Recognizing depression on World Health Day
Some days, or even months, you wake up and you ask yourself, what is the point? You remind yourself of your responsibilities - you need to earn a living, others rely on you - but to what end? You feel empty. Worthless. You hate yourself, or you feel nothing. If you manage to get up, shower, get dressed, and leave the house, people look for you as they look at you. Smile, they say. Is everything okay, they ask. You can tell that your emptiness, that the shell of you that you are managing to present to the world, makes others uncomfortable, but, beyond that, you do not care. You do not care about anything. When pushed, or when the clouds clear enough that you feel you need to be accountable for your distance, you tell someone you are in a depressive episode (if you are comfortable admitting it, or know what to call it). Friends and family members tell you to toughen up. They tell you it's not that bad. Or they tell you they are here for you, but are once again uncomfortable with their own powerlessness, with their inability to fix you. They give you advice: Go for a walk. Do yoga. Try mindfulness. Consider a therapist. Journal. They do not understand that the things that are best for you are the hardest things to do when you are in The Low. They do not understand that everything is hard. Living that day is hard. Imagining another day is harder. They do not understand that your mind is aggressively attacking you. They do not understand that you have done the reading, done the research, identified the problem, sought help, introduced healthy habits to your life, and still failed to beat your mind when it turns against you. You are alone in your suffering.
That is what is feels like to be depressed (or, one possibility of what it feels like, as it is complex - it is kind of like the super evil, ancient mutant living in David's head in Legion). It feels insurmountable and, even as I write this, I find myself at a loss for a solution. There is medication - this works for some. But it is not straightforward, and once again puts a lot of emphasis on pharmaceuticals while denying a holistic approach to health, or to societal, environmental or economic contributions to this huge prevalence of depression in the world today. There is no one-size-fits-all. There never has been.
And despite these causes, and despite what we know, there is still so much stigma. And in many ways, we perpetuate false knowledge through exaggerated expressions of depression, like those recently portrayed in S-Town and 13 Reasons Why. While these pieces of media do their part to inform the public about depression, these stories are so often linked to violence, rape and suicide. Depression is not always caused by a traumatic event. It does not always result in suicide. But living through it is hard work, and lonely work. One thing S-Town did adequately capture is that it does not matter if others present factual proof that you are not alone, that your life is important to others; what matters is whether or not you feel alone. Today, there are over 300 million people suffering aloneness. There are 300 million isolated units of one - one and the Black Dog.
Depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. And, today, on World Health Day, we recognize depression. On this day, I hope we take a step closer toward breaking down stigma and encouraging social support. I hope we look at tools like the one the World Health Organization created to hearten individuals and communities to open a safe space to talk with others about depression. Isolation is a very real consequence of depression - when others do not understand it, they give up or, just as often, you have pushed them away. The Depression: Let's Talk campaign aims to reduce this harm by reminding us of the power of communication, of openness and of empathy.
So today, if you know someone who is feeling alone, anxious or depressed, let them know you are there and that you love them. You might not get a response. Do not have expectations. It matters. And, for any friends, family members or strangers suffering depression right now, if you are reading this, I want you to know that you matter. Your life has meaning. Your life has grace. Discovering these things through the act of living is not easy - I acknowledge this wholeheartedly. But you are not alone in facing these obstacles. There is nothing wrong with you. You are significant. You are impactful. Your story is one I want to know. So, when you're ready and when you're able, let's talk.