Depression is a bitch! The sufferers are so used to its presence that they would probably shrug off any notion of its cruel grip on their lives. The family members of the sufferers are often so baffled and stymied that they usually develop a deep denial of the very existence of depression. Close family members habitually convince themselves that their loved ones are simply experiencing the blues, or have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or are going through rough financial troubles, or aren’t doing well in school, or are going through a break-up, or any number of reasons that most people feel low on a given day. Certain that it is nothing that they won’t get over in a few days.
Sufferers of depression—and I refer to those seriously depressed who are clinically diagnosed, or at least should be clinically diagnosed—are masters of hiding the severity of their depression. They may cringe every time that someone casually asks, “How are you doing today?”, but they have their prefabricated responses at the ready, along with a convincing smile and a bit of contrived conversation that’s only enough to satisfy the nosy bastards until they finally go on their way! However, deep inside is a sadness that transcends sadness. It is a form of grief, really; a bottomless feeling of loss and emptiness that most people only feel when a loved one dies, or when a loving relationship ends unexpectedly. It’s the loss of hope for the outcome of their own lives.
I am in no way qualified to explain the clinical aspects of depression, but I have suffered from depression and anxiety for the majority of my life. I have also known a few people who live with this debilitating illness to the extent that they are barely functioning. I admit my depression gets worse in the winter. To me, SAD is a very real thing, even though many people will just say that everyone gets a little blue when the clouds roll in and the temperature drops. But my depression does not begin or end with SAD.
Although I have experienced anxiety and depression at least since my early teen years, I was not properly diagnosed until I was 33-years old. After a few years of counseling, I had a psychiatrist diagnose me with General Anxiety Disorder with Major Depressive Disorder. This was after my marriage fell apart, and during the time that I was learning to be a single father. These casualties of life did not create the depression and anxiety, but they did make managing it almost impossible. The fact that I self-medicated with street drugs when I was a teenager made perfect sense to my doctor since I was attempting to cure myself the only way available to me at the time.
And make no mistake: Depression is a disease. It is the result of a chemical imbalance that can only be fixed with a change to that imbalance, if it can be fixed at all. Anyone who says otherwise really has no conception of what depression really is.
Like many of the other sufferers that I know, I have tried everything imaginable to control, or even cure, my depression. Diet, exercise, plentiful sunshine, vitamins, medications, counseling, therapy, acupuncture, and massage, and each one has only been a temporary fix. I will say that I typically feel best in social situations, but the sad reality of depression is that getting me into a social situation is almost impossible in most cases. It’s not quite agoraphobia, but the anxiety attached to having to put on an public act can be crushing. Being around people often can create even more anxiety.
I have a friend, of whom I will refer to as Sara, and she has had a difficult time managing her depression. Like me, she is a single parent (two beautiful young girls), and like me she has difficulty getting through each day of her life. Sara once confided in me that aside from the girls, there is no joy in her life, and that if it weren’t for the girls, she would have no problem ending it. For years, she says that is all she can think about; just ending the constant pain. She claims that the constant struggle to survive sometimes outweighs her deep love for the girls, and that she has days in which she feels like she will lose the fight, which means that her girls will lose the fight, as well. I think that it sickens her to imagine that day may ever really come, but I also believe that she believes there is nothing she can do about it anymore.
Sara has been on every anti-depressant and anti-anxiety medication available. She has also tried meditation, various diet regimens, and Vinyasa yoga. She has talked to psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, life coaches, and various case workers. The only thing that really helps her, she maintains, is living for her daughters. Even though I feel as though I understand her, she believes that not even her closest friends really understand, and so she rarely confides in anyone. I only know these things because she confided some dark thoughts to me one night after too many glasses of wine, and I now refuse to let her off the hook.
Sufferers of depression and anxiety can often fake their way into relationships, romantic or otherwise, but those relationships usually fail. One cannot be in an honest and open relationship with someone else if they cannot even be honest with themselves. The desire to be “normal” and function in “normal” conventions is imbalanced against the desire to disappear within one’s self. That is not to say that a depressed person cannot love deeply, only that the elevated mood that new love brings usually dissipates after time, like the buzz from alcohol or drugs, or the endorphin rush after a long run.
It is New Years Eve, and I called Sara tonight to see what she was doing. She has her girls, and she will let them stay up past midnight to welcome the New Year. Her sister may stop by later to say hi before she heads off to a club downtown. I offered to come by and visit, but she made it clear that she only wants a quiet evening with her girls. In the end, that is all I can do for her: make myself available when she needs me and then make myself scarce when she doesn’t, and then check in on her often enough that I do not seem overbearing.
For the most part, her family is blind to Sara’s depression, even if they are technically aware of all the past medications and doctor’s visits. I think that it is too much of a burden for them to admit the seriousness of the problem. Moreover, her family may feel that they will have to take the blame in some way for her condition, even though their role in some past event has nothing to do with Sara’s current problems. Sara can go months without hearing from her family, and her condition is such that she will almost never make first contact. That is the inherent problem with depression: the sufferer will never ask for help.
If Sara ever does take her own life, her family will cry and lament that they never saw it coming, but that cannot be a true statement. Anyone who knows her—and I only know her marginally—should know that suicide is a very real possibility for Sara. If anyone is blindsided, it will be because they chose not to see the seriousness of her suffering.
So, if you know anybody who suffers from depression, please, just reach out to him or her. They probably won’t impose themselves on you, ask for money, ask to sleep on your nice couch for a month, or burn your ears off with some dreadful and honest tale of their depression. They just want to know that the people who claim to love them actually do love them. Often enough, that’s all it takes to keep a sufferer going through that day.