Defining Depression Isn’t Easy; Living It Is Even Harder.
I walk into work every morning like everyone else — coffee in hand, slightly tired, lamenting about the current state of politics.
I go to the grocery store like everyone else, I do my laundry, I eat out at restaurants. I even laugh, sometimes to the point of crying.
Like so many with depression, I am hard to spot. In some ways, this is a blessing. You don’t want people to look at you and think you’re always about to throw yourself off of a bridge.
But in some ways, being undetectable like Waldo poses an extra challenge.
When I don’t leave my couch for hours, or days, I am perceived as lazy. When I don’t hang out with friends or respond to their text messages, I am perceived as ignorant or apathetic.
When I do manage to make it out for a social gathering, but keep to myself and don’t say much, I am perceived as aloof or awkward or rude.
When I am so exhausted that my body aches and all I want is to lie in bed, I am perceived as dramatic or weak.
And it’s hard for people to validate these experiences and emotions when they perceive me as normal. I also understand it’s hard for people to handle it when it affects their lives.
Having absolutely no sex drive affects your romantic relationships. Appearing not driven, even if you are, affects your professional relationships. Being distant and somewhat anti-social affects your family relationships.
But it’s also not my place or desire to argue or defend myself.
I don’t want to draw attention to the fact that 90 percent of the time, I am fighting with every ounce of energy to just get by and be as present as I possibly can in a world that expects everyone to be in a constant state of outward happiness and enthusiasm… a world that only defines depression as crying on the bathroom floor 24 hours a day, or harming oneself with knives or razors, or drinking an entire bottle of vodka in one night, or going to therapy several days a month.
The dirty truth is, I’ve done all of those things.
But my depression has changed forms over time. It doesn’t mean it’s gone. It just means it’s shifted its angle and taken a different approach.
I now no longer cry, but I feel. I no longer give myself physical wounds, but I hurt.
I also enjoy life, more than I ever thought possible. And I have hobbies and passions, even though I don’t always engage in them. I have relationships, and dreams, and dynamic emotions. And sometimes, I fall completely flat.
Depression is complex, and fluid, and individual. It can change like the weather and, sometimes, even with the weather.
And trying to tell someone how it feels can be like trying to describe what water tastes like, or how long forever is, or what the difference is between left and right.
We often just have to hope the people in our lives will understand without actually needing to understand, and be there in whatever way we need them to be.
For me, I need to be alone in my fight. And I need the space to live with my demons, no matter how big or small they may be at the time.
But I need those around me to respect me and my situation. And not dismiss it. Or get angry when I don’t want to leave my apartment. Or throw a tantrum when I need solitude. Or shut me down when I shut down.
It may not be easy dealing with someone with depression, but just know it’s ten times harder for them, for us, to live with it.
We’re doing everything we can.
Patience. Trust. Time. Space.
Chelsey Engel is a communications specialist and musician working and living in Pittsburgh, Pa. She is a proud new aunt, gratified progressive, and dignified feminist. You can find her online at DailyKos and on Twitter.