There are more than 17,000,000 people in America diagnosed with clinical depression, and I am one of them.
Those numbers would greatly rise if we were somehow able to quantify and take into consideration those not diagnosed, yet still affected by depression. It’s a very real and present thing in our society, even if it’s rarely understood or discussed by most individuals.
If you’ve read this space for a period of time, you’ve no doubt seen me discuss my past and current struggles with mental health. I’ve been fortunate enough to get to a point in my life where I’m not so afraid to talk about it openly with others, though that hasn’t always been the case; and sadly, that isn’t the case for a large number of people. There are innumerable and various obstacles and pitfalls for someone struggling with depression, but perhaps the most universal is that of explaining to loved ones just what the hell is actually going on.
I can give you countless examples of someone asking me what’s wrong and why I’m feeling this way. I can give you one answer I’ve given all of them: I don’t know.
That’s not easy to say, and it’s certainly not easy to hear from someone who’s depressed. As a friend and loved one, we want to help and aid the person we care about who is struggling. When we have no way of understanding what the central cause might be, it’s not so easy to digest. It makes the situation far more murky and difficult to wade through, like walking through a forest at night without a flashlight and compass to guide us.
I know this is a feeling most of my loved ones feel when we discuss my depression, and it increases my level of anxiety when I can’t provide an answer. While I’ve coped with and learned how to manage my depression over the last couple of years, I still have my days and weeks in which I am overcome with worry, anxiety, and outright dread. It’s during those periods I tend to pull away from society.
I don’t return calls or texts. I don’t reach out to my friends for company. I’m not as active on Twitter or Facebook (yes, social media is and has been a benchmark for my mental health, as it tends to be for most people who use it).
I don’t know specifically why I reject community and friendship when I certainly need it most, but that’s the common thread of depression: I don’t know why I do what I do and feel what I feel. I just do it and feel it. The best reason I can surmise is that I know how frustrating it is for them to hear me say these things, and I begin to sound like a broken record that never really played anything of value in the first place. I want to avoid having to apologize for what I feel, or at least feeling like that’s what I have to do.
As difficult as it is to hear that as a friend trying to help, it’s exponentially difficult to say it as someone who is depressed. Thankfully, I’ve been surrounded by a good number of people who understand that they really aren’t going to get a detailed answer from me regarding much of this, and they let that be enough. They let their presence and words of encouragement be enough, regardless of specificity. Which is good, because sometimes that’s all I need or want. Sometimes that is enough.
However, not a lot of people who struggle with this disease are as fortunate as I am. Their isolation is exacerbated by fear and worry wrapped in flesh and bone. They experience the personification of much of what hurts them as represented by their loved ones.
Worry begets worry. Anxiety produces anxiety. On and on it goes, and where it’ll stop nobody knows.
If you’re a friend or family member of someone struggling with depression, it’s helpful to keep this in mind. It’s important to remember that your actions can and do have a powerful role to play here, and to be ready and willing to accept that the answers we give aren’t really answers at all. Be mindful. Be considerate. And above all else, be gracious.
You didn’t start the fire, but you might be pouring gasoline instead of water.