Depression is one of the most seriously misunderstood phenomenon dictating human choice.
For the record, I have never been so seriously depressed that I contemplated suicide. I’ve been seriously hurt enough to do so*, and I think there’s a difference, but when you’re in the midst of it I don’t know that it matters.
I have been depressed. I put up with it on a fairly regular basis. But when I say depressed I’m pretty sure it’s not the same thing, by degree or otherwise, as what it means when we talk about clinical depression or organic depression wherein the disorder stems from a physical illness, an injury or disease. I’ve had down days, bleak moods, raw nerves, the kind of bone weariness that comes from disappointment. It never lasts, I come out the other side in a few hours or a day or two, and while maybe I’m not spinning cartwheels of joy at the wonderfulness of life I’m at least not looking at kittens and feeling hopeless. Anyone with expectations that get regularly thwarted has this kind of foul outlook that relates to depression.
Not wanting to get out of bed or leave the house for weeks on end…that’s different.
Feeling that the entire universe is nothing but a weight conspiring with its various aspects to suffocate you…that’s different.
Being unable to respond in any but a negative way to anything, especially what might be wonderful news or good fortune or simple pleasure…that’s different.
Thinking that the only cure for the constancy of abysmal pointlessness to any attempt at engaging even with yourself is death…that’s different.
The structure of our social routines is such that the depressant learns to mask it, to say nothing, to imitate what is expected. Hence, getting help can sometimes be delayed simply because no one sees and tells you that it’s okay to admit to being out of control of your emotions. (Because sitting on them, ignoring them, pushing them down so no one else notices, that’s not control.) Because we are raised in a culture that says such conditions are caused by weakness, by moral ambiguity, sometimes even by selfishness, the depressed will live with it rather than admit the problem and seek help.
It’s not easy to know. We’re getting better, but it’s just hard. When your friend shrugs your concerns off with a “I’ll be all right, just…” and we don’t press the issue because we don’t wish to presume, it can be devastating later when tragedy happens and you wonder if you could have done something, anything.
It’s particularly hard when dealing with the facade of success. That person is on top of the world, has money, fame, a cool car, a great mate, smiling all the time. What do they have to be depressed about? Hell, if I were in their place I’d be the happiest s.o.b. on the planet, because isn’t it worse not having what you need or what you want?
Making the mistake—again—that material goods are adequate replacement for a normally functioning limbic system and a sense of well being. Sure, struggling with constant want can be a bitter thing and sour anyone’s mood, but if the depression came before the recognition of want, having more is not likely to cure it. Granted, understanding the difference can be like trying to describe a particular shade of white laid against new-fallen snow, but the difference is there and very real and can have unfortunate consequences if not recognized.
It is crippling. Just from my admittedly limited and not particularly deep experiences with my own periodic episodes of being depressed (as opposed to depression, which is chronic and worse), you can wake up and wonder why you should bother with trying. It’s like moving through thick, humid air in a gravity well half again as deep as the one everyone else is in. I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like for anyone living with that day in, day out, twice or three times as bad, and nothing—nothing—mitigates the bleakness of just breathing.
We shrug it off. All of us. “Oh, she’s just having a bad day, she’ll be fine.” Or, more tragic, “I dunno, I just can’t talk to him anymore, he’s always bummed about something.”
Maybe those observations are true. But then again, the dark side may have taken hold. We should all pay attention.
We all make use of masks. Sometimes it’s a self-conscious act and we know it and everyone around us knows it. Sometimes, it’s job related. Sometimes it’s diplomatic. But once in a while, the mask is standing in for us in ways that are wholly unhealthy.
*Yes, I once, for a long and much too melodramatic night, sat with a pistol in hand and weighed the merit of ending it. Because I was hurt, as badly hurt as I’d ever been, and it seemed, for seconds at a time, that nothing would end that pain or be worth having after I got over it. Why didn’t I do it? Well, that’s hard to explain concretely, but I’m pretty sure it was because I had—and have—good, good friends who I did not want to hurt by that kind of a purely selfish act. I began thinking of how they would feel and I eventually put the pistol away and have never since come anywhere close to contemplating such an act. I can only wonder what I would have done had I believed myself truly as alone as I’d felt at the beginning of that session. I suspect the deeply depressed cannot make that leap.