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“I am so depressed”

A phrase we have become accustomed to using over our lives. One we use when something has gone wrong for us. Nothing life changing, nothing actually too serious, but when it occurs it really throws a spanner in the works. Didn't get the concert tickets you wanted, the new game you wanted has sold out, your phone breaks, or you lose some money. All things that really do make you feel a slump in the moment. So when given the chance to express ourselves, we will generally use this phrase, or similar.

The strange thing is, when people truly are depressed, it is the last thing they will say. A person recognising they are dropping into a state of depression is more likely to make excuses, such as tired, un-bothered, or just not in the mood to do something. In the moment they have time to seek support and help, they just shut down and hide from the feeling.

The two kind of go hand in hand, with the first use of the word diminishing the seriousness of the word, and the person in the second example just doesn't want to be mixed in with the slightly over dramatic use of the word. Running the risk of being told "it will be ok" or "get over it"
Neither of which are of any help to someone struggling with their mind.

The over exaggerated use of the term "depressed" has just become fashionable now, just like "I'm so OCD" (no you are just tidy), or comparing your over excited, hyperactive child to someone with  ADHD. These are all serious matters, but the fashionable use of these phrases has really taken the focus away from the true sufferers. Now the services who deal with all these issues are at breaking point, with people being assessed for conditions, and some entering treatment, while in reality there are other issues which are presenting as the real thing.

I know that sounds a bit far fetched, but from experience with depression, just seeing the mix of people who turn up and describe their symptoms, it is clear that some are better suited to community and social projects, which allow them to frequently interact with others, rather than going through a long process of learning to deal with issues they clearly don't have. And I say that not selfishly or blinkered, but with the confidence that when someone cannot relate to a single issue anyone else has, but wants to complain about the health service for half an hour, there is more to it that depression.

This isn't to say that these people don't deserve treatment or attention, of course they do. They are clearly facing issues of their own, which a GP has put down as depression, but need to be assessed in a way that doesn't just say "depression Y/N". The same applies to others with behavioural issues. Easier to put them down as an attention disorder, than challenge the parent on their parenting skills. Not every naughty child has a condition, but sometimes it is easier to just say "I can't control him", than taking the time out to see if it is something you are doing which is promoting this behaviour.

Like I say, I am not for one second sneering at the actual conditions. But on all fronts, there is a fine line (actually a mighty chasm) between feeling down, and being depressed, or misbehaving and ADHD. One remains in your control to a large degree, the other you are just a passenger along for the ride, with no control over the direction it all goes in.

Now I am no expert in child behavior, so I will not say another word on the matter, other than to tip my hat to the parents who have kids with any of these conditions, and don't make excuses. Digging your heels in and getting on with what life has presented you with is an incredibly brave and strong thing to do. In fact I would go so far as to say that you are some of the best parents out there, and side by side with a spoiled brat, your children probably shines brighter than most. And no reason whatsoever that they should not.

As for depression, I can certainly speak on this matter with good authority, at least from my own experiences. I would not for one second wish to even start to belittle someone who has been on a different journey to me, and suffers in other ways. There are many forms of depression, it comes in many shapes and sizes. My experience is just one. But one I want to share as much as possible to ensure that it stops being such a forbidden topic, the social shame is lifted from over the condition, and people suffering can lift their heads and say " I am depressed, and proud to be dealing with it"

Depression is in short the suppression of our ability to engage, think rationally,  interact, and form trust bonds with others. There are many other symptoms, but these four cover a lot of those in an umbrella kind of way. So having our whole existence suppressed, the last thing we need. Without existing, how do we recover. Hidden away in a dark room every spare moment of our lives. Managing to put on an brave face to do the things we need to do. Going to work looking like all is well, head down like we are busy. Daring to speak to no-one in case we give the game away.

Once outside of work, shunning social opportunities, avoiding going shopping in busy places where possible, running from people, decisions, pressure or anything we cannot control the outcome of. Or as it is described in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), seeing things through a negative filter.  Assuming anything we choose to do will turn to crap, fearing the worst outcome of doing anything other than hiding ourselves away. Even worrying that our closest friends will reject us if we dare to tell them we are suffering from depression.

Nope, admission of depression is between you and the medical practitioners, and is top secret. Taking your medication in private, even hiding it at home from loved ones. Maybe even just throwing it away, or to the back of a drawer, as the stigma surrounding "anti depressants" is just all too much to be mixed up in. In truth, it is the people who DO actually sneer at people struggling with depression who have the issue. Being so judgmental, pointing the finger and mocking people who are brave enough to face their demons in public. Maybe it is those trying to mock, who actually suppress their own issues the best. Is it they who are most in need of support, trying to deflect their own issues onto someone standing tall at such a tough time?

