Largely among teens and young adults, there seems to be this false idea of what depression actually is. I've often heard the narrative of depression being embodied by two rebellious, black-clad lovers curled up on the hood of a car, cigarette smoke trailing figures around them. The pair whisper to each other, "I'm depressed," which is somehow supposed to make the situation all the more deeper and "cool." These beautified pictures of mental illness don't serve to show the excruciating monotony of depression, but instead dress it up as a way to achieve a deep personality.
Views on mental illness have shifted from utter rejection to flat out romanticizing disorders such as depression and anxiety, sometimes in attempts to add a desired aura of mystery. After battling depression for five years, I have yet to find anything about it that is really all that exciting. There are the days when it physically hurts to roll out of bed or when even the thought of having to interact with other people sets off an insatiable rage within me. Depression has become increasingly trivialized to the point where if anyone is having a bad day they can simply exclaim, "I'm so depressed," and they will be met with comforting nods of approval. Not only do statements such as, "I'm so depressed," or, "I swear I'm bipolar," diminish the reality of mental illness, but they also reduce the experiences of true victims to "just emotions." Depression isn't a mask you can slip on at your leisure to validate negative feelings. Depression is an annoying, looming cloud, restricting me from seeing past the bad days. Depression, at its base, is a disorder -- not a personality trait.
While others tend to reduce depression, there is an increasing trend of contorting depression into a form of beautiful sadness, often credited to sites such as Tumblr. A quick scroll through a number of Tumblr blogs can find enough material to convince one that people really want to have depression. For those that are actually suffering, this can be beyond frustrating. People actually want to be like this? Indeed, this demonstrates an utter lack of understanding of the nature of the illness and adds nothing but pain to the minds of those already battling it.
In my earlier days dealing with the illness, I remember confessing to one of my friends that I had depression. "Oh, wow," she said, "now you're really interesting." It hadn't occurred to me that some people now viewed me as a dark, tortured soul instead of a young man scrambling to hold onto whatever life I had left. My so-called friends had fallen victim to a culture of glamorization. Some treat depression as an accessory anyone can don as a way to fill out their character and up their interest factor. And this presents a major problem.
Everyone has days where simple tasks seem Herculean and the blues hit hard. But when these feelings persist and interfere with daily life, then it could be categorized as clinical depression. Even with generally accepted definitions, the experience often differs between individuals. Personally, it began with a constant feeling of numbness, a boredom I didn't care enough to shake. Everything seemed to meld together into a single shade of gray. What followed were countless Google searches of whether or not it was normal to want to die and how painful suicide was. At that point, the physical effects began to manifest: the enlarged appetite, constant lethargy, and disturbed sleep patterns. I was no longer a person, but a shell wandering around waiting to crack. Not once did I feel deep, beautiful, or the recipient of some gracious cosmic gift that would score me some personality points. Now in better management of my depression, I have the ability to recoup after relapses and forge ahead past those wanting to romanticize my pain.
Despite the hurt it has caused, depression has afforded me the chance to look deeper within myself. I have learned to take joy in the simplicity of accomplishments -- be it throwing myself out of bed or having a heart-to-heart with an understanding friend -- and that those spare good days are treasures not to be wasted. Depression is not a tag to wear when you want to feel cool or trendy or a "beautiful sadness" that begs to be cherished. Depression hurts. Depression is an ugly, overwhelming monster that seeks to take you apart bit by bit and leave no pieces for scraps. Yet I am proof that this monster can be tamed, if only we work to abolish stigmas attached to it.
Understand the reality of mental illness, relish the joy in your life and work to spread that happiness to everyone you interact with. Cherish the peace that you have. And we will work to do the same.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.