depression from the outside in

What does depression look like to an outsider, someone who has never suffered? It must be at once confusing and annoying. It must be a constant battle to fight the urge to sigh in exasperation or to utter the cliché “pull yourself together”.

“What’s wrong?” friends have asked and, between the tears or the panic, I have only been able to admit that I don’t know. There is silence then. “Well, you have to have an idea,” they must be thinking, “There must be something. Why won’t you tell me?”

“How are you?” they ask and I change the subject or I mumble a “fine” or I tell the truth.  If I do the first, is it irritating? If I do the second, do people take offense that I don’t value them enough to tell the truth or are they thankful for the pretence? I know if I do the latter, it’s boring and miserable. I wonder how often people sigh inwardly or think to themselves, “My fault for asking, I suppose but couldn’t you lie?”

“Why don’t you try..?” “Have you considered…?” Suggestions come thick and fast from people who care and people who want to help but as each recommendation is pushed aside, greeted with negativity or given up on too quickly, the suggestions thin and eventually disappear. It’s exhausting to be depressed and it’s also exhausting to be confronted with so much pessimism and so little hope. It’s no wonder many people can’t cope and don’t stick around.

Maybe it would help if it were called something different, something more medical and more opaque. Depression is not just used medically but also as a simple synonym for sad. An extreme adjective. Very sad. But depression is not being very sad, although that’s part of it. And of course everyone knows what it’s like to feel sad and very sad and that becomes the yardstick to understanding someone who feels life is not worth it, who is crippled with paranoia and despair and uselessness, someone for whom getting out of bed and showering and getting dressed has become an insurmountable mountain.

Using sadness as a yardstick means understanding is unlikely. But I’m unable to help. When anyone has asked what it’s like, I mainly respond with shrugs and clichés – it’s like being weighed down, everything’s exhausting, your mind attacks and plays you off against yourself, it’s pointlessness and worthlessness, it’s every regret amplified and every bad decision repeated over and over again until the end of time. It’s the opposite of hope and, yes, it’s sadness.

If only it were easier. I don’t envy those people who have to see me as a foot-dragging, despondent, self-obsessed, wallowing pessimist.

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