I remember being sixteen years old, a junior in high school, laying on our kitchen’s cold tile floor in January after drill team practice. No thoughts were running through my head, no feelings were coursing through my body. I was just there. Doing nothing. Feeling nothing.
Five years later, I return home from college on a sunny, cheerful October weekend to watch my sister walk across the high school’s football field and claim her title as homecoming queen. My parents tell me I look great and ask me how I’m doing. They know I’ve been feeling down lately. I say I’m fine, but I still don’t feel anything.
Depression, for me — it’s different for everyone — never gradually occurs. It hits. It hits hard, like a wrecking ball straight to the mind. It renders me completely useless, leaving me laying in bed staring off into space for hours at a time. Not only that, but my body physically aches. It’s the most uncomfortable feeling. I don’t want to see anyone, I don’t want to talk to anyone.
I know I need to hang out with my friends. My parents tell me I should keep myself busy by hanging out with people, but when I make plans to meet with my friends it’s like I have nothing to say. Even if I have something to say, it's hard for me to form it into a thought I can communicate. I can barely function socially when I'm in the throes of a deep depression. My friends don’t know what I’m feeling, and how can they? How can you explain depression to someone who has never experienced its depths? How can you make someone understand something so personal unless they have felt it themselves?
And let me tell you, people don’t understand.
People will say all kinds of things to you when you tell them you’re depressed. For me, the response is pretty much the same across the board when I tell someone for the first time: Wait what? But you are one of the happiest people I know! It’s not that hard to paint a smile on your face every day, especially when you’ve been doing it for so long. I paint a smile on my face to not only encourage myself but to be positive for others in my life as well. That’s how you cope with something like depression, you fake it till you make it and keep moving forward due to the fear of what might happen if you stop. What a double edged sword, having to tell the world you’re okay when you’re really suffering and you can’t seem to breathe, just because there’s nothing else you can do.
I promise, I'm not sad.
My life is great. Close to perfect sometimes. I attend one of the best public universities, have an editor position on a student run online magazine and have an internship with a great publication. I have friends who care about me, a family that will let me come home when I need to and passions to last a lifetime. Just because I’m depressed doesn’t mean I forget about all of those good things. There’s nothing like laying in bed feeling so blessed and loved and talented, yet so unhappy at the same time. Don’t think my depression will dissipate the minute you remind me how great my life is.
By far, I would say the best response I’ve ever gotten after explaining my depression was: Wow, I don’t really know what to tell you. No shit. Who does? I don’t even know what to tell myself about it. Most people get a really can-do attitude when I tell them I’m depressed. I’m not sure if my confession makes them uncomfortable or they really want to help, but they take it on like it’s their own issue, hoping to solve the “problem.” How can we help, Maddy? What would make you feel better? Do you want to get ice cream and talk about it?
Thanks but no thanks, I'm actually lactose intolerant.
Seriously, though. You can’t do anything to help me, but don’t worry — I don’t want you to. On my worst days, Iwant to be able to sit in complete silence and appreciate your company. Sometimes the most helpful things people say to me when I’m depressed aren’t actually words escaping their mouths, but actions that show how much they care. A listening ear and a friendly hug go a long way with depression. And despite what you may think, depression isn’t a problem in my life. Sure, it’s an all-encompassing and devastating feeling that will knock me to my knees, begging God to show me why I was put on this earth, but it’s a part of who I am.
I am not my depression, but my depression is a part of me.
I've never been suicidal, but sometimes I don't really see the point of living. (Not in a morbid way.) Thoughts just seem to unwittingly dart through my mind screaming: Why are you here? What are you doing in your life that's significant enough to justify your existence? There’s a difference between actually wanting to leave this planet and wondering what your job on the planet is. One of the worst things you can do to people is immediately assume thatjust because they're depressed they’re suicidal, just because they’re bipolar they’re crazy, just because they’re anxious they can’t function in a normal social setting.
Depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety are among the most common mental illnesses people suffer from. Instead of stereotyping and pitying sufferers of these things, why not get to know their struggle instead? Most people won't talk about it in fear that they will be seen in a different light. And I sympathize with that, because I don't want to be treated any differently now that you know I'm depressed. But over the past three years I have come to learn that your true friends will work to understand what is going on in your life, especially those who may suffer from something similar as well. You have to be open about how you feel, allowing them time to be open to your situation. If they love you, they won't treat you differently. If anything, they will love you more.
I’m tired of the stigma surrounding mental illness. I’m tired of the shame and hesitance that comes with opening up to people who won’t ever understand. Mainly, I’m tired of having to tell people I’m fine every day of my life when sometimes, it’s simply just not true. My happiness is genuine. But there are definitely times when I can’t cope and times when I don’t want to.
So for everyone struggling with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, anything -- just remember: You’re not crazy. You’re not different. You’re not alone. You are you. You are strong. You will keep fighting.
That’s all you can do. Fight.