I am not sure why in this day and age, with so many people having suffered a breakdown, or on going depression or anxiety, there is so much stigma attached to the conditions. Given how many well loved and highly acclaimed celebrities have come out openly, talking about their battles through their lives. Facing their demons, while putting on such a strong public face. Hiding it all away for the sake of their image, before saying enough is enough, and speaking out urging people to support those suffering. Even some of the most loved, taking their own lives, only for the world to realise what a terrifying and lonely world their idol lived with .

Quotes like "Despite being surrounded by people, I feel so alone" is a good example of what it can feel like to be in a state of depression. I know Robin Williams was apparently quoted as saying similar. Happiness and sanity is not found in popularity, wealth, or a lavish lifestyle. Being surrounded by so called friends does not make you emotionally rich. If anything it numbs the senses even more, and draws you away from the important things in life. By the time you realise how far you have strayed from the sanctity of your comfort zone, you are out there being preyed on by the wolves of the mind.

I consider myself very wealthy as far as the quality of my life goes. I have the material objects I desire, none of which make me happy, they just help cocoon me in a bubble I share with the richer things in my life. My dogs, my few true friends, my mental strength, and the belief in myself that I can make a positive impact on others lives, using the experiences in my own life. My circle of friends has changed a lot in the past few years. Realisation that knowing someone for a long time does NOT make them a good friend, just an old acquaintance. And now knowing that support and genuine friendships can come at any stage in life, and sometimes from the most unlikely places. Two true friends coming from an internet forum that drove me to the brink last time I was suffering with depression. Sleepers who sat an observed, and helped me back on my feet when the time was right. With no prompting, no pleading, just their own selfless actions. For this I thank them.

But this is the real problem, the support network.
Anyone who knows me, and if you read my blog, you will understand I am far from timid with the written word. I don't hold back, and I rarely paint a pretty picture when underneath life is bleak. If its dark, I say it as it is. Sometimes a strong point, other times a bit of a mood killer, but it's who I am.
After spending many years trying to please others, and meet their expectations, I decided to be me, and I stay true to that every day. Again, it is not always what people want to see, but the days of faking and pleasing are in the past, so please don't ask me to be someone I am not.

For others however, even those with outgoing personalities, dealing with the realisation that you are actually depressed is a tough one. Admitting to it is something huge, possibly only choosing to tell one or two people, and most of the time not your nearest and dearest. The truth be told, some of the outgoing personalities are just what I was doing. The brave face, the loud deflecting voice, desperate to save my dignity, and not let on I was falling apart inside. See that is what depression is all about. Losing control, but desperately fighting to maintain image.

To admit you are depressed, genuinely, is for some like admitting defeat or weakness. It's like backing out of a challenge of any level, before even trying. And even the most grounded person knows that is never a good feeling to do once, let alone over and over. Convinced you will fail, sure you cannot achieve what you need to, and being scared of facing the consequences, and how your peers will react.
Have you ever dreamt that you have left your house with no clothes on, or that you are running away from something, but seem to be running on the spot. The level of helplessness you wake with, the panic and fear of losing all control of your dignity and self control. Well that is how it can feel every minute of every day.
One of the biggest fears in my experience of depression was being judged. I think as a whole, when you breakdown all the different aspects of depression, a lot of them come down to the same thing, how other will perceive us.

Walking down a street, feeling anxious that everyone you make eye contact with is staring at you, and judging you. You look strange, messy hair, cheap clothes, and so on. The list is endless, but you will read far more into their glance than they could possibly have gathered and judged you on. A simple exchange of words with someone, over analysed until it was meant with such hatred and malice. Everything is dark and negative, nothing can possibly be positive for a second. This continues until staying indoors, or going shopping late at night, or in the smallest shop possible is the only way to go on. Now hidden away, safely separated from society.

As I have said though, the only people who would really look at you in such a way are most likely suppressing issues of their own, and just fighting back their own fears of others judging them.

So what does a depressed person need from you? If you think someone is depressed, what can you do to make things better for them. And by better I mean help them on the road to recovery, rather than a patronising "there there there" and a pat on the back, making it all better for them.
I have to say there is no single simple answer to such a question, with all cases presenting differently. You may have noticed a change in their behaviour, withdrawn from group events, or just being quiet for a long period of time. Trouble engaging as they usually would.
For me, I would say I benefited simply from knowing people were there when I was ready for them to play their part. Having already declared my depression made that easier, but I know that isn't every ones approach.
If it is not clear what the issue is, but you suspect things might not be great, don't barrel in full of questions and suggestions. Just tread gently, but be the friend they know and trust. There is no need to smother someone, just indirect reassurances that you are about if they fancy a drink or a chat some time, in their own time.

