biopsychologist I have to tell people that we all have different brain chemistry and that chemistry changes depending on our mood, what foods we ingest, etc. Our bodies and minds interact constantly.
Also, none of us are the same. Just as there are people who are physically stronger, there are those who are psychologically stronger. So, this also plays into our brain chemistry and how we deal with situations that feel out of our control. We cannot and should not compare our own mental state to anyone else’s; there is just too much variability.
There is another myth: that those who are depressed are seeking attention. Let’s kill that one right here. No one wants to be depressed. At least so few people do that they are true outliers. People want to feel good and enjoy their lives; they don’t want to let people down. Most of all, we don’t want to let ourselves down. Depression comes and goes, depending on the person and what’s going on. However, it is possible to stave off a depressive episode but this is variable as well: what works for one person may not be the answer for another. For example, for me, reading about people who are suffering under fascist regimes and who have never known a life as easy as mine is right now helps to put my own problems into perspective. When I read about the suffering of the North Korean people, it makes my problems seem so petty compared to the suffering of so many in NK. Another trick (for me) is changing my negative thoughts into positive ones. Anyone can do this; you don’t need a therapist’s help, you just have to catch yourself when you are feeling those negative cognitions and change them right there into positive thoughts. Even if you don’t feel it in your heart, it can work–you can trick your mind into believing it if you work hard at it.
If you think, “My God I cannot do anything right,” try to catch it and change it around that minute. Instead, tell yourself, “I do a lot of things right” and then start thinking about all the positive things you have done–for yourself or to others. As they say, fake it until you make it. After a while, you will notice a change in your thought process and the bonus is that you don’t have to pay 200.00 per hour to a cognitive-behavioral psychologist!
The other thing that is important for me is to always remember gratitude. I go to sleep every night and say my gratefuls. I start with the people or things I am most grateful for, and usually, somewhere along the line, my troubled mind can go to sleep. I try hard to remember that I have come so close to death in my life that I should cherish each day and thank my lucky stars. Often it works. I know my periods of depression are far less than what they used to be. And sometimes, we have to look down the mountain and see how far we have come rather than looking up at the impossible peak and thinking how much further we have to go.
But it is because of so many others’ reactions to depression that I am loathe to post about personal problems with most of my Facebook or other friends. I have a therapist, a loving husband, and a couple of support groups that I do talk to when I’m feeling overwhelmed but the last thing I need when I have one foot off the brink of the abyss is that I am at fault for the way I am feeling. Depression is not a moral weakness nor is it a ploy for attention: it is a real disease. It surprises most that more people missed work due to depression than ALL other physical illnesses combined.
Friendship means that you accept people with all their flaws. If you don’t want to have depressed people in your life, that’s your choice; we are all captains of our own destiny. What you cannot ask is that another person changes to suit what you need.
When you have a friend, sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is lend a nonjudgmental ear and give a hug.
We can all use a hug when we’re feeling down.