The Depression Culture

"Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced. . . . It is that absence of being able to envisage that you will ever be cheerful again. . . . Sad hurts but it's a healthy feeling. It is a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different."
-J. K. Rowling
 I, and many people that I know, have struggled with depression. Most people deal with minor depression at some point in their lives, but severe depression is something different. Severe depression is something that follows a person throughout their entire life; it's something that they will never be rid of, or at least, not entirely. However, that doesn't mean that these people are without hope. People who deal with depression have their own unspoken culture. There's a certain way that they, or rather, we, think of things. In examining the culture of depression, we will not only expand our minds, but hopefully, will be better equipped to interact with those among us who are depressed. I should note, however, that since this is a culture, there are exceptions. Not everyone who deals with depression is exactly alike, and there are differences. This is the general behavior, not the specific behavior. Also, this is my opinion. It is based on logic and experience, not books of psychology or medicine. With that in mind, let's begin.

The first thing to note would be the depression scale. Again, this is my scale, and I have not seen anywhere else use a scale like this professionally. I am attempting to explain how depression works, and am using whatever tools I think will be beneficial. My scale is of one to ten. One through three can be called mild depression. This is experienced by most people at some point in life. Four through seven would be the next level of depression. This is a more extreme level of depression, but still not at the same severity. The depression I'll be discussing in this post will be levels eight, nine, and ten. At level eight, a person allows depression to affect their life, their behavior, and their personality. Depression is a part of who they are, and there is nothing this person can do to change that. This is where I am. I'm a level eight. I'll explain more on that later. For now, I should cover levels nine and ten. At level nine, a person starts cutting, or physically harming him or herself in some other way. Level ten is the most extreme level. Suicide. The highest level a person can get without actually attempting suicide is 9.5. At 9.5, a person wishes that they were dead, and may even begin to plan it out, but for one reason or another, doesn't actually go through with it. In my experience, the 9.5s that I know have chosen not to go through with it because of friends, or even a friend.

People who struggle with depression are not constantly depressed. I do have genuinely good moods, good days, happy times, etc., as does anyone with depression. But at some point, the depression will come back again. I'll see myself as worthless or annoying, or whatever else. This is what I mean when I say that the depression follows a person throughout their life. Not that it's constant, but that it always comes back. I have ADD, which has been shown to be commonly linked to depression, and there are other situations which can contribute to it. Depression comes back because it's a medical condition, not a spiritual condition. Of course, it can be a spiritual condition, but spiritual depression is, I believe, different from medical and psychological depression. I would point, for example, to kings David and Solomon. One, a man after God's Own Heart; the other, the wisest man who ever lived. Christians can be depressed. In fact, I believe that in my case, God used the depression for good. After all, He does use all things for good. Later, I'll go into that a bit more. For now, know that the depression is not constant, but it does return consistently.

Since depression isn't constant, this can make it harder to identify who exactly it is that gets depressed. Odds are, however, that you know at least one person who struggles with depression. But you won't know it. Why not? Because they don't want you to know. When someone is depressed, they typically don't display it. This could be for a variety of reasons. In some cases, the person doesn't want to seem weak. In other cases, the person may not trust you with that information. For me personally, it's usually because I don't want to dump my problems on someone or cause them any trouble. But whatever the motivation, we're pretty good at hiding the depression. A smile isn't always a smile. A smile is a mask, and we're very good with masks. You see what we want you to see. Another part of depression culture is the excuse, "It's a greeting." I call it an excuse because that's how it typically starts out, but I believe that this so called "excuse" actually flows logically. The idea behind this excuse is that when people ask, "How are you," they're not actually asking. It's just a greeting. It's relatively common for people to say something, or even post on Facebook, that "when I say it, it's a real question, not just a greeting." However, while this is a nice idea, nobody who struggles with depression will buy it. If it's automatic, then it's just a greeting. If I then ask if it's a real question, you would respond with a "yes." At that point, since you're now thinking about it, it has become a real question. But originally, it was just a greeting.
Now, don't go thinking that you can amend it so that it's a real question every time. Let's say that you started saying instead, "How are you? And yes, that's a real question." At first, it may work, but after a while, it would become a habit. That's just what you say as your personal greeting, and it's still just a greeting. But someone with depression typically won't ask if it's a real question. Why not? Because you're socially obligated to say yes, even if you really don't care. Maybe you do care, but there's no way for us to tell you apart from the people who are just saying that.

