Depression is an asshole. There, I said it. Thank you for your time.
Okay, so maybe this isn’t a profound statement. Anybody who has ever been afflicted by or close to somebody with depression knows that it’s awful and can ruin your life. And not just because it makes you sad sometimes or forces you to cry in the bathroom at work for no reason or fastens you into the same set of pajamas for three days straight. Depression is an asshole because it is inherently contradictory. This is the foundation for my theory of The Depression Paradoxes.
Paradox 1: You’re Numb Despite “Having It All”
Clinical depression has no rhyme or reason to it. Unlike grief or situational depression, which can be linked to a single problem or event, clinical depression often pops right out the blue clear sky. As a result, things can often be going pretty well for you but, out of nowhere, you start to feel absolutely miserable. For someone with depression, this can be even worse than your entire life falling apart, because then at least you would have an explanation for your sadness. Not having a “reason” to be upset about something makes the voices in your head that much more cutting. “You just got a promotion, you ungrateful jerk! Why are you blubbering in the shower?” or “You’re on a yacht in the middle of Caribbean, sipping champagne with Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and you can’t smile for one. friggin. second?!” (Anybody else have that fantasy? Just me?)
So hopefully this explanation makes it easy to understand why a common piece of advice spewed by everyone ranging from Instagram yogis to Dr. Phil doesn’t often work for people living with depression. You can hear a choir of soothing New Age-y voices crooning it now: Practice Gratitude. Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for not being a greedy prick and being thankful for what you have. And gratitude is an amazing and powerful tool for those not in the middle of a depressive episode. But for someone agonizing in their own personal hell for no reason other than shitty neurotransmission, counting blessings can be a rough reminder of the fact that they are still suffering despite all they have been given. Even more, for someone with the messed-up thought patterns characteristic of mental health disorders, this can quickly feed into the cycle of negative self-talk and depression.
Paradox 2: Exercise Is Supposed To Make You Happy, But You Can’t Even Get Out Of Bed
I, like many of my fellow mental health warriors, have googled the phrase “how to fight depression” or some variation of that more times than Kanye West has googled “Kanye West.” (Mom, if you’re reading this, that’s a lot of times.) What pops up are several different blog posts listing the same strategies tested by time and scientific evidence: exercising, eating well, socializing, and looking on the sunny side of life! And, of course, all of those things are wonderful suggestions for people with or without a mental health disorder.
However, to quote Carrie Underwood, “There’s just one little problem…” Depression makes those things pretty much impossible, especially when you’re knee-deep in self-doubt, fatigue, and crying spells.
Before you yell at me, I am a lifelong student of the sciences, with degrees in Nutritional Sciences and Physical Therapy. I am a big proponent of healthy living, both mentally and physically. Professionally, I have seen the positive impact of appropriate exercise, solid nutrition, and social interaction on people with mental and physical disorders. Personally, however, I have seen just how difficult it is to follow this advice when you can barely get out of bed in the morning. I, a physical therapist and normally an avid exerciser, had an entire three (okay, six) month span where I did not exercise a single minute. I used all of my social, physical, and mental energy just getting myself to, through, and from work. By the time I got home, I could barely keep it together enough to binge on Triscuits and The Office before crying myself to sleep at the thought of waking up and having to do it all over again. And what made it even worse was knowing that I should be exercising, I should be meeting up with friends, I should eat a goddamn vegetable once in a while. (Translation in my brain: I am definitely a waste of a human and probably do not deserve be living on this planet anymore.)
Don’t get it twisted—it is not my intention for these paradoxes to function as excuses or reasons not to engage in methods proven for battling depression. It’s just that these practices require two things that are often lacking in the depressed mind: energy and motivation. The point of this is to 1) explain why depression is a total jerk and 2) provide compassion and understanding of how depression operates for those coping with the disease as well as those living on the outside trying to empathize.
It is only by identifying and demystifying these paradoxes that we can begin to address and modify our treatment strategies to make room for hope and healing in the depressed mind.
Note: This post was originally published at ThoughtCatalog.com, with some modifications. See the original post here.
The world feels crazy right now. Between a global pandemic, worldwide protests, and murder hornets (seriously, wtf?!), the first half of 2020 has proven to be a rough one. It’s important to stay informed, but sometimes the news can make us feel anxious, hopeless, and afraid for the future. However, sticking our heads in the sand and ignoring all news can make us feel even more anxious because we don’t know what’s happening around us. Here are some tips to stay informed without feeling overwhelmed.
Now more than ever, it’s important we stay informed and aware of the world around us. However, nothing is worth sacrificing our mental health over. By taking these steps to filter out less-than-newsworthy information, you’ll improve your knowledge of the facts while protecting your energy and your sanity. And couldn’t the world use a little more sanity right now?
P.S. Still feeling overwhelmed? Start with your thoughts! Learn more about my 21-Day Negative Thought Detox here.
Black lives matter. Black bodies matter. That means black mental health has to matter, too.
Black people in America are disproportionately affected by mental health issues and poor access to psychological treatment. Research shows that historical adversity such as slavery, sharecropping, racial violence, and race-based exclusion from social services (think healthcare and education) results in a lower socioeconomic status. Low socioeconomic status, as I also discussed in this post, increases the risk for poor mental health. Put this on top of centuries of racial oppression and inequality and you have a perfect storm for a mental health crisis.
Current protests, while necessary, can also leave our black brothers feeling more anxious, hopeless, and on edge. As a result, black mental health is as an important as ever. Here are some ways non-BIPOC allies can help:
Obviously, this is a less-than exhaustive list - but it’s a start. I encourage you to share your own resources in the comments below so we can all support this cause. Together, and only together, can we help improve the lives and mental health of the black community in America.
She is depressed. He has depression. They are suffering from clinical depression.
What do all of these phrases have in common?
They put the depression on the person. They say that the essence of a person is their depression. That every single iota of their being is marked by a mental illness. That all they are and all they know is sadness.
In reality, depression is an illness, a disease. It is only a small part of somebody’s wholeness. Depression does not define them and does not make them weak, much like having cancer does not make somebody made of cancer or spiritually weakened by cancer. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Living with a mental illness - and choosing to continue to live every single day in the face of that mental illness - makes a person powerful beyond measure. And if that person is willing to open up about their depression? That reflects an incalculable amount of strength, considering the world around them is full of people pretending to have a life that is 100% perfect (just scroll through Instagram once in a while and you’ll see what I’m talking about).
So let’s change the way we talk about depression to reflect the sheer amount of strength it takes to live with a mental health disorder. Instead of saying you are depression, say:
You are a depression survivor.
You are not depression itself. Depression does not own you or your soul. Instead, you own depression, to the point that you continue to live a life that, often times, feels excruciatingly painful.
What makes you a survivor? The choice you make every single day to continue living, to continue trying, even if you do not feel like doing so.
In 2016, according to the CDC, 45,000 people tragically died by suicide, making it the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. As one would suspect, a majority of people who complete suicide have been touched by depression in some way (60%, to be exact, according to the US HHS). The fact that you 1) have a disorder that makes you 25 TIMES MORE LIKELY to complete a suicide (Source: American Association of Suicidology) and 2) choose to continue living in spite of that risk, makes you badass beyond words.
That makes you strong. That makes you powerful. And that, my friend, makes you a depression survivor.