Depression and sadness

I’d really like to change how depression is defined in the colloquial sense. The way it is now, basically any person having a shit day qualifies. Not to belittle anything a person feels. Take the sadness seriously. I only make the suggestion to improve understanding of what it means to be depressed. And while on the topic, splitting biological depression from more life experience based depression would be nice as well. (Maybe this is already done in psychology. If it is, all my friends who study psychology are terrible students or have terrible professors, or both).

I don’t talk to many people about how I feel. I’ve made the decision to hide part of myself when I’m depressed because I wouldn’t want to be around me if my behavior mirrored my mood. Nobody likes a downer, especially not the downer him/herself. On the rare occasion I do express my feelings, the response I get at least 90% of the time is, “Why are you depressed?”

I’m sure that’s a valid question to ask most people who admit to feeling depressed. I’ve heard plenty of people say things along the lines of, “I’m depressed because I’m not doing well in my classes.” or “Sometimes I get depressed because my mom treats me like she hates me.” It makes sense that those things would upset someone, but it’s a different case than someone who randomly dives face first into complete and utter nothingness for weeks or months at a time.

My depression isn’t rooted in some recent, or childhood, experience. It’s not the result of some trauma I’m hiding from everyone, including myself, that requires time to uncover and work through. It’s nothing. It’s everything. It’s chemicals in my head preventing me from categorizing any experience as good. I can smile and laugh, but always feel that emptiness lurking.

Then it disappears. Life can be good, bad, happy, sad, hard, or easy, but I’m not depressed anymore. It’s a completely different feeling. The disappointment felt when failing in some aspect of life is completely different than the inability to feel anything but disappointment.

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that this is motivated by 100% selfish reasons. It comes from the fact that whenever I’m comfortable enough to open myself to someone, I have to face a misunderstanding. Usually, this results in more time spent trying to convince the other person that how I feel isn’t because of anything, than time spent deepening our relationship. And because at the end, I don’t want to try to have that conversation ever again. I always suspect that some potential future is lost each time.

I’m reminded of a story. I can’t remember who it was, or where I heard it, but it’s one of the more relatable stories about depression I’ve heard. He was living with his girlfriend at the time and was in the middle of a depressive period. It was an especially difficult day, for no obvious reason, and he was on the verge of breaking down. He walked into his apartment and his girlfriend was vacuuming. Almost immediately, he lost his composure, sat at the dining room table and started crying. His girlfriend walked over to him, said nothing, patted him on the shoulder, then continued to vacuum. He sat crying at the table for another 15-20 minutes while she finished vacuuming the apartment.

He said he knew he wanted to marry her after that night. It makes sense to me, but I’m not sure how that reaction would play for others. I’ve told this story to friends of mine and most think the girlfriend was pretty heartless for how she reacted. I get that when you see someone you love crying you want to help/talk/comfort. What she understood was that in that moment there was nothing for her to do. For him, and others, it’s just what they have to go through and nothing you can do or say will help. The worst thing she could have done was sit down next to him and ask what was the matter. And it wouldn’t be her fault if she made that mistake.

I lost my train of thought. I guess I stayed somewhat on topic. My initial intention was to point out the obvious, yet sometimes overlooked, fact that there are different ways to be depressed. And it’s frustrating to always be forced to explain that the reason I’m struggling with taking my next breath is because my stupid brain has decided to abandon me.

In case you feel this was a huge waste of your time (I can sympathize), here’s a nice, funny, somewhat related, video.

Enjoy Bo Burnham.

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Depression and sadness

2 thoughts on “Depression and sadness

  1. anancybrown says:

    I’ve been dealing with anxiety, panic attacks, and depression a lot over the past couple of years and while I have been getting much better in the past few months (hopefully it lasts), I found this post to be tremendously refreshing. I’ve been feeling sort of cold, thinking that my depression was weird and possibly imaginary because it comes out of nowhere and it comes in waves. It doesn’t look the same as the depression most people would recognize, so it’s been really frustrating when I try to be vulnerable and open with my loved ones about it. Some of them seem to accept it even though they don’t fully understand, which is nice. But many of them just want to analyze the crap out of it and keep drilling me with questions, trying to solve this like it’s a puzzle. I’m trying to teach them to just let the feelings exist, but I don’t know how on earth to teach that to someone.
    Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for being so open here. It makes me feel a little less crazy 🙂

    1. It’s unfortunate because the type that we go through isn’t uncommon it’s just misunderstood for some reason by the general population. (I study neuroscience and it’s more openly discussed in literature from that area). My guess is because of the popularity of therapy/self help/psychoanalysis. Those things are helpful for some but simply not so relevant for others when the problem is more likely something along the lines of increased receptor density (http://www.biologicalpsychiatryjournal.com/article/0006-3223(92)90259-3/abstract).
      I’m not sure how you can teach someone to let it exist. I think it’s their attempt to relate. “When I’m feeling down it’s because of so and so, therefore if you are feeling down it must stem from some event or logical reason as well, we just need to find it.”
      My experience is similar to yours in that some people seem to take me at my word, but I think they are just tired of talking about it rather than reaching an understanding of where I’m coming from.
      And thanks for the comment. When someone relates it makes me feel a lot better about being open (otherwise it can feel pretty lonely).

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