Living with Depression

Dena Lea

Reprinted from "Mood Disorders" issue of Visions Journal, 2000, 1(11), p. 8

stock photoHave you ever tried to put on a happy face when you weren't feeling bright and cheery?

Because of the nature of depression, it took me years to get into treatment. I found it hard to accept that I needed help, let alone find out where to go to get that help. Once I finally got started, it was very difficult to find the energy to continue. With depression, there are times when I'd be too exhausted to do anything, let alone go out and confront the world. But the good news is, with the help of a few key people, I am beginning to recover from the illness that has haunted so much of my life. Now that I have accepted my depression as a treatable illness, I know there is something I can do about it — and I don't have to do it alone.

Imagine what it would feel like to wake up in the morning wondering "what's the point of getting out of bed?" Imagine that this is a daily occurrence, and no matter how much you have to do, or how bright and aware you know you should be, you just can't shake the feeling. This is what depression does to you: it robs you of your interest, your drive, your joy, and your ability to do anything to help yourself.

Think about what it would be like to spend most of your time alone because being around other people is just too difficult. Of course, you know there are people who care about you, but when you're depressed, you can feel they are judging you. You're tired of being called names or told to "get over it," and you've even become afraid to expose those you care about to the gloom and doom that seems to surround you. You may even fear that they, too, will tire of being around your dismal mood and shun you like so many have before.

Have you ever tried putting on a happy face when you weren't actually feeling bright and cheery? For a person with depression, it's extremely difficult to pretend that everything is "normal"; it's obvious to you that it's a façade, and it isn't working. You end up feeling worse about yourself for having pretended.

Now try to imagine having all these feelings and not understanding that they are symptoms of a treatable illness. You don't realize it's not your fault and even believe you've "tried everything" and failed. From the inside of depression, you chastise yourself for not being a better, stronger person.

As a person who experiences clinical depression, I know these feelings from the inside out. Despite the fact that I know I am an intelligent individual, I often feel these qualities are masked by a sort of melancholia that has a mind of its own. I know intellectually that my life has value, but when I am depressed, there's a part of me that simply doesn't know how to believe it.

At this point, you may be wondering "why am I still reading this?" I don't blame you, it's a depressing topic — and a very serious one. Perhaps you have had similar experiences, or maybe you know someone who has described these feelings to you. In either case, it is important to realize that depression is not an inherent weakness or personality flaw, and that it can become a serious illness. People with depression cannot just "snap out of it."

Most of us experience a period of depression at some point in our lives, but over time, the feelings fade and life resumes its normal course. For a person with clinical depression, these episodes may be frequent or continue for a long time. In my experience, the episodes were shorter, less severe and occurred less often when I was young. They became longer and more severe as I got older; eventually, my condition became "chronic."

Of course, understanding my illness was only the beginning of my recovery. Now I have to deal with the outside world and uninformed attitudes about mental illness. I've met very few people outside the mental health community who think about depression in the same way as diabetes or heart disease, which are also treatable illnesses. This makes it difficult for those of us who experience mental illness to share our stories and discover that we are not alone.

I was fortunate enough to find my way to a local mental health agency, through which I have discovered a whole community of open-minded and knowledgeable people. This is where I now go to get encouragement and support, knowing that I won't be judged for needing help. My wish for the future would be for more people to see illnesses like depression as treatable medical conditions, so those of us living with mental illness can feel more supported as we move towards wellness.