Opinion | Depression requires correct tools to be subdued
January 27, 2021
I have been blessed by familial genes that are relatively clean of illness. A few relatives have suffered from various forms of cancer or heart disease, but aside from common afflictions, I recognize I was born with fortunate genes — except one large caveat, a robust family history of depression. So when my diagnosis came, it should not have been a shock.
Depression, like other mental illnesses, unfortunately, is attached to a plethora of stigmas and misconceptions.
One large misconception is that depression is solely in one’s head. Depression is not only a mental illness but a physical condition. Someone suffering from depression will not just think they are tired or act lazy, they will feel physical fatigue and soreness. Their appetite will change resulting in weight gains or losses. Sleep patterns will change. Headaches and stomachaches will occur more commonly.
The human body is like a battlefield, showing visual signs of trauma and devastation in the wake of its war with depression.
Depression also comes in various lengths. People take antidepressants under different circumstances. Some are struggling through a few bad months. Some take medication for a while with the goal of weaning off eventually. Some suffer chronically from depression. And for some, few medications will actually treat their depression.
Having grown up around family members with depression, I know first-hand the frustration of feeling like a depressed individual must simply be unsatisfied with their successes in life. Depression can be brought on by trauma or status, but it also often stems from a chemical imbalance — something congenital and not at all reflecting one’s own fulfillment. Many people feel perfectly accomplished and still suffer from depression.
It is incredibly difficult to live with depression and watch family members blame themselves and obsess over where they believe they went wrong to trigger depression, so if you know someone with depression, do not assume their loved ones are responsible.
Personally, it feels like a dark cloud that hangs and swirls above my head. There is no cause or reason for it to be there, yet it hangs. It is the most exhausting hill I ever have to climb and yet I know I must climb it every day.
And although social company can be a great distraction from thoughts that haunt, depression is effective at decimating one’s social energy. Even in extroverts, depression can drain someone after fifteen minutes at a social gathering and send them running for an empty room. People tormented by depression or anxiety deserve patience and understanding rather than judgment in situations like these.
The scariest thing about getting help is you worry help will rob you of your identity. You worry your struggle has gone untreated so long that it has begun to define you. Who will I be without my depression? Is it not who I am? That fear protects depression from being caged.
The struggle with depression is unique and much broader than the stereotype allows, but there are plenty of mitigators available. Therapy and medication have both worked for me but help me in different ways. Medication helps to hinder excessive emotionality and preclude wild mood swings, while therapy is good for personal growth and emotional catharsis.
Beyond that, self-care helps. Dieting well and regular exercise are key to maintaining a good mood and high spirits. While in a depressive episode, that is much easier said than done. Exercise seems like a steep and daunting task and comfort foods temporarily bring joy. But once a routine is started, consistency is the key to robbing depression of its power over you.
Similarly, hobbies are important. Having a hobby and working at it boosts one’s self-esteem as well as provides a distraction. For me, playing the piano has always accomplished that. Do not be afraid to take time to yourself to relax and be unproductive — that time to decompress is important to mental health.
But to the outsider, there are many “do’s and don’ts” when handling a depressed person. Trying to cheer someone up, talk him or her out of it or compare times you have been sad to their experience seldom helps. Compliments help and empathy is always welcome, but these approaches can feel dismissive or make the person feel more alienated and alone.
There is also an invaluable difference between “I am here if you need anything” and actually reaching out to that friend to check in. Even if they fail to respond to you reaching out, they appreciate it. It can be really difficult for someone with depression to reach out to someone and ask for help, especially since the feeling of being a burden is a frequent blight brought on by depression.
I describe my experience with depression not to provide insight to those outside of its grip but rather to help others fighting the same conflict recognize there are others like them. It isn’t uncommon to suffer from depression or anxiety and one never should feel like he or she must suffer it alone.
Everyone has a persistent difficulty they must manage — mine is depression. It requires a lot of effort to placate. The struggles others face, albeit different, are no more or less challenging or “fair.”
I am so much more than my depression. It makes you feel lesser, like a shell of yourself, and it is like chaining you to Plato’s cave wall and wiping your memory of the world beyond it. It makes the world feel like Picasso’s blue period. My family history may suggest that this is more than just an adolescent phase, but with the right toolkit, even the harshest depressive storms can be weathered.
Andrew is a junior in LAS and the Opinions Desk Editor for the Daily Illini.