TAKING BACK THE MEANING OF DEPRESSION, ONE ADJECTIVE AT A TIME

I see posts and pictures on Facebook nearly every day about what depression is, what it is not, and what it feels like that are absolute crap. Practically every meme or poster that starts out with “Depression is when you…” is complete horseshit. People have used the words “depressed” and “depression” so wrong and for so long, they hardly mean anything at all in today’s culture. They certainly don’t mean what they actually are. They have been whitewashed from misuse. They have been stripped of their punch because we have made them common descriptors for just about every sad or blue or bored state we experience.

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UNTREATED DEPRESSION WILL LIKELY KILL YOU. How’s that for a punch?

“Depression (major depressive disorder) is a common and serious MEDICAL illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act…Depression causes feelings of sadness and/or a loss of interest in activities once enjoyed. It can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems and can decrease a person’s ability to function at work and at home. Symptoms must last at least TWO WEEKS for a DIAGNOSIS of depression.” (www.psychiatry.org)

When considering the implications here it is helpful to remember that depression is a NOUN, not an adjective. This NOUN defines a diagnosable, MEDICAL, severe mood disorder. Still, when perusing Thesaurus.com for “depression,” there was a list of over 35 synonyms (and actually included the words “blah” and “bummer”).

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(This meme is wrong on so many levels, I cannot even count them all. Depression is not a sign of weakness. It’s not a “sign” of anything; it’s a fucking medical illness. And it certainly doesn’t mean you have been strong for far too long. When you’ve been strong for too long do you get hepatitis or diabetes?)

DEPRESSION IS NOT THE SAME AS SADNESS OR GRIEF.

“The death of a loved one, loss of a job or the ending of a relationship are difficult experiences for a person to endure. It is NORMAL for feelings of sadness or grief to develop in response to such situations. Those experiencing loss might describe themselves as being ‘depressed.’ But being sad is not the same as having depression. The grieving process is natural and unique to each individual and shares some of the same features of depression” (but again, they are not the same thing). (www.psychiatry.org)

Grief/sadness = NORMAL

Depression = NOT NORMAL

“The Important Difference Between Sadness and Depression…and why so many get it wrong.” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-squeaky-wheel/201510/the-important-difference-between-sadness-and-depression)

Again: “Depression (major depressive disorder or clinical depression) is a common but serious mood disorder. It causes severe symptoms that affect how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. To be diagnosed with depression, the symptoms must be present for at least TWO WEEKS.”

IMPORTANT KEY PHRASES IN THE ABOVE DEFINITION: Depression is a mood DISORDER (not a response to breaking up with your boyfriend or fighting with your family or losing your job or flunking out of school or getting a DUI). This illness is causing SERIOUS dysfunction in your life. These symptoms must be ongoing and persistent for at least two weeks (so being bummed out and sleeping all weekend does NOT meet the criteria for this diagnosis).

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(Depression is NOT a temporary energy block. And to just “move” will not cure it. Depression is a medical illness that often requires a slew of intensive treatment interventions.)

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

If you have been experiencing some of the following signs and symptoms most of the day, nearly every day, for at least two weeks, you may be suffering from depression: (Again, please note the criteria:  MOST OF THE DAY, NEARLY EVERY DAY, FOR AT LEAST TWO WEEKS):

  • Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism
  • Irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems without a clear physical cause and/or that do not ease even with treatment

Not everyone experiences all these symptoms, and few experience symptoms in the same way. But, no matter the presentation of these symptoms, to be diagnosed with depression these symptoms must have been ongoing for two weeks or more (SERIOUSLY, CAN’T SAY THIS ENOUGH). Treatment with anti-depressant medication is usually indicated when the duration and severity of these symptoms have affected how you feel, think, and handle daily activities, such as sleeping, eating, or working. For many, medicinal intervention is only needed for a short time; others may need to take medication for the rest of their lives.

National Institute of Mental Health (https://www.nimh.nih.gov/index.shtml)

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(I hate this meme more than anything else I’ve ever seen about depression and anxiety. Mostly because it’s fucking wrong, but also because it is so widely circulated (which indicates that people identify with the sentiment). Depression and anxiety are conditions that present with signs and symptoms specific to a medical diagnosis. This meme is inaccurate, dismissive, and insulting.)

Non-medicinal tips during treatment for depression: (Total crap about this stuff out there, too.)

Try to be active and exercise.

“You can’t get out of bed” is an oft-descriptor of depression. Well, the fact is, you can. If you went to work the day before on Friday, you can get out of bed on Saturday. If you were able to pick up your kids from school, you’re able to drive to the mall and walk around a little. I’ve heard people tell those suffering from depression that if they walk or run or ride their bike, they’d feel better in no time! That, of course, is ridiculous, but taking a walk around the block or throwing a ball with your kid in the backyard are ESSENTIAL components of fighting the fight. I’ve seen countless posts from people who say, “Fighting depression is like fighting a war!” Well, if you are “battling” depression, you need to be doing it on your feet.

Set realistic goals for yourself.

