You can’t get out of bed. No matter how much you know that lying here is no good you just can’t find the energy to get up. Even if you get up you still have to find the energy to face the world. Facing the world that you feel is judging you, facing the world that you feel is looking down on you. The sun is bright outside and you know you should be outside enjoying yourself, but you still can’t find the energy. You resent those that are enjoying themselves. You resent that they don’t have to go through the pain that you’re feeling. You resent that they think you just need to “sort your head out,” or “stop feeling sorry for yourself”. That’s the advice that’s always given. You want to scream out and tell people how it feels to feel like this. How it feels to be constantly trapped with no way out. Pessimism and a sense of doom are what take over your life. All you want is someone to listen and to believe you. Just one person listening and believing allows a tiny bit of light through that dark tunnel you stare down every morning.
While researching for writing this I was surprised at the number of people that were either affected by depression or knew someone that was affected by depression. By writing this blog I wanted to highlight how prevalent it is within society and also look at different attitudes towards it and also possible causes and what can be done to help those suffering with depression. I’ve read many articles on depression and also listened to people’s opinions on it but have found that those who have actually suffered or suffer from depression have little voice. The nature of depression and the ways in which it is portrayed often mean that sufferers are scared to let their voices be heard or they don’t want their voices to be heard. The society that we live in today and our exposure to each other adds to the pressures we feel. We are often too quick to criticise rather than listen and try to understand the positions that other people are in.
One of the greatest difficulties with mental illnesses is not being able to accurately describe how you feel and the effect that it has on your life. With physical illnesses we can relate to other people, symptoms are often visible and easily described. With mental illness the symptoms are not always obvious and can often be ignored by the sufferer themselves. There can be the feeling that you are going crazy or that you are imagining things. This can be exacerbated when the symptoms come and go and don’t always have an obvious reason for appearing. This was one of my greatest difficulties with depression. I didn’t know how to express how I felt in an articulate way, nor did I really believe that anyone would believe me. While depression was not the sole cause of my addiction I do believe that it played a significant part as it was an easy fix to escape the feelings of fear, despair and overwhelming worthlessness.
My personal experience of depression is one of not recognising it, not believing it existed and seeing it as a weakness. I remember listening to a conversation between family members where one said depression didn’t exist. That it was just an excuse for the person to be lazy and unmotivated and if they just sorted their head out they could get on with their life. At the time I was in the midst of a cycle of depression and addiction and while I was in no denial of my addiction, depression was something that I found hard to accept. By people insinuating that depression is a form of weakness or is just an excuse for people is one of the biggest barriers that sufferers of depression face. When suffering from a mental condition in which you see most things in the negative you will always take the negative rather than the positive. No matter how many people support you and believe you, it only takes one person’s ignorance or unwillingness to understand to make you question yourself. People tend not to like to question what they already know or believe they know nor do they like to admit that they are wrong. While this could be thrown back at someone suffering from depression, the fact that most suffers will spend a lot of time questioning themselves, some to the extent of questioning their own sanity, that ignorance and lack of introspection is not a valid accusation.
Having lived in a culturally different society for the last seven years I have recently returned to Europe. As well as suffering from reverse culture shock, I have found that I am also seeing the society that I grew up in a different light, not one that is positive. While it does not hold true for everyone, I have found that there is a large culture of criticism, one that can be at times vindictive and narcissistic. People live through what other people haven’t got rather than what they themselves have. A lack of fulfillment that is projected onto other people. I again want to stress that this isn’t true for everyone, but I have still found that it is prevalent. This lack of fulfillment and inability to empathise with people extends to understanding those with mental illnesses, and also those who care for those with mental illnesses.
The least supportive of people are often those that have their own insecurities and their own fears. The most supportive are usually those people who are most comfortable with themselves and are able to articulate their thoughts and feelings. We project our fears and insecurities on to other people and denial is one of those feelings that readily appears when we see something in someone that we have in ourselves but aren’t willing to admit. While not as widely stigmatised as it used to be depression and the ways in which it manifests itself lead to people seeing it as weak and something that they will not easily admit to having. Addiction, promiscuity and isolation are all ways that it does manifest itself and these are all things that are not socially acceptable. As well as them being socially unacceptable people will see these things as completely undesirable and in a lot of circumstances extreme. This will lead to people comparing their lives to that of others and if they themselves are not exhibiting these traits then they will feel that they are fine and ignore their own problems.
Our exposure to each other through social media adds pressures that are not always necessary or justified. When you are feeling down and you are seeing pictures of people out on the town enjoying themselves or on holiday for the fifth time this year you will naturally have an inclination to compare it to your own life. It’s difficult to remember that what people post on social media is not always an accurate reflection of their lives. Social media is also a way for us to attempt to gain affirmation although that affirmation may not always be forthcoming. While hoping to be praised we are leaving ourselves open to unexpected criticism. This is especially relevant for younger people who see social media as important parts of their lives and allows school to extend into their lives at home. It adds pressure onto young people to always put up a front and an image that they want to portray to their peers. Not being able to hold up this front, having everything they do being scrutinised adds to the already immense pressure of being young. While people are responsible for what they post on social media, the need to be included and be a part of something when you are a teenager means it is hard to avoid.
While social media is certainly not the cause of depression I believe that it has a larger impact on people’s lives than we are willing to admit, especially those that are vulnerable. It is a vehicle for people to express themselves with relative anonymity and without direct human contact. It can also allow people to hide behind a persona, portraying their lives as something that it is not and having the consequence of living their lives as the person they wish to be portrayed as rather than facing the problems that are leading them to hide from themselves. These added pressures can add up and do lead to depression.
When looking for support one of the first people that we turn to is our doctor. Although my experience is not recent, when I did go to the doctor, he appeared at a loss as to what to do. By the second time I went to see him I was prescribed pills. The pills didn’t have an effect at all. I didn’t even know what they were, being an addict at the time my knowledge of pills and various medicines was probably comparable to that of a chemist. I concluded that it was just a placebo. After this experience I gave up with the doctor. He clearly had no idea what to do. I would hope that in recent years that there has been a lot more awareness about what to do with patients suffering from depression but from anecdotal accounts I have heard that pills are still readily prescribed. Recent cut backs in mental health services do not help either. This lack of support and being tolerated only adds to the despair that you can feel with depression. In a situation in which you are already feeling hopeless, a lack of answers and empathy for your situation will only make it worse.
Alternatives need to be looked at in how depression is treated. Therapy and counselling in their various forms are a good release for people and allow them to express themselves and also allow them to understand their own feelings better, in turn helping them to control them. Creativity and arts are also a way in which people can express themselves, it is especially helpful for those people who find it hard to talk to people or unable to express themselves vocally. As well as those suffering from depression there needs to be more understanding for those that care for them. Understanding depression doesn’t just extend to the sufferer but also to their carer.
There is a misconception that those suffering from depression and other mental illnesses are looking for sympathy. They aren’t. What they are looking for is someone to understand them, listen to them and show some support. Although usually well meaning sympathy often comes across as patronising. Just by giving someone your time and willingness to try and understand you are doing far more than any expression of sympathy ever could.
Introspection and giving those who need help a voice are the key to being able to move forward. As idealistic as it maybe, until people begin to show each other more empathy, realise that ‘weakness’ is just a projection of our own insecurities and perceived strength we won’t move on. Mental health services also have their parts to play. However an improvement in these services and a an extending of their importance will only come when there is widespread recognition. While we may believe that there is widespread recognition and understanding of mental illnesses, anxiety and depression I still believe that we are lying to ourselves.