To say that I haven’t been myself recently is an understatement. The Depression Demon (or the Black Dog, the Bell Jar, or however I’m going to personify it this time) has been a cruel, uninvited presence in my life for the past few weeks. It’s hard to say exactly why this is. I try to be logical with myself and talk myself out of my stupor, but depression is not a logical thing. I can practically feel the sensation of a giant weight pulling me down, head first, to the point that even mundane, everyday tasks seem like running a marathon with a broken ankle. The fact is, when it hits, depression is debilitating in every sense.
One of the hardest aspects of this entire ordeal is that depression it’s hard for me to just talk about it, it is something that is grossly and sometimes dangerously misunderstood. Many people don’t believe in it, in the same way that they don’t believe in the Tooth Fairy (well… bad example, but you get the point). To them, it’s simply not real, it doesn’t exist, it’s all in the mind, a figment of the imagination.
If they only knew.
In response, I have created my own list regarding what I consider to be some of the most common and gravest misconceptions about depression….
1. Being depressed is a choice
I sincerely cannot imagine someone ever choosing, consciously or otherwise, to live with depression. If it were really a matter of choosing, if it were really a matter of resolution, who on Earth would wake up one morning and decide that they’d prefer to spend their days existing in unfathomable pain? Pain is indeed a part of life, but a perpetual state of severe pain is unnatural and unsustainable. Speaking for myself, when I was at my worst, all I wanted to do was to be able to switch off a part of my brain that would permit me at least a moment of relief, to the point that I was researching in earnest the pros and cons of electroconvulsion therapy. I know in my heart and in my mind I was doing everything in my power to not be depressed, it was not a choice. Being told over and over that it was only made it that much worse.
2. All psychiatrists have a sweet, sweet deal with pharmaceutical companies that give them a cut of the profits if they prescribe their patients lots of expensive drugs
Look, I’m not a doctor or medically qualified in any way, but I find it hard to believe that there’s some kind of arrangement going on behind patients’ backs that are making all psychiatrists fabulously wealthy based on the quantity of prescriptions they write. Especially in Argentina, where meds are much more affordable than back home in the United States (even without private insurance) and where there exists such as a thing as free mental health care. I’ve seen more than my share of psychiatrists, and thankfully, the majority of the ones who I have worked with were compassionate professionals who were actually hesitant to prescribe me excessive medication that they deemed unnecessary.
3. Being depressed means that you are weak…
… Or that if the sufferer were stronger, better, more resilient, more resourceful, or simply more positive, they would not be in their predicament. Untrue. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been metaphorically beaten over the head with a baseball bat with “Depression = Weakness” engraved on it. Way to kick a person in the teeth when s/he’s down. If anything, going on with your day or your job when you have depression signifies that you are tough-as-nails strong, stronger than you realize. When all you want to do is break down and collapse and cry, doing what needs to be done is no easy feat. Kudos to those who still somehow manage to do so, even if they aren’t able to do it all the time.
4. Antidepressants and mood stabilizers are merely expensive placebos that have no real psychiatric benefit (either that, or they turn you into a zombie/monster)
False. I am fortunate enough to have found a combination of medication (Prozac and Abilify) that has stabilized my severe depression to a more manageable level. Getting to this point was a challenging process for both me and my psychiatrist… especially when I decided to try to see what would happen if I went off my meds. Big mistake. To say that I emotionally deteriorated would be an understatement. When asked by my doctor and the people closest to me why the hell I had stopped taking my medication, my only real reason was because so many people had been so insistent that I didn’t *really* need to be taking these grossly overpriced sugar pills. Big mistake. But just to make absolutely sure, I later chose to go off my meds again to see what would happen. And again. And guess what? I relapsed. Each time. Never again.
5. People who seek help for or admit to depression are attention-seeking drama queens
When I was at my worst, at the height of my era of self-mutilation, bulimia, and other forms of self-destruction, all I wanted to do was to become invisible. I already felt scrutinized enough, I only wanted to blend in. Unfortunately, my body language, my pitiful face, my constant tears (and my scars, that I tried to hide) resulted in highly unwanted attention, when all I wanted was to disappear and be left alone. I didn’t want other people to know. I didn’t want anyone to worry about me or to feel sorry for me. Attention? Pffft… That was the last thing I wanted.
6. Depression can be miraculously cured on its own through prayer
I acknowledge that for many, their faith is what sees them through trying times, and if you are fortunate enough to feel your depression lift in any way by praying to whatever god or higher power that may be, more power to you. But relying solely on prayer may not be enough, and denying the person suffering from depression access to other resources to overcome their illness is just wrong. In the same way that you can’t “pray away the gay,” you certainly can’t just pray away depression, either.
7. People who are depressed should go for a run – Bam! Depression cured.
While I’m not discounting the many benefits (psychological and otherwise) that exercise can bring, all I know is that when it comes to depression, you can’t take anything for granted, including the ability just to get out of bed. In my worst of times, I’ve been at points in my life when my depression has gotten so bad, so out of hand, so consuming, that doing something as simple as showering and getting dressed requires strength of Herculean proportions. And working out?!?… I had heard the exercise advice and, after much prompting, tried to walk my feelings out on the treadmill… and promptly wound up bursting into tears (rather awkward for the other gym patrons). No. When depression hits, it’s bad enough, but when it takes over, it is downright paralyzing in every sense of the word.
I acknowledge that everyone is entitled to their opinion and what they believe, and I know that I cannot be the spokesperson for every person who suffers from depression. Nevertheless, I still felt strongly compelled to share my own experiences and thoughts about this matter that has affected so many aspects of my life. As with any other disease that afflicts a person (because that is what depression is- a disease), those who are affected need a voice, and deserve support and compassion, not judgement.