There is no right way, go with your instincts. You know the person you know as a friend, so be yourself, if your help is needed, your support wanted, I am sure the time will come when this is obvious, and it can all flow naturally from there. I kept a lot of my friends out of the loop when I was at my lowest. Partially where I didn't want to bother them, and partly because they were the wrong person for the job at the time. It's nothing personal, just how the mind can be at times. You wouldn't turn to an outgoing party animal to be there in silence while you grieve, or an introvert friend to support you in a confrontational situation, so accept it that there is a tool for every job.

The biggest question for me in all this, from a sufferers perspective is why so many people live in a constant state of depression, and either refuse to act on it, or fail to identify their state of mind.
I guess there are logical answers to both, but for me I don't want to see others suffer in silence. Even those who seek help, get meds and go to counselling, will avoid telling friends for some reason. Again speaking from experience of others who have admitted after a long time they too fought with depression.
Identifying you are struggling with depression or anxiety is understandable. It is so easy to assume "everyone feels this way", but the reality is, they're not. It is not normal to dread getting up and facing the world day after day. Holding your tongue at home or at work, just to avoid the confrontation, and instead living in a suppressed state is not normal, contrary to belief. Fear of being judged by people when you are out in public, refusing to make eye contact or even waiting for the automated paying in machine in a bank while 3 cashiers are free just to avoid speaking to someone (like I did) is NOT normal.

Sometimes overcoming these issues can be as simple as taking a look from afar and making changes in the way you look at life, and accept treatment from your peers. Other times some form of help is needed. From counselling to chatting to friends and letting it all go. To entering the system so to speak, and going on record with your GP to seek help. None of these actions in any way make you weak or a failure. A little vulnerable yes, but for the right reasons. Sometimes being laid bare is an enlightening and empowering experience. Throwing caution to the wind, and only caring about yourself for once. Taking the steps to make life better, and trusting others to help you achieve that.

I am determined to keep talking about depression. Hopefully slowly but surely helping as many people as I can realise that being depressed is nothing to be ashamed of. It should not be hidden, and the stigma attached to the condition needs to go away. Over the past few years there are more and more campaigns to raise awareness of depression and mental health. Not a minute too soon I say, in fact maybe a decade too late. But the movement has started. I applaud those spearheading the campaigns, and praise anyone willing to share their stories of how desperate they have felt at times. There is no demographic description for someone who will become depressed. Rich, poor, outgoing, introvert, it takes all types. Even famous people, yup, that's right, even the rich and famous battle with mental health.

It's not a life choice, it is not something we bring upon ourselves. Mental heath issues affect who they want, how they want, and when they want. There is no choice in the matter whatsoever. The only choices we have are how we will cope with an issue if and when it strikes. Standing tall, not hiding, and reaching out are some of the best things you can do. However, when you are able to do that is all a matter of time. The second you realise, or a month after starting medication, that bit is all down to you.

I have rambled on for long enough now, but want to close by saying this.
Mental health is a serious issue in the UK, and one reaching epidemic proportions in some regions. Awareness is poor, understanding is hit and miss. Acceptance of the conditions is growing, and this is a positive step for the sufferers. However treatment varies, funding is seemingly inadequate, and the focus from the top down seems to be somewhat sporadic. The whole matter needs serious reappraisal, and a proper plan needs to be drawn up to deal with the rising number of cases. Not by sidelining people, and leaving them waiting months and months to receive some help, in the hope that they will just get better. And certainly not discharging people for missing a couple of sessions of a course, making it seem that they have successfully recovered. This is what I was told after missing one session due to heightened anxiety one day. Miss another, be discharged. Not dismissed, but discharged as OK.

Initial assessments need to be timely and thorough. Actual issues need to be properly identified, and the correct course of treatment should be made available in a reasonable time frame. Once someone is diagnosed as depressed, the clock is well and truly ticking, so time is of the essence. I don't expect things to change and improve over night, I am realistic. However I also appreciate the importance of the right help at the right time, and understand the implications of drawing things out, and not receiving the help you need in time. I was lucky, my meds were helping and my core of friends were reaching out to keep me afloat. But if I had been alone, I don't know if I would have made it in the right state of mind to the CBT course. I may have been too far gone by that stage.

I really do hope that there is an improvement to the system over the next few years. Certainly from my perspective, knowing that depression is usually a reoccurring condition, and from both experience and education, each case being worse than the last, I really hope that by the next time I am hit with a bout of depression, the mental health system on the NHS is as prepared as my friends are to hold me up and get me back on my feet as soon as possible.

Please feel free to email me directly with any feedback on this entry, to chat, to discuss etc. No one should suffer alone, so please don't.

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