If you notice someone that's let their guard down and exposed their depression, and then proceed to ask if they're doing okay, it's likely that they'll put their shields back up and say that they're fine. If you ask if they're sure, they'll respond that yes, they're sure. Again, these are seen as automatic responses to socially required questions, and therefore, the depressed person probably doesn't see this as a lie. I personally will give the socially acceptable answer for quite a while, so that the person doesn't feel obligated to sit and listen to my problems.

Something important to note is that often, people can even become proud of their depression. I have this instinct as well. I mentioned before that I believe God has used my depression for good. Part of this is because I understand it better now, and can relate to others who struggle with it. And part of it is because of the particular way that it affected me. Since I was depressed, I didn't want to feel anything. It was easier to not have to deal with emotions. So I devoted my life to logic and reason, and the eradication of all emotions. Eventually, I snapped out of it, and that's no longer my goal. But during that time, I did become very familiar with logic, and I got very good at not letting my emotions control my actions. This is a personal effect of my depression, but people in general will be proud of their depression for another reason. This pride is not named or stated directly, but rather, is instinctive. While I do believe that God has used my depression for good, my instinctive pride over it is something that I have to regularly fight against. Many people may not even realize that they're proud of it. But if someone without depression talks to someone who does have depression, the instinct of the person with depression will be to react in a manner similar to, "Oh, well look at you. Your life is all sunshine and roses, huh? You'd never survive if you went through what I had to go through." This is not a good response, but it's the instinct, and that's something to take into account when you're interacting with them.

People who have depression typically feel alone in some sense. They may feel like they just annoy people and should stay out of their way. Or they may feel as though they're inadequate in some important sense, and aren't worth anyone's time. This is the nature of depression. A feeling of worthlessness. The thought that nobody wants me around.
"Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike."
-Albus Dumbledore; J. K. Rowling
Humans are social creatures, and we're meant to interact with other humans. A survey was done of people who attempted suicide and failed. There were a couple of interesting things about what they said. First, they all said that they were glad to be alive. Suicide is never the answer, and we need to make sure that people never have a reason to think that it is. But the second thing is that almost all of them said that if some random stranger had even just smiled at them -a real smile- it would have helped, and they wouldn't have attempted suicide.

I remember one time when our family had just moved to a new church. Again. I was in a particularly bad mood that day, and had just decided that I wanted nothing to do with the people there, because I would just end up getting hurt again. At least, I thought that I didn't want anything to do with the people there. I was very depressed. And then a boy about my age walked over, shook my hand, introduced himself, and asked me what my name was. That had never happened before. We'd been to so many churches that I can't even remember them all, and that had never happened before. That action meant more to me than I can possibly describe. That was the beginning of my climb out of the deepest depression I've ever had. Because one person treated me like I was valuable. I've never told him how much that meant to me, mostly because it's just never come up. Maybe I'll tell him someday.

But at each of those other churches, something was wrong. Because, as I said, it had never happened before. Ignoring someone is worse than hating them. Saying hello with a genuine smile is a good place to start. Giving them a hug hello is even better. I should also note, one of the most depressing things for a guy to hear is, "Hugging guys is weird." I don't care if you're a girl or a guy, I still want a hug, and it hurts if you think it's weird to hug me. If you're not willing to hug someone, it's best not to hug other people when that person is around. A hug is one of the best ways to show someone that they're important. Compliments are also very good, especially since depressed people tend to feel worthless. Keep in mind, though, that they usually won't know how to accept the compliment. Don't let them pass it off as nothing. Give someone plenty of opportunities to talk about depression, but don't bring it up yourself. People with depression are ridiculously good at blending in, so you probably won't even know someone is depressed unless they bring it up. If they do bring it up, understand that they're trusting you. Be sensitive, and don't offer advice unless you have to. It'll come across as arrogant, especially if you haven't struggled with depression. But also don't treat them like they need you to baby them.

This is the essence of depression and its cure. They need love, and you need to give it. If you don't know how to recognize the signs, then love everyone. It can't hurt. And girls, I'm not talking about your bestie. Love her too, but don't love only her. Make a point of going over to the guy in the corner and saying hello.
Sincere love. Not condescension. Not arrogance. Not pity. Truly valuing the person for who they are, depression and all.
"Don't walk behind me; I may not lead. Don't walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend."
-Albert Camus

1 comment: