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!)
7 thoughts on “Down, Pt. 2”
Sarah, your words resonate with me especially with your adjectives like the aura of the suffocating fog that grips you like a wet blanket regardless of where you are, even in a crowded room of friends. In this setting, even in the middle of a conversation, the words become a muddled din, like background noise in a crowded restaurant. At that moment, fear and anxiety take hold as your heart rate increases and interest decreases, as you struggle to gain control of your mental state of loneliness.
Your question of whether I come from a background where mental health is freely discussed, the answer is no. I feel that supervised support groups would be the best place for discussion of the issues of mental health, although I’ve never attended one. Living in a world consumed with conflict and external stressors, and this horrible pandemic, the number of cases of chronic anxiety and depression is growing.
Having been there and done that, I share your feelings and understand about feeling down and being down. However, I feel the best way to help is in a private message in the chat room. The worst time is in the early hours of the morning when you are completely exhausted, you can’t sleep and there is no one to talk to. My view is that a chat session would help in those stressful situations. What are your thoughts on that proposal?
The wet blanket is an apt image! Support groups are great, but I think we still need to differentiate between feeling depressed because we are facing challenging times, and having clinical depression that exists regardless of external situation. Two related but often very different things.
‘Do you come from a background where mental health is freely discussed?’
The key words are to be non-judgemental and to offer empathy.
The persons who open up about their mental healths will then be less on the defensive mode and more prone to share their emotions.
Not being judgmental is so important, yet so many people seem to find it difficult!
I come from a background where mental health is not discussed but I make the effort to try and have it discussed. Usually people are shocked when i let them know that i suffer from it. I am always the life of any party and have the most parties in my area so its news to a lot of my friends. I know they are thinking that this guy is always such a happy going person but I get to explain that this show of happiness is the outer shell but inside its a struggle while i am awake. relief come when i sleep. Its the old saying, never judge the book by its cover. thank you Sarah for mentioning this topic.
So true. Many of us have learned to look like we’re fine but are not. Let’s keep trying to make the mental health dialogue an open one.
Sarah, This was the best comment session yet with all the comments sharing our mutual concern. While we all have our busy schedules, in my view we need to stay close to friends and family, especially those who are always there for you. Those who use the words “just get over it” are conveying the thought that they are really not interested in hearing your story or your issues. I have an acute ability to read through people by their eyes, body movements, posture, facial expressions, and voice inflections. These vibes are essential in my view about learning about a person.
Our emotions are mostly related to our activity, physical health, external stressors, joy, and disappointments. Controlling them is complex and challenging. I enjoy those with an open mind, creative, unfettered, and willing to change with a positive attitude. I hope we can continue with Sarah’s Coronavirus Diary in the future. It has inspired me with insight, opinions, and the use of adjectives. Words are my passion and I enjoy sharing them…