If others don’t believe you when you are certain you speak the truth, if you get blamed for something you know is not your fault, if no matter how many times you try explaining something the person just doesn’t get it, how does it make you feel?
Pretty frustrated, I’m sure.
Sadly, this is the case for many who suffer from mental illness, like depression. Imagine being accused of creating your own illness with your negative attitude, laziness, or self-pity. It’s pretty awful. Those with depression long to be believed, long to be understood. Depression is NOT a feeling. It’s a very real disease, and I’m going to attempt to describe it to you with some analogies.
1. Irritability (The Sandpaper Bed)
You stand beside your bed. It looks cozy and inviting. You climb in and are startled by the feel of the sheets on your skin. They are rough, like sandpaper. Your pillow is hard as a rock. You roll over; nothing changes. The sandpaper sheets hurt your skin and the rock pillow makes it impossible to relax.
This is what irritability is like. You know you should not be bothered, but everything annoys you, angers you, makes you very uncomfortable. You wish with all of your might you could relax and feel peaceful, but it just won’t happen. You want to explode at everyone around you, but you hold it in as best you can. You press on, try to appear normal. Like a night spent in the sandpaper bed would be, it’s totally exhausting.
2. Empty/Numb (The Worst Comedy Show Ever)
Depression frequently makes you feel … absolutely nothing at all. Imagine you’re at a comedy show, but you’re the only one who finds nothing funny about it. Everyone else cracks up, laughing at jokes that evoke no response in you at all. You wish you could enjoy yourself as they are, but your heart and mind are void of all feeling. You throw back a few drinks, to try to ignite a spark of life within you, to no avail. You just want to go home so you can stop pretending you actually feel something other than numbness. Depression often makes you feel as though someone has reached in and ripped your soul out of your body. It’s not fun.
3. Extreme Fatigue (The 500 Pound Lead Suit)
Picture yourself wearing full body armor made of lead. You try to go about your daily activities, but every movement requires tremendous effort. You want to move. You try your best to move. It’s just completely exhausting. No matter how hard you try, you seem unable to take off your lead body armor. It only removes itself when it feels like it.
4. Self Loathing (Tied With a Rope to Someone You Really Dislike)
What if that person you can’t stand being around, that person you have a hard time finding good qualities in, that person you just can’t seem to like was tied to you with a 3-foot-long rope for an entire day?
“No way in hell,” you are probably thinking. Well, if you suffer from depression, that person is tied to you permanently. That person is yourself. It is a very sad, but very true, reality of depression. During the majority of a depressive episode, the sufferer thinks very negatively about themselves, and they might even have feelings of self-hatred.
5. Guilt (A Body Covered in Long Whiskers That Bug Everyone Around You)
Imagine you walk through the mall, or attend a family function, and all of a sudden your body grows huge, prickly whiskers that poke at everyone around you. You’d feel the need to apologize an awful lot. You’d probably feel pretty bad. Guilty. Guilty for being your prickly, whiskery self.
Depression doesn’t make a person grow whiskers, of course, but it certainly brings on constant, tremendous feelings of guilt. It makes you feel as though you are letting everyone down, that everyone is annoyed at, or disappointed by, you.
6. Physical Discomfort (The Constant Hangover)
Headache. Body Aches. Joint Pain. Nausea. Dizziness. If it gets bad enough, depression makes you feel like you have a constant hangover. If you haven’t experienced a hangover, think of how you feel when you are coming down with the flu.
Many cases of depression/anxiety are diagnosed only after the patient has sought medical help for physical symptoms. (I myself was one of those cases.) Those “Depression Hurts” commercials do not lie.
7. Confusion (A Partially Soundproof, Translucent Glass Box)
If you spent an hour surrounded by glass that was hard to see through and hard to hear through, and you tried to go about life as usual, things would get pretty darn confusing. Depression often feels exactly like this. Focusing on anything becomes very hard. You find yourself holding your head in your hands all the time. Your vision literally blurs, and you have a hard time understanding what anyone is talking to you about. This confusion just increases other symptoms, like irritability and fatigue.
8. Strong Desire to Hide (Avoiding a Persistent Telemarketer)
You know that feeling you have when you see a telemarketer’s number on the call display? Someone with depression feels this way pretty much all of the time. They don’t want to answer the phone, or the door. They don’t want to go get groceries; they don’t want to go to your party. All they really want to do is hide under the covers and stop pretending everything is alright. They want to hide away so they can be depressed without fear of judgment or feelings of guilt.
9. Dread (A Colonoscopy Is Looming, Every Minute of Every Day)
I think it’s safe to say nobody out there looks forward to the day they need a colonoscopy. When you suffer from depression, you always feel like something unpleasant lies in the near future. Dread. Dread for reasons you can’t explain. In fact, knowing the dread was caused by an approaching colonoscopy would probably be an improvement over the nonspecific, sinking, scared feeling you often wake with, eat lunch with, and go to bed with when you suffer from depression.
10. Hopeless/Trapped (Drowning)
Imagine you are trapped in a tank of deep water. You tread water for a long time. You start getting tired. You aren’t sure how much longer you’ll be able to keep your head above water. You try to stay afloat, try to conserve your energy and pray someone will come along and help you. Time ticks on. You are so tired. You sink below the surface, hold your breath for as long as you can.
Nobody is coming to save you because nobody notices you need help. Desperately, you pull to the surface, gasp for air, sink back down again. You aren’t going to make it. You have lost all hope.
Depression is a very lonely, often desperate battle to feel alive.
But it doesn’t have to be lonely.
It doesn’t have to be hopeless.
There is plenty of help available for those suffering from depression. They just need to feel comfortable enough to seek it out. All of the stigma, the fear, the lack of empathy and understanding toward mental illness in our society needs to end.
The best thing you can do for someone with depression is let them know you believe them, and you are not afraid to talk with them about it openly and honestly.
You can be that arm that pulls them out of that tank of deep water with a few powerful words.
“I am here for you.”
“I am listening.”
“I believe you.”
Related post: My Journey with Postpartum Depression