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When it comes to Depression, a person who battles the illness always begins the day with their glass a little filled. A person with depression cannot be cured, they cannot be “fixed”, they cannot turn it off, and they cannot just “stop”. Instead they can be treated, they can learn coping skills, and they can try to manage their illness.
Through my own exposure to this illness, I have come to experience the hardships of watching people try to explain to the people they love the ways in which they feel. No day is always the same, no hour is the always the same. The people around those with Depression find it difficult to understand how one minute they can appear logical, calm, safe and sound, and the next they can be irritable, scared, upset, and feel hopeless. In my own past battles, I have lost friendships, relationships and opportunities due to this, but I refuse to let that happen anymore. It is important for people to know that it is a great misconception to believe that one incident, event, conversation, or single person can cause someone’s deep Depression. While each of these things can fuel an episode with Depression, that one thing — that one person — is not the sole reason for it. With this difficult illness comes too much guilt — not only for the person experiencing it, but also for all those around them, fighting to help them to remain strong, scared they aren’t doing enough. In this article I hope to relieve some guilt for those out there who know someone battling. To do this I will try to explain an example of the process of a depressed mind while it spirals down into these types of phases. The best way I can do this is in comparing a severe episode to filling a glass of water.
As I said, a diagnosed person’s glass is always at least a little filled. Let’s say about a centimeter. No matter if they are feeling good, safe and happy, their Depression often reserves a permanent place in the back of their mind. This chemical imbalance does not define them, but it does affect these individuals on a daily basis and it is not something they can choose to forget about or deny. Denial can be dangerous as it can lead down a road where people pretend they are completely okay, when in reality they may just be denying many problems affecting them under the surface.
What is confusing to many of my own loved ones is that my own glass is most often just a little filled like this. This is the amount of issues I usually let known, or visible. I am a perfectionist, so even on a bad day, I try effortlessly to keep my cool, to dry the tears when I feel weepy, and brush it off. This is why it is extremely difficult for people to understand when I suddenly am at my worst mood “out of nowhere”. This is when friends and family have feared that they had not noticed, that they had done something wrong, that they hadn’t protected me, or maybe that I don’t make sense to them at all. While I have since battled my own demons and have become the independently strong woman I feel I am now, I feel obligated to help you, reading this, to understand, to learn, to open your mind, to accept, to try and see, to forgive, to support, and to not be fearful.
A bad day to a person without Depression can be very different than a bad day for a person living with Depression. Waking up and feeling physically unwell can fill someone’s glass a little more. Maybe their bones feel weak, they’re losing weight, they’re not hungry, and they have no energy. Physical health can deeply affect mental health. Think of the body as having two brains: one in your head and one in your stomach. We feed the brain in our head with knowledge and we treat the psyche with medication or therapy. However, anxiety and depression medication can have difficult side effects such as weight loss, loss in appetite, as well as causing a lack of interest in fueling your body with food and of food in general. This can come in the other extreme as well. Some people battling with Depression may cope through over-eating, and then feel discouraged during weight gain, which is just as unhealthy and difficult as losing too much weight. I have learnt that when my body does not receive the nutrients it needs, my physical health suffers which in turn directly affects my mental health. Feeling physically unwell tethers us to our beds. Oversleeping makes us feel unwell, lazy and sore. Being unable to sleep makes us lay awake for hours within our own over-active minds, worrying and over-analyzing until we may be led to tears. The physical cycle of feeling unwell is a vicious one and it is important to treat our bodies with love. We need to fuel our stomachs and exercise our limbs. We will not feel better unless we try to help to make ourselves feel better. However, this isn’t always easy.
The self-loathing a person can feel in their failed attempts to feel motivated to get out of bed can be intense. These feelings can bring regret and guilt. Some people with Depression can feel themselves slipping, but some ignore it until the pressure is all-encompassing and too much. The perfectionist within me always pushed me to do better. I didn’t want to admit defeat when I felt this way; the fire within me wanted to fight. But at the same time, I struggled with not wanting to burden anyone with my fears and problems.
In these scenarios I would attempt to distract and rid myself of doubt in going on walks at 3 a.m., or having a bath, or calling to talk to my little sister. I actively tried to stop the glass from filling by doing things like this because in the moment, I convinced myself, “This may help”. And sometimes it really did. Sometimes something as simple as a long walk would empty my glass, back to that one-centimeter, but sometimes, just sometimes, it wouldn’t. That part was not in my control, and that is something I personally have an extremely difficult time understanding and explaining to others.
