The overwhelming lack of understanding.
“I know how you feel, I was depressed once.” No, the “once” in your sentence tells me that you haven’t a goddamn clue how I feel. Part of the problem with depression is semantics. People used “depressed” to mean anything from having a bad day to what I have: a permanent depressive condition. There are two types of depression: chronic and acute. If you get divorced, you might experience acute depression, where you wallow in bed all day, but in time, you get over it. That is not the type of depression I have. Time doesn’t help mine. In fact, it has only gotten worse as I’ve aged. I have Major Depressive Disorder. It really should have its own separate name like Major Übersad Disorder or brainchemically deficient to keep it from being confused with “I had a sad once.”
People give all sorts of well-meaning, but entirely useless and ultimately condescending advice from “go out and have fun” to “just cheer up” as if it was that easy. It’s not a choice. There’s nothing we’re doing/not doing to cause depression. It just is. “You should eat better/get more sleep/less sleep/exercise/sunlight/take vitamins/chew this root found in the mountains of Peru. It worked for my cousin/brother/friend/aunt/me.” Yeah, no. None of that will help chronic depression. Chronic depression is just that: chronic. It is a constantly recurring condition. Exercise won’t help.
You rarely just have depression.
One of the delightful things about Major Depressive Disorder is that it’s usually co-morbid with other conditions. For example, in addition to MDD, I have my own alphabet soup of disorders including Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder. What fun!
It is not always situational.
“What do you have to be depressed about? Your life is pretty good.” If I won the lottery tomorrow and could buy my own private island, and have tons of time to travel, write, draw and do all the things I’ve always wanted to do, I would still have Major Depressive Disorder. I would still wake up and not want to get out of bed. In fact, it might be even worse since I wouldn’t have to get out of bed like now.
When Male died In March, I had every right to be depressed, and I was, but there’s nothing saying I wouldn’t have been depressed even if the love of my life was still alive any everything was peachy keen. Chronic depression is not about specific circumstances; it’s about wonky brain chemicals. It can be exacerbated by circumstances, e.g. grief, but it is not always caused by them. Depression doesn’t need a reason.
You are your own worst enemy.
The depressed part of my brain wants me to give up, to not fight anymore, to end it. For the longest time, I didn’t see it as a distinct entity. It was my brain, therefore, that must be how I really feel. Except it’s not. It is my depression talking, and yes, it has a distinct voice. When you have chronic depression, you are waging a constant battle within yourself for yourself. At its worst, depression doesn’t want us to exist anymore. It wants us to disappear forever. Imagine constantly fighting off a voice in your own head telling you everything is pointless and meaningless, so you might as well just kill yourself. That is chronic depression.
When it’s bad, like today, I can’t concentrate. I can’t focus. I can’t get the words to come out. They don’t line up in my head properly. I have to prod and pull and cajole them into existence. I sat here for an hour wanting to write something, but couldn’t think of a thing to write about. Finally, I realized that it was the depression causing my mental block, so I’m writing about that. Every word of this post is a deliberate struggle. Nothing flows easily.
Lack of enjoyment.
This applies to everything from roller coasters to eating. Some people overeat when depressed; I stop eating altogether. Food is flavorless and I don’t want it. When it’s really bad, I have to force myself to eat something at least once a day, even if it’s just a granola bar. When I went through a bad phase a few years ago, I didn’t even realize it until Male said he could see my ribs.
I don’t want to go out. I don’t want to be around people. I don’t want to do anything fun, because things I normally find fun aren’t fun when I’m depressed. Nothing is fun. Nothing is funny. Everything is dark and sleepy forever. When I’m depressed, I do nothing but go to work and come home and even that is exhausting.
Everything I do when depressed is a struggle. Everyday things like taking a shower or simple interactions with people require deliberate thought and attention. Nothing comes easily, even things I normally do without thinking. All of this effort adds up and drains me. Some depressed people do nothing but sleep. I’ve had episodes like that, too, but usually, I’m unable to sleep much at all. Everything is exhausting + lack of sleep = a not very fun me.
It is incurable.
There’s no surgery that can excise it. There’s no treatment to make it go away. You can’t wait it out like a common cold. You can’t drink herbal tea or exercise more or get more sunlight to make it all better. There is no cure. People think that, because antidepressants exist, depression is curable. It is not. It may come and go, but it never, ever goes away. Antidepressants might help, but they are not a cure. Provided you can find the right pill and dosage through years of guesswork, antidepressants just even out the edges. They help me think a little more rationally and the lows aren’t quite so low, but it’s not a magic happy pill. Major Depressive Disorder is incurable. Even on antidepressants, I’m still depressed.
It is invisible.
You can’t see depression with the naked eye or even with a microscope. It is hidden on the inside. In fact, we may be actively working to hide it. Depressed people generally try to put on a good front, because we don’t want to hear the horrible advice, or because we don’t want to or can’t talk about it. If you asked my coworkers, they would probably say there’s nothing wrong with me since I show up to work every day, but every morning, just getting out of bed is a battle of wills. Mine vs. depression. I usually win, but there’s always that chance that I won’t.