I’ve dealt with depression (and social anxiety) for around five years now. As this issue is given more light in the skeptical movement, I’ve been tempted to write a post about my own experiences.
At the moment I can’t think of a good way to write out my story in full, it being long and rather convoluted, but I do have two points that I want to make to sum up my thoughts on depression at the moment.
First, I want to talk about the nature of depression.
I’m currently in a Junior in high school, and working on my courses from home. To spare you of a long explanation (which I will go in depth about when I do finally get a story together), this is essentially because it provides a less stressful environment in which I can handle my depression. It’s also worth mentioning that, for reasons I will also go into later, I’m unable to get proper therapy or drugs to help with depression.
To my mother– and I am sure many others– this sounds like avoidance.I’m not going to deny that it is. It very much is avoidance, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. No, avoidance does not make my depression go away, a fact that sometimes makes itself very apparent.
But there’s something I want to say about that, about the fact that I’m merely avoiding depression as opposed to combating it.
When you live with depression, your first goal isn’t to live an entirely normal life.
No, when you live with depression, your first goal is to live.
When you have that goal under control you can move on to trying to function at a minimum. When you can function at a minimum, then maybe you can move up to functioning like a normal human being.
Avoidance allows me to live. It allows me to function at a minimum. To someone who has never suffered from depression, this likely doesn’t sound like an accomplishment. It is. It is an accomplishment when this avoidance allows me to go weeks without feeling crippled by depression, when I can actually get work done and be productive.
Some might say that this is because avoidance is an easy way out. Indeed, avoidance is easier than the alternatives. That’s why I’m still alive and writing this post today; because I took the easy way.
There’s no reason to fetishize difficulty when the goal is living. I’m playing a game where I have a single life, and if I die I can’t hit the reset button. Of course, everyone else in the world is playing the same game, so why can’t I play it the same? Because my game is bugged. If the game of life is a platformer, then my character is programmed with an extra affinity towards pools of lava and bottomless pits, and when I’m jumping over those like everybody else, I have to put that much more effort into it.
In short, easy mode to one person is hard mode to someone with depression. Don’t fault us for sticking to those modes.
Now for a second point on the topic of the nature of depression.
My mother has made it clear before that when I’m avoiding the things that trigger anxiety and depression, I don’t appear depressed. This unfortunately leads her to believe that I don’t actually have depression.
I’ve thought of this some, and realized something.
Someone who has a severe peanut allergy will not show symptoms of a peanut allergy while avoiding peanuts. Depression is the exact same way. We don’t doubt that a person with a peanut allergy truly has one just because we haven’t witnessed it, and yet when a person with depression can actually go a while without feeling depressed (because they avoid the triggers, similarly to someone avoiding peanuts) we doubt that they ever had depression.
Which is just damn wrong.
Damn wrong, and dangerous,
I’ve been asked before, by my mother, what would happen if I were to be forced out of my avoidance and made to live a normal life.
I couldn’t reply to her, not out of not knowing the answer, but out of hesitancy. It was very clear to me that suddenly being forced into a very stressful situation in a stressful way would end similarly to someone with a peanut allergy being force-fed peanuts– in a hospital.
I try, very slowly, to move myself into being less nervous socially. At the moment that manifests itself in enrolling at a community college to take extra courses there, something that despite definitely being social doesn’t quite trigger that much anxiety in me. It’s a safe slope up towards normal functioning.
And that safe slope is necessary. Just like a paraplegic can’t ram her wheelchair against a staircase and go up, I can’t jump from the bottom of this pit of depression up to the top.
It’s also worth mentioning that it’s really quite silly to ask a depressed person, or a person with anxiety in any form, why certain things depress or panic them. We can’t point to one thing and say “yep, it’s that” and then make “that” go away and never feel depressed or panic again.
We just… are depressed. We just do have our anxiety triggered by things. We can’t think our way out of it, we can’t will ourselves out of it. It’s irrational sadness and irrational fears, and those can’t be killed by rationality, nor can we pinpoint reasons for said irrationality.
Now, for my second point.
The recent decision of the skeptical blogging community to embrace mental illness is just beautiful. So often do people get depression wrong. So often I’ve heard anecdotes that range from “I was sad once and got over it” to “I had depression once, and then it went away forever once I took pill” which are just so god damned wrong.
So it’s refreshing when I see posts like this one where the writer so clearly gets what it’s like to have depression (even after experiencing a minimal form of it– that in itself is amazing, because true understanding of depression is usually limited to those who experience it).
It’s beautiful to read things like “I am amazed by Jenny, by Allie, by Chris and the thousands of others who fight to survive every day and find their way through the darkness, only to know that it could consume them again at any time.” Because that is so damned accurate. Depression does act like that. You fight through it, and then it consumes you at random.
It’s just so refreshing to know that there is some real light being shed on the actual truth of what depression is like. After dealing so long with such wrong information, truth and accuracy are the greatest things ever.