There is a fundamental difference between being depressed and having depression.
We become depressed in response to external stressors: the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a life-changing injury, rejection, forced social isolation, any number of things that would create a negative headspace. Having depression, however, means that this negative headspace exists regardless of anything happening outside that space. It is a constant and seemingly immutable state resulting from the particular chemical makeup of the brain.
I have a friend who is one of those people who feel like any down mood can be relieved by support from your friends and some enjoyable activities. I have another friend who feels that one can move out of depressed moods by practicing gratitude and spending time in nature. Neither are entirely wrong, but it chafes me when they suggest pleasurable activity or wellness practices as a cure for my mental state.
The biology of clinical depression is complex. Having had it for most of my life, I know what it feels like to be caught in the bog of depression, my mind cloudy and askew because of misfiring neurons. I know what it feels like to soldier on in spite of it, when everything feels like a herculean effort, even on a beautiful day on a beach vacation sipping Mai Tais. I know that nothing – not meditation, not exercise, not wine, not music, not anything – can make it go away.
I also know, since I have finally come to a medication protocol that physiologically manages the worst of my symptoms, that I can live with freedom from the suffocating fog that was my depression. I know medication does not make the challenges of life go away, but I’m more equipped to cope with those when the playing field has been leveled – it is at that point that the meditation/exercise/music/nature can play their part.
And I know that even given that place of stability, those things that would stress out anyone – quarantine, financial issues, the health of aging parents, an uncertain future – will stress me out as well, and may tip the delicate balance I’ve achieved.
I’m not quite sure why I wanted to write about this today, but I felt the need to make the distinction between how we feel and how we’re wired, between feeling down and being down. There’s still a level of stigma attached to mental health, of the damaging oh-just-get-over-it/you’re-just-not-trying-enough variety. That really doesn’t help during a pandemic, or really, at any time.
So I want to say to everyone who struggles with mental health issues: I feel you. Completely. And to those who observe those of us who struggle: your compassion and understanding are crucial. We are truly trying the best we can.
Do you come from a background where mental health is freely discussed?
My task today: actually got completed late last night – finishing editing on a new video for my YouTube channel. Proof that even when I’m down I can get stuff done (done done!)