315. An Invisible Illness Can Be Hard to Understand

There are no handicap parking stickers for people with depression, no leg braces or casts, no crutches or wheelchairs. It’s an invisible illness. The symptoms can be observed but some suggestions to overcome depression can be as patronizing as telling a person with diabetes to suck it in and get over it.

“Just smile and be happy,” is a comment that indicates the person saying it has no idea what depression is all about. Another of my favorites is, “You got yourself into it; you can get yourself out of it.” A friend of mine who has been depressed since the age of sixteen has told me he favors a one-visit solution to treating depression. “You walk into a counselor’s office and tell him you are depressed. He slaps you in the face as hard as he can and tells you to ‘just snap out of it.’ It works every time,” my friend says, while laughing malevolently.

Depression is not an addiction or temporary condition. I’m talking about

clinical depression, not situational depression. Most people don’t understand there is a big difference between the two. Here’s an explanation by illustration. A person loses a job and goes into depression for three months. Then she gets a job and the depression is gone. That’s situational depression. Another person loses a job and goes into depression for three months. Then he gets a job and the depression remains. That’s clinical depression, brought about by a chemical imbalance in the brain caused by heredity, stress, toxins, trauma from losing a job, and a host of other possibilities. It’s like a list of what causes a person to have heart problems. Once you have it, you don’t just get over it. It’s an affliction, as surely as cancer is an affliction – not a condition of the mind or emotions.

Support groups can help a depressed person cope, but they aren’t a cure for the depression, any more than “do-something now” or “you can pull yourself out of this” will help a person whose loved one has just died. For a person in clinical depression, you can’t think your way out of it, you can’t make it go away. What you can do is seek medical help to put it into remission, and if you’re lucky, the symptoms will never return, like a cancer survivor, but too often they do return. Because it’s a bodily affliction caused by a chemical imbalance. Of course a depressed person is accountable for some actions in her recovery. She needs to exercise, eat well, lessen stress, and get adequate sleep (though that sometimes is an additional challenge). Those things help, but a person in clinical depression still feels bad, maybe just less bad by a bit.

If you are depressed, hang around people who understand the affliction. If they don’t, educate them or have a friend who can. And don’t be tough on yourself because you’re not getting better, any more than you should be tough on yourself because you have cancer.

About Patrick Day

In 2010, I escaped from four long years of deep, dark depression. This blog shares lessons I learned from those years as depicted in my autobiography - How I Escaped from Depression - as well as other insights about depression and anxiety that only come from someone who has gone through it. When you have a heart attack, you become an expert in heart attacks. When you have diabetes, you become an expert in that condition. As such, I am an expert in depression, with a four-year experiential degree and graduate studies in how to live a life going forward that keeps the ever-lurking Depression at a healthy distance.
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