I will now provide with you an example of an aggressive downward spiral in hopes that you will be compassionate and understanding in these details. Another person with Depression may do something similar to me, such as going for a long walk to calm themselves. Returning home after a long walk can feel liberating, it can make anyone (with any issue) feel strong and calm. However, something as simple as falling asleep could reverse these feelings for them. If the next morning they wake up and still feel the seeping sadness they had been experiencing from the night before, the walk may then seem stupid to them, embarrassing almost, useless, like a Band-Aid fix to a bigger problem. Yes, it may have gotten them through that night, but it can be discouraging to feel that you are not sure why you feel the way you do, to feel like you are not in control. When these fears occur, a person attempting to fight these feelings often looks for another escape.
To empty out some of their glass, maybe they will decide to clean the entire house, to re-arrange all the furniture. Maybe they blast music and dance around naked! People with depression grasp for distractions — if they have enough energy they desperately look for things to do that will fill up their time so that they are not alone or thinking too much. Large tasks take focus and time, which can take up a whole day. It allows us to focus on something productive, to not think about anything else but the task at hand. When my own perfectionism takes over, I love to clean because a clean space relaxes me and it makes me feel comfortable when I may have been feeling overwhelmed. Something as small as this could stabilize a person’s filling glass in a time of uprising internal conflict.
This feeling of success in suppression one’s own difficult feelings can be addictive. People can either become completely numb, hollow and cold, or in deep contrast, feed off an intense high in which they keep reaching for but can never fully grasp. In this case, a person who is desperate to keep such positive feelings going may bake a cake for no reason, write cards to all their friends, begin writing a novel, make up a dance, go to an intense cardio class, or drink a little too much and go out to have fun. This evokes pressure because receiving positive feedback from friends, co-workers, teachers, and family feels like the best reward. Impressing the people around you with “how well” you are doing can become a full-time job.
However, the next day, this person may feel a sense of sadness that the high of the day before is wearing off. They then may feel the need to think up a new high, a new distraction. Maybe they pull theirself together and go to the mall, knowing better than to stay cooped up in their house. Maybe they buy expensive things they don’t need, because it feels good. Many people with Depression try to please others, but they can also have issues in trying to please themselves. Issues lie when we let ourselves down. For example, maybe when this person finally takes a look at their over-purchasing, intense guilt sinks in. Superficial materials only made them feel well temporarily, and now they doubt themselves. Has this happiness been forced and artificial?
And so begins a downward spiral… Maybe then that night the person can’t sleep, still feeling guilty about the money they spent on clothing and not on rent. This may fill their glass a little more. Maybe they then pressure themselves all night to return the items, considering themselves stupid, selfish. There’s another centimetre. They probably stay up all night and then become more tired than ever. Maybe they try to snap out of it and go out to get drunk, but they end up making a fool of themselves, or ruining a relationship, or getting sick. Add two centrimetres. Maybe they can’t remember if they went home with anyone… or even what happened that night. This then can lead to more embarrassment, regret, and sadness. The glass continues to fill. They may begin to ask “Why can’t I seem to do anything right?”. Maybe these feelings cause their gut to feel unsettled, which makes them feel overwhelmed — crazy even — that they’re not acting like themselves, that they don’t feel like themselves. Maybe they get into a fight with a friend or fail an assignment and things feel like they are spinning out of control. The glass is getting full and at this point they are just so god damn tired because they cannot manage to sleep at all anymore. They begin to think the worst; that they will fail, they will lose; they will be forgotten, maybe even judged. They question the people around them, they question themselves, and they question even the good. The water hits the rim. When this escalates during a sensitive time, a person with Depression can get to a point where they are very afraid, and are in such dire need of a vacation – from themselves.
The glass can over-flow.
It is quick, fierce, terrifying, emotional and yes — dramatic, but it is real. I know that because it has happened to me before. I cannot describe it any better than I’ve just tried. Depression cannot be completely understood, but that is how I personally have come to evaluate it, to break it down. Once I accepted my hardships and took the parts apart, it became a lot easier for me to explain and accept. In order to heal we have to try to be understood, and to also accept that there are parts that cannot be explained to those who have never experienced an episode. I am more than happy to say that I have found light in my own battle, I have faced my demons, treated my soul, and in writing this to you, I undoubtedly have continued my healing. I want to thank all of those who share their lives and friendships with those who struggle. You play a very beautiful part in keeping water glasses low. Facing fears and trying to understand others are a few of the hardest things to do, but to do them is brave and entirely commendable. Thank you for having the courage to read this in investigating your own understanding.