You Will Always Be Depressed.

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 6.03% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Every day, on Twitter and Facebook, I see people saying things like, “Depression is like cancer, man!  It’s a disease.  You can’t just will yourself to be happy.”
And as someone who has to trot out his goddamned bona fides every time I discuss depression (two suicide attempts, annual Seasonal Affective Disorder, a decades-long history of self-harm), I agree: depression is a disease that kills.
But what I hear every time I discuss techniques to battle depression is this:
“Oh, your ‘cancer’ went into remission?  I guess you don’t really have cancer.  Because if you had real cancer, you’d know there’s nothing you can do about cancer except wait around to die.”
I get that depression tells you that nothing you do will have any effect on your life.  But so much of the culture that has sprung up around depression seems to mirror the lies that depression tells you – an inherently defeatist story that screens out any successes. People often seem far more willing to talk about what doesn’t work, sharing endless webcomics about people with awful lives and going, “See?  That’s how it is!  You just don’t understand me!” than they are to share stories of what therapies are effective for them.
Don’t get me wrong: as a depressive, I get the irritation when someone goes, “Just buck up!” and “You should be happy, your life is great!” because frankly, that doesn’t work.  And I even get the irritation of the “You should try craniofeline therapy, it involves gluing a cat to your head, it totally works for everybody I know!” thing where someone takes one approach that helped them battle their disease, and extrapolates that out to “This is the universal cure.”
But depression is an insidious and deeply personal disease.  And there’s often no one thing that solves it – you need a multifaceted arsenal of coping tools, including medications, therapy, routines, friendships, better diets, more exercise, whatever will hand you a weapon to fend off these hideous thoughts flowing into your head.
And I worry that a lot of the culture that arises around depression online basically tells people, “You shouldn’t want to do anything now because that’s the natural response to this disease, that’s the reaction you should have” sends the message: Don’t look too hard for answers.  “Being depressed” is the answer.
During a depressive state, it’s hard to muster the energy to do anything.  Willpower dwindles; it takes a Herculean effort to go grocery shopping, let alone transform your life.  And when someone has as little willpower to spare as a depressive does, I think that telling them, “Well, anyone who copes with this better than you do just doesn’t have it as bad” instead of “Maybe there are better ways of coping you could find?” hands that demon liar in their brain a darned good excuse for them not to seek the treatments that would help them on the days they have the strength.
And the sad thing is, of course, that some people are so depressed that some treatments won’t work upon them.  That’s like terminal cancer, something I have a little bit too much personal experience with these days.  But depression is not like cancer in that for many  – not all – an adjusted attitude can be one of an array of effective approaches, and why do we spend so much time shrieking “Too bad you don’t have it as terrible as I do!” instead of “Maybe that person knows something I don’t, let me see if that works for me”?
Oh, right: because of assholes who think that depression is just a modified form of laziness.  And a lot of assholes do act as though you failing to break through depression and be a shiny happy person is some personal flaw on your part.
It isn’t.  My God, it isn’t.  You’ve been stuck with a horrible, eroding disease, one that kills on a staggeringly regular basis, and you are super brave for having the energy to venture out the door to try to fix this.  And what I am saying is that though there are some days the depression will win and you won’t get anything done – that’s what depression is – on other days you’ll hopefully feel well enough to seek help.
And I hope on those days, you’ll keep seeking out newer and better ways to function during your depression.
Because let’s be honest: functioning during depression is a hell of a lot better than not functioning during depression.  If in the depths of your woe, you can find some trick that lets you go to work, pay the bills, get your medications refilled, then your life will be a lot better than letting all that slide.  So it should be a goal to try to keep up that necessary work during the bad times so that you don’t emerge from a long and crippling depressive bout to go, “I FEEL HAPPY! HAPPY!” and then discover you’re out of work, in collections court, and have no medications.
(That principle still applies even if you only have bad times.  Perhaps especially so.)
Ultimately, while I get the need to connect with that power of knowing that others are going through what you’re going through – it’s why I blog about my depression – I think it can be toxic to fall back on, “Well, if they’re coping better than I am, I must have it worse than they do.”  What I’m asking you to consider is that someone coping better than you may have a skill – a skill that you can learn.  That skill that won’t vanquish all the sadness in your life – but it may knock today’s black-dog depression down from being 100% debilitating to 95% debilitating.  And though your depression tells you that 5% won’t make any difference, over the years that and a couple of other 5% improvements can improve the quality of your life drastically.
And yes, most treatments and approaches won’t work.  That’s the way of things.  But some do, and they work for somebody, and that somebody might be you.  And I know what’ll happen is that if it doesn’t work, then your depressive brain will take other people’s successes as a club and beat you down with it to tell you “SEE? YOU FAIL AT THERAPY, WHY DON’T YOU JUST GIVE UP?”  And some days the depression will win, and you’ll believe it’s hopeless.
But remember: depression lies.  Depression tells you that you can’t get help.  And yes, maybe you’re one of the terminal ones who no treatment will help – but depression would tell you that you’re a terminal case, even if that’s not true.
Depression is hard.  And I believe it gets harder in the long run when you look at everyone who has managed to keep functioning and decided they just got lucky.  Some of them did, of course, but chances are good that some of them had it as hard as you do and found better ways to cope – which means that you might be able to get there from here.
Hope often sounds trivial or silly in the face of such a withering disease as depression.  Yet hope is a power that you can use to harness, sometimes even on days you don’t believe in it. Perseverance is not an inherent trait; it can be trained, though it takes years.   And while depression will consume an uncanny portion of your productivity, keeping an open mind that there may still be things to learn to help you with this awful fight can sometimes help you find better coping skills.  Even after three decades of battling soul-crushing sadness, I still find new ways of dealing with things.
Because, as I stated, there are no wrong answers.  Therapy.  Medications.  Diet.  Friendship.  Changed lifestyles.  Whatever fucking works for you is beautiful, because lemme tell you – I do suffer from depression.  I want you to have ALL THE TECHNIQUES.  Because as someone who’s stood at the very least pretty damned close to where you are now, all I want is for you to feel as good as you possibly can.

