Understanding Depression

Depression is the most misunderstood mental illness. People that do not understand it will be quick to point out that everyone feels sad and the person needs to just get over it. People that do understand are at a loss to explain what it is like. A majority of Bipolar people will spend much of their time in the depressive end of the disorder. Though Bipolar depression is similar in many ways to clinical depression, there is a difference in the way it is treated. A Bipolar person should never, under any circumstances, take an antidepressant without an effective mood stabilizer. It will rocket that person into areas of mania that are well beyond what they normally experience.

”What Do You Have To Be Sad About?”

The very first point we need to quash is the way people equate sadness to depression. They are not the same thing, not by a long shot. A person can be sad without being depressed and they can be depressed without being sad. When you experience a loss or hurt you may feel sadness at the change in your life. It may weigh heavily on your heart, cause you to weep, even give you some sleepless nights. Depression is an absence of feeling, a metaphorical black hole in a person’s mentality that devours every emotion that makes a person human.

A normal person experiences a range of emotions - pride for a child graduating, sorrow for a parent passing away, anticipation for their upcoming vacation, happiness at their work, or nervous about an upcoming presentation. The person mired in depression will experience only one thing; nothing. All of the aforementioned events have as much emotional impact as picking up a stick and snapping it in half. For those of you thinking that doesn’t sound like such a big deal, consider how much of the human experience is based off of emotion and feeling.

My Example

My own experiences with depression have gone back many years. A doctor I saw once asked me when the last time I felt happy was. I replied that I was playing with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and GI Joes at the time. How deep was it? I can remember the times I actually felt happiness as an adult. The first time was with my first antidepressant, I woke up and it felt like a semi had been lifted off my shoulders. The second time was on a different medication, someone I cared dearly about informed me that she had found someone else she wanted to marry. I felt sad. At that point, I realized I was feeling sad without feeling suicidal or depression, and subsequently was happy because I felt sadness. That’s been over the course of the last 18+ years. I’ve abused drugs, alcohol, self-injured, and have one active and six passive suicide attempts under my belt due in large part to escaping depression.

Understanding A Depressive Mind

Depression is a difficult thing to wrap one’s mind around if the person has not experienced it. How do you explain what it’s like to feel nothing for long stretches of time? The depressive knows how they are going to feel a week, two weeks, a month, six months from today; the same thing they felt the last weeks, months, or years. There is never any reason to look forward to getting out of bed because it does not matter what today is going to be like. Depression claims it all.

That creates a very serious impact on that person’s life and method of existence. Things like checking for traffic before crossing a street or bothering with a seatbelt are not necessary. Letting days pass without eating or showering is irrelevant because it just doesn’t matter. Depression can reach so deeply that it will kill not only your appetite but the hunger pangs from not eating. There is no reason to care because things do not fluctuate much out of the depressive spectrum without medication.

Using This Information

Chances are pretty good that there is at least one person in your life suffering from depression. If the person in your life is Bipolar, they will have depressive cycles. The following points will provide a solid foundation to approach from.

- Sympathy, not pity. Avoid making the person feel as though they are burden. Even if you feel sorry for them, avoid telling them that. If the two of you had to cancel plans to deal with this mental crash, don’t throw it in their face.

- Hear, not listen. So many people take things into one ear and let it go right out the other. No one expects you to be a mind-reader, but you may pick up on relevant points. Perhaps the Bipolar person suffers a severe depressive spike when seeing or hearing trains. They may have been close to their deceased grandfather who loved trains and used to take them on a regular scenic trip as a child. Thus, their unwell mind sees a train and kicks in memories of the grandfather.

- Instinct, use it. It is easy to see when a person is down much further than usual. Trust your instinct and what you are reading from their body language, not necessarily what the person says. The automatic response for many people to the question “How are you?” is “Fine.” We all know that a majority of those people are not fine. They are trying to avoid being a burden or having to discuss difficult matters. Do not let “fine” be an acceptable answer from a depressive loved one.

- Urge them to seek professional help or call a crisis line. They will be able to provide experienced assistance to help get that person through a dark time.

From A Different Perspective

Unfortunately, there does not seem to be very many circumstances that are similar to depression that a normal person would understand. The only one that I have been able to come up with that I felt regular people would be able to relate to is having an illness like a bad flu. Most everyone has contracted a bad flu bug at some point.

Think back to the last bad flu, cold, or pneumonia you had. How did you feel mentally during that time period? Run down, exhausted, unable to think critically, and generally miserable are all pretty common traits. Most people have no excitement for anything other than going to sleep to try and get through it as quickly as possible. Any activities that are mandatory to attend you will and probably will be miserable much of the time.

Taking away the sniffles, stomach problems, and other physical symptoms; what you are left with is something very similar to how depression is. It can be not as bad or it can be much worse. Regardless, how do you think it would affect your view on life and ability to exist if you felt that way all the time? Not, a few days and its gone. Instead, it is day after week after month with that mental numbness making it impossible to feel anything else.

There are no breaks. It would be with you every waking hour of your day. Before you laid down at night, you already knew exactly how you’d feel the next day when you woke up. If you woke up in the middle of the night, that numbness is right there to greet you. There is no escaping it. It is all yours until you find a treatment style that works for you. Even that is a difficulty if you’re surrounded by people that keep telling you to suck it up or snap out of it.

At your lowest points when the suicidal thinking comes, will you have the willpower to get through it? After years of feeling that way mentally, ANYTHING starts to look like a better alternative - death, drug abuse, alcoholism. It will wear you down into nothingness until there is no more will to keep pushing ahead. At that point, someone gets to lose a parent, sibling, or child.

That happens every day because people can’t be bothered to crack a dictionary and learn the difference between “depression” and “sadness”.