One more for the hard topic files

This is another post that’s not quite easy to write. I have to bring a taboo topic into the picture, and discuss it.


You may wonder why it’s taboo to discuss, and the reason for that is thus: it’s still not viewed as an actual condition. Addiction had come a long way to be viewed as an illness, but depression has a way to go before it’s recognized socially as what it is. Far too many people have a pervasive view that it’s something that people can “just get over”, or “snap out of”. It’s never that simple. Depression does not work that way.

Depression isn’t just a day of the blues or a bad week. It’s a condition. Chemical imbalance, if you want to call it, but it is a condition nonetheless.

There are words to describe its effect, of course. It’s a constant, pervasive state of this isn’t worth it. It’s a frame of mind of nothing works for me, and it’s useless to even think of it. It’s a way of thinking of why even bother getting up? It’s not just the loss of interest; it’s when the interest has been lost for so long that you can’t remember what it feels like. It’s not just the sadness; it’s a sadness that is always there. It’s a lack of motivation for things as basic as getting up in the morning. And, regardless of whether or not that depression is sourced by bad memories, a pre-conditioned state of mind, prior abuse, or genetics, the worst thing about it is the knowledge that it’s there, and that it’s stopping you from functioning. And it goes on for months, or years at a time.

Can you imagine a stretch of years where you’re just not capable of functioning because of simply how you wake up feeling every day?

I’m pretty sure you can’t. And know this: millions of people live like that, every day. You’d never know it, because of the herculean effort that it costs them to get up, get dressed, go to work, pretend to be happy – you simply do not know what is going on inside their heads. And I will tell you point blank: depressed people are really great actors. They get good at it real fast. Even close friends. They’ll look happy, seem happy. And you would still never even guess.

If you never experienced depression – I don’t mean a day, or a week of the blues, I mean lasting, pervasive depression that lasts months or years at a stretch – then I really, really hope you never do. It’s the kind of a condition that ages you, whether you want to or not, and it warps your perception of life permanently, even if you recover or receive treatment. You just don’t forget what it feels like once you experience it.

There are many stigmas associated with depression, and one of the worst ones is that it’s considered to be a sign of weakness. Society has finally recognized addiction as an illness, and began treating it as such. Depression is an illness too, and definitely not an easy one. Considering that the key biochemical factors in depression are the absorption of dopamine and serotonin, it is a physiological condition as well as a psychological one. And a shrink isn’t always the answer. Psychologists can only get so far to the root of the problem, and all a psychologist does, just FYI, is listen and analyze. And it does help, if and only if the depression has a cause. But sometimes, there is no answer as to what is causing the depression. Sometimes, it’s just there. And contrary to whatever anyone would say, it’s not something that you just “snap out” of. That condition has a vise grip on a mind that not even Jaws of Life can rival.

Depression stops people in their tracks. You may have seen the Cymbalta commercials, where someone is just sitting on the couch, staring blankly at the television. Or just around the house, not really focusing on anything or anyone.  Or isolating themselves, even with family in the room. While I’m not particularly a fan of the last portrayal, considering that I’m among the people who love their personal space and will pay a pretty penny to have it, but if you are starting to notice a shift in someone’s behavior that’s completely not jiving with what you know their personality to be, then that might be an indicator that something isn’t right. The reason I say might is because people are vastly different. What’s one person’s sign of depression is someone else’s personality quirk. And the last thing you ever want to do is make assumptions.

That’s the other thing: assumptions. Don’t make them. Just do not. Not where depression is concerned. You aren’t in that person’s head, and even if you’ve been through the same ordeal that they’re having right now, it is not your place to assume anything about their feelings, or intervene. There is nothing more offensive and counterproductive to a person who either has a past history of depression or is struggling with it than to hear someone they think of as a friend offering them solutions. That is not what the person wants to hear, that is not what will work. No matter how much you care and want to help, the best help you can give is listening.

Even if what the person will say doesn’t jive with what you think or feel, you’re there to listen. Listen and listen in confidence. What the person is feeling is real, and even if you may disagree with it, that person needs to be heard and have someone outside acknowledge those feelings as real. That thing you’re doing by listening is validating, and that alone goes a long way.

And now I will say something that, to some people, may come as obvious: a person with depression is likely one of the strongest ones that you will ever know. Because fighting depression takes strength of character like you wouldn’t believe, and few fights are more grueling than the fight to regain control of one’s own mind and mindset.

This is why I take pleasure in doing things like reading a book on the train to work, writing, getting a late cup of coffee for the train home, the reading in the park, walks through Queens, and little tiny other things that make me happy. I know what this condition entails, from both sides. And this is also why I take extra care to watch over my friends.

Listen to the people around you, and I mean listen. I don’t mean speak. I mean listen, without responding, just listen. Validate someone’s emotions by actually listening and accepting them as real. You may not like them, you may not agree with them, but to that person who is spilling their guts to you, their feelings are real. Listen. You never know what you will learn, both about the other people and about yourself as well. And even though you may not know this, but just being there to listen may help someone feel their way to that door out of the quagmire.




2 thoughts on “One more for the hard topic files

  1. Weeks, months, years……even decades.

    Bouts of depression for those so afflicted are like rounds of boxing…….180 seconds to the observer corresponds to the perception of hours of physical abuse and exhausting spasms of physical energy for the ‘boxer’ being observed.

    It is true that many of those depressed have the hearts and character to look themselves in the mirror each morning, (once they do marshal the necessary energy to arise in the first place), take a deep breath, and, a la Roy Scheider in “All That Jazz…’ ,declare….”Iiiiitt’s SHOWtime!!”

    The comparison to acting is definitive. Good actors listen. The depressed are ‘all ears’, striving to find the key to exiting a given situation without rippling the serenity of those with whom they must interact; to move on without being ‘caught’ acting.

    They are more ‘present’ in their interaction with others out of defensive necessity. Would it were that everyone would be so keen to listen rather than to orate. And as you so eloquently point out, this ‘presence’ of listening, not only to others, but to ourselves can be more potent an elixir than any therapy, more calming a medicine than any drug.

    It’s the ‘hard’ topics that should move any writer to attain his/her best work, and through that the gratifying and cathartic attainment of at last ‘being heard’,

    Thank you for your post. I look forward to following ensuing entries.

    1. Thanks, Stefan. Welcome to my blog.

      I had a bout of depression that lasted the better part of my teens. It wasn’t until I was 19-20 that I’ve climbed out of that quagmire. All the while, I’ve heard the “You should X, Y, Z”, or “You shouldn’t be feeling this way, you’re just A, B, C”. It got old fast, and was completely not what I needed.

      And you are right. One thing that I’ve retained from what I tend to call “The Lost Years” was that I learned to listen and analyze. At the time, I was looking for a way out of that pit, and thought that maybe, by listening to other people and understanding where their feelings were coming from, I would be able to put mine to rest. Two things happened: I learned to listen actively, and I understood that if I wanted to recover, I needed people who would do that for me.

      Being heard, whether via creative acclaim or in terms of simply speaking from the heart, is indeed the best of all medicines.

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