When I find myself lying in bed beneath the invisible weight of depression, I often call myself lazy. It is unjust, especially because the misdiagnosis leads to the wrong set of antidotes. Depression is not sloth. You don’t tell someone with a broken leg to go for a long run in order to feel better. You give her a cast and crutches. You let him sit down. There is a difference between not wanting to and not being able to (even if the reasons are hard to articulate or prove).
For me, depression is a state of being rather than one sensation or feeling. It becomes my environment and world. It consumes me and every ounce of energy I muster. Like a dark forest, it utterly surrounds me, and the way out is hard and long and confounding.
My depression is like water. It is at once tiny and great. Small, because there are few things it can’t penetrate. Massive, because its end always seems an infinite distance away. I constantly feel that I’m in the middle of it and making no progress towards its end. And then, one day, and very unceremoniously, I awake to find I’ve left it behind (or it’s left me). No matter how dark and vast it is, it always ends eventually. Perhaps God lifts me out of it like an emotional search and rescue team, because I never recognize the approach of the end — just that it’s behind me.
When I’m depressed, I feel as though an unreachable part of myself is broken. But the cause of my discomfort won’t show up on an MRI or x-ray. The pain is at once real and intangible, oppressive and insubstantial. I perceive it, but I can’t point to where it hurts because there is no one place that aches. The pain is nowhere and omnipresent.
Depression is an exasperating enigma. It feels like a puzzle everyone else has been able to solve. It is frustrating because it’s like being restrained by something that isn’t there at all. It feels like starving at a buffet or remaining in a jail cell after being declared innocent. It is sitting in a dark, deep hole with a ladder, but you can’t see it, let alone reach it.
All too often, depression doesn’t get the attention it deserves. Too many find it impossible to reconcile depression with our fast-paced, wealth-, success-, pleasure-driven world. We tend to avoid our more difficult feelings, so depression gets denied and dismissed. It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, but many feel (or act) as though it is.
Just as winter is not a mistake among the seasons, depression is not a failure. Denying depression is like expecting summer to supply snow or autumn to bear blossoms. And just as the world has rain, wind, cold, and sun, your emotional life exists on a vast spectrum. Certainly some feelings are easier to experience while others are more challenging to endure, but all of them have rights to your time and attention.
Depression is not a weakness. In fact, it takes great strength. For someone who is depressed, even the easy parts of life require effort. It is hard work to reside in the darker parts of yourself. It takes great courage to admit you’re broken or to seek help.
Too often, depression gets minimized or glossed over because it hasn’t earned the respect afforded most physical diseases and injuries. But just because I can’t point to exactly where it hurts, show you how I’m broken on an x-ray, or prove I’m sick by taking a blood test, it doesn’t mean I’m okay and it’s all in my head. I mean it is all in my head, but that doesn’t make it any less real. Not everything that resides in your mind is imaginary.
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4).
[Headline image: The photograph shows a young black woman with dark shoulder-length hair and dark eyes. She is sitting on a white sofa wearing a light blue tank top and purple pants. She is hugging her right knee with her hands and resting her face on her knee with a sad expression.]