By Cheryl Steinberg
I am a person in long term recovery from drug addiction. And I experience depression. It didn’t go away when I got clean. It got better but, it’s still there. For some of us, that’s the reality of our situation; we have a long-term mood disorder. In my case, my depression set in long before I ever picked up alcohol and drugs. When I finally did start using, substances were the perfect solution to my need to self-medicate.
Today, I see a therapist and take my prescribed antidepressant medications. These things support me in my recovery from both addiction and depression. The thing is, just as there are a lot of people out there who still don’t understand addiction, there are people who really just don’t get it when it comes to depression. And it can be really annoying. Here are 11 things everyone gets wrong about depression.
#1. You can just snap out of it
Having depression is not a choice. It is a chronic medical condition that results from genetic and environmental factors. People don’t decide one day to be depressed. People do choose, however, to cope and live with their depression.
#2. There’s a reason or circumstance for it
First of all, there are two kinds of depression, situational and chronic (dysthymia). Situational is short term and – yes – tends to be brought on by circumstance such as loss of a loved one or job.
With chronic depression, which is long term, there is no reason, other than an actual physiological chemical imbalance in the brain that is probably due to genetics. Someone with depression experiences peaks and valleys with their moods, which can happen for no external reason at all.
#3. Pointing out that others have it worse will help us cheer up
Don’t. Just don’t. Ever. Do. This. Don’t you think that we already feel guilty for being depressed when others have it so much worse than we do? Again, depression isn’t a choice. I don’t know how much more I can emphasize that. Therefore, trying to give us logical reasons to not be depressed not only is futile, it’s hurtful.
#4. People with depression “look” depressed all the time
What do you expect? That we walk around looking like Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh all the time? Just because we have depression doesn’t mean we don’t experience a full range of emotions. It’s just that our “default” is ‘depressed.’ Also, probably because we’ve been told for the better part of our lives to put on a happy face, make sure to hide how we’re truly feeling so as not to bring down the crowd or get unwanted pity-attention.
#5. We have phantom physical pain, that is, we’re hypochondriacs
Physical symptoms are common in depression, and, in fact, vague aches and pain are often the presenting symptoms of depression. These symptoms include chronic joint pain, limb pain, back pain, gastrointestinal problems, tiredness, sleep disturbances, and appetite changes.
But it’s not merely psychosomatic. Physical pain and depression have a deeper biological connection. The neurotransmitters that influence both pain and mood – serotonin and norepinephrine – are out of whack, we see both depression and pain. Many physicians consider patients to be in remission from their depression when their mood improves, but when the physical symptoms, such as pain, are still present, there is an increased likelihood for relapse of the mood disorder.
#6. You know how it feels ‘cause you’ve had a ‘bad day’ before
Empathizing is one thing but, remember, depression is much more than having a bad day or being in a bad mood. It is a pervasive mood disorder that underlies daily life for the person who suffers with depression.
#7. We’re just selfish people
Actually, people with depression are probably of the most thoughtful people around, to a fault. We often are preoccupied with others’ feelings because, as people with depression, we tend to be hypersensitive to the energy that others put off. And, on top of that, we are aware that our depression can affect those around us and thus we worry about bringing them down.
All of that combined with just how tough we are on ourselves, in general, and about having depression, specifically, really don’t make the case for selfishness. Plus, remember that depression isn’t a choice.
#8. People with depression are just weak
Having depression is like walking around with a lead suit on – at all times. It means pushing through the low energy, physical pain, mental anguish, and the constant inner voice telling us, “You can’t.” So, I’m pretty sure people with depression are actually pretty tough people. Also, again, I’d like to point out that depression isn’t a choice and, like addiction, it is a non-discriminating disease. Therefore, it doesn’t only target one type of person.
#9. People with depression are seriously pessimistic
On the contrary, studies show that depressed people have an unusually realistic worldview. This can be a real mind f*ck for us because our capacity for logic allows us to more easily rationalize our depressive thinking, such as “I’m a bad person,” as an indisputable fact.
#10. We can ‘fake it till we make it’
Although there is some science behind this – where you can turn around having a bad day by changing your mindset, again it’s important to remember that depression is a totally different beast when it comes to ‘bad days.’
#11. Depression causes mental fog
According to Buddhist thought, depression is actually an “extraordinarily interesting and a highly intelligent state of being.”
“Depression is an unsatisfied state of mind in which you feel that you have no outlet…Whatever is in it is extraordinarily powerful. It has all kinds of answers in it, but the answers are hidden. So, in fact…depression is one of the most powerful of all energies. It is extraordinarily awake energy, although you might feel sleepy.”
Another way to look at depression, especially from a spiritual standpoint is that it is a state of emptiness, a sort of doorway, to meditation. With depression there is the feeling that nothing is happening at all. And that can be most conducive to meditation, in which one sits in quiet, inner awareness.
Both depression and addiction are serious medical conditions that require medical interventions and treatment. Many people struggle with both. The good news is that you’re not alone and that help is available. Call us toll-free at 1-800-951-6135 to speak directly with an Addiction Specialist before it’s too late. We are here 24/7.