What Depression Means to a Person Living With It


I never knew I was a depressive.  I’m optimistic (some days), and as a younger man had more energy than I knew what to do with.  As I age, my energy levels appropriately drop off, like they do with many.  Optimism comes and goes any more.

During those “sowing my wild oats” years, my motto was, If you want to throw a party, you have to BE a party!  And I lived by that creed for more than twenty years, never really understanding that my brain had created a sneaky way for me to justify all the self-medicating I was doing.  Alcohol, drugs…whatever I could get my hands on.  I never really looked too closely at the “why” of it, only the “when can I get more.”  If I were to admit to it, I’d say I was very, very successful at self-medicating.  Not so much at the stopping.

On September 3, 1997, a light went on in my head.  I finally understood what I’d been doing all that time.  And I knew it was time to stop.  No 12-step program for me, no sir.  I was not religious and could not fathom giving myself up to some vague “higher power” in supplication.  On that day, I realized I was masking the effects of whatever it was going on inside my head by running away from it.  And when it began to reappear, I’d go right out and smash it over the head with a bottle of vodka or an eight-ball of cocaine.  So I quit.  Cold turkey.  I went to each and every one of my “party buddies” and bid them adieu, telling them that I couldn’t get better while remaining friends with them.  On that day, I began the longest, most difficult struggle of my life.  Yes, I fell off that proverbial wagon a few times, but I always managed to climb back to my feet, brush the dirt off, and begin again.  And again.

Now, in 2015, I can look back and see how many different ways I sabotaged myself.  I never could when I was in the middle of it.  And I learned that clinical depression (and other mental illnesses) runs throughout my family.  There are numerous suicides in my family tree.  Yet, after all these years, I still run into people who don’t know the first thing about what depression really is.  A fairly popular website that I have written for since 2014 recently held a conference call with all of its writers.  And somehow the conversation turned to depression.  First, it was that medications were the problem, that if depressed people would try holistic healing and homeopathic cures, they would end their depression.  Then someone mentioned religion.  “The reason so many people are depressed is because they no longer attend their church.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  Even when I spoke up and said, “You know, as a person living with lifelong depression, I can tell you pretty straightforwardly that if it wasn’t for those Robin Williams in Las Vegasmedications I’m taking, I would never be able to reach a place where I can actually try to move beyond it.”  I said this with passion and vehemence.  When my statement was met with dead silence, I was flabbergasted.  Then when religion was the suggested “cure,” my head nearly exploded.  It was all I could do not to shout until my voice gave out at the lunacy (and ignorance) of what was being said.  I hung up before the call was done, so shocked was I.  And then, a couple days later, I had to leave the site, as I could no longer abide by such ignorance…especially when they were not ready to hear the truth about it.

Okay, it’s great if you feel that clinical depression is merely a “bad mood” that lasts several days.  I cannot deny you of your chosen ignorance.  But to start suggesting that the very things that are helpful are actually making things worse are the words of the truly uneducated and ignorant.

I’m here to testify.

Here’s what depression — real depression — means to a person who lives with it 24 hours a day, 365.25 days per year.

  • Most of the things people will say to “help” you are profoundly and dangerously unhelpful.  And ignorant.

  • Depression often hurts physically, not just mentally and emotionally.

  • Seeking help often feels counterintuitive.

  • Your relationship to food becomes “complicated.”

  • Some — or many — of your “friends” might ditch you…but that’s all right.

  • There are times when you feel like you are absolutely losing your mind, or lost it a long time ago.

  • Mundane and innocuous things will start to annoy you.  Even you will annoy you sometimes.

  • Everyday tasks (even living) will feel overwhelming.

  • It’s pretty much impossible to determine when it’s your depression talking.

  • Depression will wreak complete havoc with your sleep schedule.  Either you’ll not be able to sleep at all, or you’ll want to sleep all day every day.

  • Depression can also mean not feeling anything at all.  Period.

  • There are more times than you’re comfortable with that you’ll feel guilty, as if “getting cured” is something you should be able to accomplish, even though another part of your brain laughs at that thought.

  • The guilt you feel is often because people will say things that make you feel judged, that they believe there’s something wrong with you that you brought upon yourself, and, worse, should just smile.

  • Your dreams get really weird.

  • Mirrors are your worst enemy.  You can barely look at yourself while brushing your teeth or combing your hair.

  • You find yourself ridiculously arguing with people about how terrible you are…or, if you don’t verbalize it, you will constantly think it.

  • Trying to re-enter society after being depressed for a long time is incredibly difficult.

  • You have a lot of trouble seeing yourself in your own future.  It’s as if someone has dropped a black shroud over you.

  • Depression pretends that you are the only person on the planet who feels the way you do.  And you feel ashamed by it.

It’s such an incredibly destructive myth perpetuated by those who have no idea what they’re talking about that depression is caused by pharmaceutical companies wanting to make millions off your alleged illness, or that the psychology professions have convinced us that we’re sick, and those of us too weak to know better simply succumb to that brain washing.  These beliefs continue despite the proven studies that show, without a doubt, that depression (much like autism and other brain dysfunctions) are chemically based and figuring out the whys and hows of it may take a very long time.  Still…  We hear the most ludicrous things every day.  And though I’m much better now than I was twenty years ago, I still know it’s there, lurking within me.  And sometimes it likes to pop it’s ugly head out from behind a door and yell “Boo!”

Will I live with it for the rest of my life?

Perhaps.  But I have learned how to create workarounds when it threatens to derail my day, my month, or my life.



2 thoughts on “What Depression Means to a Person Living With It

  1. I’m with you all the way, Juliana. PTSD and extensive childhood abuse led me down the road I’m on now. There are no “good” days. Only bad days, and okay days. I completely understand. Stay as strong as you can. Stay with therapy. Talking it out sometimes help…but it’s not a cure either. Just remember that, like addiction, it can come back on us sometimes and we must be vigilant and prepared to stare it down.

  2. I was diagnosed with depression, because of dealing with a series of bad events – some of which were brought on by others, some of which because of how I handled it at the time. When I don’t know what to do, it’s my tendency to try to ignore it. Can’t say I’m successful at that either. I know I have to step up to the plate. Why is it that Depression is almost a virus in our society? Is it the times we live in?

    I go to therapy to help me with PTSD, childhood trauma, and how I’m handling this now as an adult. Either way, it’s not an easy road to go down. I don’t know where my breaking point is, but I keep going.

    I even pray – and it’s only when I look back can I see that IF there was a spiritual guidance…it was at work. When I’m in the muck of it, I can’t see when someone is holding me up through it all…but I did survive another day…and can’t help but be thankful for that…even if it’s later.

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