1 in 5 throughout both Canada and the US experience depression. Probably more, especially among our youth. It’s common enough that one could almost justify a categorization of epidemic. It’s definitely large enough a statistic that we should be concerned as a society: for that many to be suffering, something we are doing or valuing must be wrong.
That number is also alienating. That number means that 4 in 5 have no idea what it’s like, and there’s no way you can get them to understand. The 4 in 5 think you are lazy. Weak. Aimless. Attention-seeking. Looking for the easy way out. Unmotivated.
They approach with sarcasm, impatience, intolerance. Unsympathetic to what it feels like. Misunderstanding why you’re not better, thinking you should be over it. Stigma.
Unfortunately, I am the 1 in 5.
This post is for the other 4.
To those of you who don’t understand depression, here is what it’s like.
Being alien and ashamed of it. Pretending to be normal and being ashamed of it. Unable to connect with others and being ashamed of it. Being abnormally exhausted and being ashamed of it. Being unable to make simple decisions and being ashamed of it.
The clunky brain. The inability to think. To feel there’s a thought, but not have words to express it even to yourself. To not know how to problem-solve for even the simplest things. To not remember words. Being unable to focus long enough to read a paragraph. To feel like your eyes are connected to a different mind, and that your mind has no connections at all.
Being you, without feeling like you.
Feeling like a stranger to yourself. Being horrified by your thoughts. Your actions and absences feeling foreign. Of spending time with a super close friend you haven’t seen for a while and it being unfamiliar.
Not being able to trust yourself. Of fearing what’s in your head. Knowing the potential for harm every human possess, but fearing yourself most because you acutely feel how thin that line actually is.
And then you look around at your role, your responsibilities, and feel shame. Someone should not have the responsibilities that you do if they are this close to what you feel is insanity. But they don’t know what’s in your head because you’re doing such a good job of holding it together.
You are two people at once: the sad and broken as well as the happy and whole. And it’s exhausting to your soul.
Shame at fully inhabiting the place you thought you would never be, the place you didn’t truly believe existed until you got here.
And this shame drives isolation. You hole up. You feel like people can feel your brand of brokenness acutely. You don’t want to be a burden. You don’t want that horrible part of you to be seen. You don’t want to be the one to need help.
So you withdraw. You stop returning texts. You stop showing up. You slowly disengage from your friends in a way they don’t notice, a way that could be excused by other busyness. (Or maybe they are just too busy to notice your absence anyway.) You stop believing people care. (Because they should have seen your darkness by now.)
Being unsettlingly untethered. To others. To yourself.
But they don’t know you are facing death. You feel it in a cloud over you. Every second. Every minute. Every day. They don’t know you are so heavy you can barely lift yourself. They don’t know you just don’t know how to ask for help, and if you could, your heaviness would stifle your cry for help, or make it impossible to emerge altogether.
That being awake is hard. That mundane responsibilities feel like Everest every single minute. Some days you manage to summit. Some days you don’t.
It’s hard to climb without oxygen.
We feel we should be better, but we don’t know how to be. In fact, neuroscientists, physicians, psychologists, and psychiatrists don’t know with certainty how to make us better either. Any decision they make for us, with us, is their best guess. Every appointment refining their guesses until a mediocre answer is found.
And the time it takes, the combinations of medications, the exhausting therapy sessions, the amount of life passing by without joy – it’s frustrating.
Our only hope is a professional’s best guess. A wait and see.
So for all of you 4 in 5 frustrated by the fifth’s depression, please understand that we are way more frustrated than you.
We wish to be well. We wish to be normal. We wish to have energy. We wish to have joy. We wish to have hope. We wish to be understood. We wish our brains to make sense. We wish to be able to trust our instincts.
We wish to be released from this. We wish for this for right now. Not later.
The psychologist types think we can psychology it away.
The physician types think we can medicate it away.
The religious types think we can pray it away.
But none of those things seem to work for everyone by themselves. Our bodies have three parts: mind, body and spirit.
Ten sessions of therapy isn’t guaranteed to bring enough relief to breathe again. Medication itself only works permanently 25% of the time. And prayer won’t necessarily produce immediate change to your brain chemistry or structure.
I’m not a professional, but my best guess is that to emerge whole and free from depression requires a combination of 3 things:
- Professional help for medication and therapy to give your brain some quiet space to make new patterns.
- A real community committed to hearing your pain and carrying both you and your responsibilities during times when you can’t.
- And theophany – God being incredibly near to the point where you feel it acutely.
To you 4 in 5, be patient. Let us be broken. And bring us to the people and places who can help put us back together if you don’t have that much in you to give.
To you 1 in 5, keep hanging on. Ask the professionals for help. Ask for help loud enough that community hears you. And slow down to be still enough and expectant enough for the healing manifestation of God to come near.
I promise there is an end. Darkness doesn’t last forever, right?