You and me both. Every time I go onto Facebook there are people being outraged, disappointed, angry and indignant about the things other people are doing. Whether it’s the tier system, Brexit, ‘young pipple today’ or the way someone walked past their house, you can guarantee that somewhere someone is annoyed about something.
This has of course always been the case, but in the halcyon days before social media we only heard about it from the people we actually knew and cared about. Now we see it from everyone. We love to point out how wrong someone is, how unreasonable and ill-informed their opinions are and how much more intelligent, sensible and reasonable we ourselves are.
One of my clients told me the other day that their partner has commented on how negative they are. ‘You’re always looking on the black side’ they said. ‘Can’t you lighten up?’ While this was probably true, my client admitted, it had left them feeling dreadful. Why? Because they’re suffering from clinical depression. They would love to lighten up and look on the bright side, but they just can't.
Depression is a horrible thing and it’s really hard to understand if you aren’t experiencing it. In fact, it’s really hard to understand even if you are experiencing it. I experienced it for years without knowing. I knew I was stressed, but I thought that was how everyone felt. Increasingly I’m starting to wonder if it is – perhaps everyone has depression.
Having depression is not the same as being depressed.
Everyone has periods when they feel a bit cheesed off for some reason. Depression doesn’t need a reason. Everything can be fine – you can be rich, successful, popular, attractive – and still feel utterly worthless and alone. These are the people who get criticized because other people can’t understand how someone as rich, successful, popular and attractive as them could possibly have depression.
To understand it though we also have to talk about what it is not, or at least what it isn’t necessarily. There are people whose depression is so severe that they’re suicidal, or harm themselves as a way to express or relieve the emotional pain they’re feeling. But depression isn’t like a broken leg where either you have it or you don’t. It can be so mild you barely notice it, or so crippling it prevents you from functioning. You can have it even quite severely without knowing it. If there is a reason for the way you feel – perhaps you lost your job, or someone close to you died – then you may not have depression at all, but grief, which is a different thing again although it can look quite similar.
When we think about depression, we tend to think about the severe cases. There are a lot of them. But the chances are that at least one person you know has depression to a lesser extent. It may be you. Just because they aren’t daily considering suicide doesn’t mean they aren’t suffering, or they don’t need help.
Depression can look like self-harm or suicidal thoughts.
Depression can look like an inability to leave the house.
Depression can look like cancelling engagements because you can’t face people.
Depression can look like an inability to concentrate or remember things.
Depression can look like being unable to sleep, or unable to wake up.
Depression can look like feeling angry or miserable all the time.
Depression can look like feeling nobody cares about you.
Depression can look like being unable to face getting out of bed in the morning.
Depression can look like moaning about trivial things.
Depression can look like not having the mental capacity to complete simple tasks.
More worryingly, depression can look like the life and soul of the party. People don’t want to let on they’re suffering. They don’t want to expose themselves to the criticism, the mockery, the disbelief, the supposedly helpful ‘Just cheer up’ from people who don’t understand. They often feel that they’ve no reason to have depression and therefore there’s something wrong with them or that they're a bad person. These people hide how they feel behind a façade of jolliness and laughter. They don't want other people to feel as bad as they do. These are the people who kill themselves and people say ‘I had no idea - they were always so cheerful’. Think of Robin Williams.
The dreaded happy pills
I often hear people say that they don’t want to take pills. They’re afraid of the side-effects or worry they’ll get addicted. And they don’t want to admit that they can’t cope without them. To these people I say what my doctor said to me – if you had diabetes, would you try to reason yourself out of the need for insulin?
Diabetes and depression are of course very different things, but the point is still valid. Anti-depressants can have side-effects, but equally they might not. Mine didn’t, and if they do there are different kinds that you can try. Most prescriptions are for non-addictive drugs. They won’t cure you, but they make it possible for you to function while you’re finding something that will, so you don’t have to stay on them forever. So don’t be afraid or embarrassed to take anti-depressants. If they don’t help, or the side-effects are too bad, go back to the doctor and ask for a different one instead of assuming nothing will help you.
If you think someone you know sounds a bit like what I’ve described here, ask them how they are and make it clear that you really want to know. Let them know you’ll listen and not judge. You don’t have to worry about knowing how to help them or what advice to give – just listening is enough. If someone comes to you and tells you they’re struggling, remember that it’s probably taken a lot for them to say it. They’re dreading how you might react. They’re probably also desperate and have been feeling this way for a long time. Don’t tell them to man up or have a drink or go for a walk and it will help. Going for a walk will help, but they don’t need you to tell them that. In fact they don’t need you to tell them anything other than that you’re there for them. You just need to listen.
And if you’re the one struggling, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Pick a family member or trusted friend, or even a qualified professional. If you can’t afford counselling, go to the GP or reach out to one of the free helplines that exist to support people with mental health issues, like Shout 85258 or Samaritans. You don’t have to go through it alone.
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Caeredwen is a counsellor, coach and physical therapist based in Coleford in the Forest of Dean. If this blog has touched you and you would like to contact her in confidence, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her website at www.magichandscalmminds.com.