7 Comments

  1. Mishell Baker
    Oct 29, 2014

    AUGH thank God someone else is finally saying it. I have been depression-free for one year tomorrow thanks to a very quirky and individualized combination of treatments, and anyone who wants to tell me my depression wasn’t real can go kiss the old pair of tennis shoes I no longer wear because I have too strong a sense-memory of shuffling down a tiled hallway with their laces removed.

    • Jericka
      Oct 29, 2014

      Ah, tennis shoes.
      I couldn’t stand fried shrimp for the longest time, because it was the only thing that the hospital had for me to choose that I actually liked to eat. Also, I don’t bowl, because they took us bowling a couple times and the association is just THERE. Nope. Nope. Nope.
      Depression is horrible, and cancer is horrible, and yet, we fight.
      Before the cancer, I fought the depression with the magic of “just show up. With the list of things. On time. ” Most people won’t even notice that you are feeling broken and will let you be if you meet the basic expectations of presence, with tools, on time. My goal was to function adequately enough to never EVER end up in a hospital doing group therapy EVER EVER again. So far, so good.
      The cancer complicated things. I still show up for scheduled anything, but, on medical leave I have no daily place to be expected, and …. It’s leaving me adrift, and battering my self image. I’m having a hard time not beating myself up for the stuff that I am not doing. I’m still figuring out if I am making progress, treading water, or sinking. My old mental tricks for bills and deadlines still work adequately, but, I haven’t found or developed any patches for the new leaks yet.

      • scyllacat
        Oct 30, 2014

        See, there you are. I’m going to borrow that: present, with tools, on time.
        And now I will glare at the medical bills and the bank balance, which, let me tell you, are DAMN depressing.

  2. Ben
    Oct 29, 2014

    Thank you for posting this. It’s nice to see others coming out. Nice to know that I’m not alone. Imbues hope.

  3. Lyssa
    Oct 30, 2014

    Thank you. I love you, and I am so grateful that you write about depression, because there are words in here that help, and I think we’re all in this together.
    Today, you helped me.

  4. Xenia
    Oct 31, 2014

    I have tried and tried to share this on Facebook and the link won’t post!! Help!!

  5. Eve
    Nov 2, 2014

    Oh my god this. So much this.

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