“You can’t do anything.” Can’t and won’t are two very different things. And doing absolutely nothing is nearly impossible. No, you probably can’t organize a fundraiser for the school PTA, but you could go. You probably can’t clean the entire house, but you can do the dishes. Many people with depression are struggling to just get through the day, so planning anything beyond that is extremely difficult. Being “realistic” about what you can accomplish is the key here. You are suffering from a debilitating condition, but you can still set daily goals for yourself. (Some of mine have been: Make the bed, take a shower, floss, go outside for 15 minutes, read 10 pages of a book–there were some days when I did all of these things! It might not be much, but someone with depression would be very impressed.) No, you can’t do everything, but you can do something.

Try to spend time with other people and confide in a trusted friend or relative.

“Unless you’ve been through it, you can’t understand it.” Well, they have been through it. Few people go through depression alone. Your friends and family are feeling the impact, trust me. And they may not know what depression feels like internally, but you really don’t know what it feels like for them to watch you suffer. Confiding in a trusted friend or relative is a personal choice. For many people with depression, talking is not a top priority (and at times may not even be possible), but spending time with other people is necessary, even crucial. One of my ALL TIME FAVORITE memes on Facebook is a little ditty about Eeyore (the chronically, clinically depressed character from Winnie the Pooh). His friends include him in their adventures, they never ask him why he’s depressed, and they never ask him to change or be happy or tell him to “get over it.” For the most part, my people are like this, so spending time with them doesn’t require a lot of talking or really active participation or making decisions about anything (“Where do you want to eat?” and “Do you want to go to the park?” can cause a great deal of distress for someone in the throes of depression). My people are apt to just make sure I have pants on and put me in the car. Find your people.

Continue to educate yourself about depression.

“Covering your face with your hands when you cry means you’re ashamed.” This was an actual comment posted in a Facebook support group for depression and anxiety (which no one contradicted). PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, for the sake of all that’s good and worthy, DON’T EDUCATE YOURSELF WITH INFORMATION FOUND ON SOCIAL MEDIA, CHAT ROOMS, OR MESSAGE BOARDS!!!!!!!!! I cannot stress this enough. When doing a Google search, make sure you choose only REPUTABLE sources (there are a few dispersed throughout this post), from EXPERTS in the field, that present FACTS and STATISTICS from NATIONAL, INTERNATIONAL, and/or GLOBAL EVIDENCE-BASED STUDIES! If you read that “58% of all people with depression are suicidal” or “some people with depression develop ulcers and other stomach problems,” find out if the information is accurate! You have access to just about everything in the world that has ever been written about anything you can imagine right at your fingertips. Start clicking.

And then, when you’re ready, DISPEL THE MYTHS!

There is a Facebook depression support group that I’ve been dive-bombing for about a year now. When I first found the group, the posts were usually okay (memes, quotes, announcements, links and such) but many of the comments bordered on pure ignorance. When I responded with, “Where are you getting this information?” I usually got answers like, “Well, my aunt’s next-door neighbor…” and “This guy on Twitter said…” I used to go absolutely apeshit about the myths and stigma and misinformation in my replies, but now I just post a link with some general information and leave it at that. About three months ago I noticed something weird happening with the group. When people commented they were citing medical journal articles and saying things like, “According to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill…” They knew I was coming! I literally did a happy dance.

One more…

“Everyone has depression every once in a while.”

Uh, WRONG. People may have feelings of sadness, hopelessness, lack of energy, fatigue, etc., etc., etc., but THIS IS NOT DEPRESSION! This is like saying, “Everyone has cancer every once in a while.” People may have unexplained weight loss, fatigue, cough, pain, indigestion, etc., etc., etc., but THIS IS NOT CANCER!

Depression is a serious MEDICAL illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you act…

AND

It decreases your ability to function at work and at home…

AND

Symptoms must be present, every day, nearly all day, for at least TWO WEEKS.

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(This is one of the best memes I have ever seen about depression, and it doesn’t say anything at all.)

4 thoughts on “TAKING BACK THE MEANING OF DEPRESSION, ONE ADJECTIVE AT A TIME

  1. I’ve never heard it put this way, but it’s very beautiful. And can be understood!! Your gift is so beautiful!! Your words mean so much!!

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  2. Spot on and I learned a lot. You challenged me by reminding me that I can do something, anything, even if it’s wrong. And by pointing out to me the fallacies of the “common sense” that folks often put out about mental illness.” You’d think I’d know better after dealing with mine for decades, but, sadly, I had missed it.

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  3. I have been battling depression for 52 years now. 52 of my 61 years on earth. I know that I was predisposed (my dad and my mom’s eldest sister suffered most of their lives as well) and I know the circumstances that triggered it, but . . . . I can’t fix it. My family has never been sympathetic, and I was always told that I was crazy, but for goodness’ sake, don’t ever mention it to a doctor, as you’ll bring shame upon us all. However, from my mid-thirties on I have sought help from various medical professionals, with absolutely no relief. For almost 10 years now I have been beset with a slew of real problems – on top of my clinical depression – and my life has become a living hell. I believe that we are here in this life, and in this place to learn certain lessons, and so I don’t believe suicide would be an end to my suffering as I would just be cycled back to complete the lessons. I literally get through life one day at a time; one battle at a time. It’s all I can do. And hope. “Little Star”

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