A Description of Depression For Those Who Can't Fathom It
Picture the frustration of staring at a freeze frame on your TV, ripping your couch apart searching for the remote, and all the while wondering how it could possibly be this lost. Where the f did the remote walk off to?
Now picture waking up every morning for days, weeks, months, or years and dedicating every moment to obsessively searching for the remote or beating yourself up for misplacing it.
The TV is paused, but the show is still running in the background. You know it’s playing, but you can’t watch any of it which makes things worse.
Any rational person would just walk up to the TV and press the play button, but depression is blinding to all rationality. It’s obsessive, sometimes compulsive. It’s a liar and a cheat, one of the world’s finest seducers.
And you, the experiencer, the one searching for the remote, are aware and unaware of it all at the same time. You recognize how deep the pain is, how crazy you are for continuing in this way, how easy it would be to change - but that only makes things worse still.
You feel like an imposter in your own life. You “know” what’s right, but you cannot execute on it. What would they think if they knew you lost the remote? You can’t have lost the remote! My God!
Eventually, if depression makes a full coup d'etat over your psyche, you may even give up looking for the remote entirely, submitting to a life of loneliness and boredom. You genuinely believe, whether consciously or not, that no one could ever love you as you are (including you).
To those that have never experienced depression, this may be hard to grapple with. Why would a person feel this way?
To someone that has experienced it, or might still be experiencing it, this is an easy metaphor to understand, yet still hard to pull apart. The slip into depression happens slowly, at first perhaps, then all at once.
Depression seems to compound into oblivion. Momentum in the wrong direction is still momentum. And inertia, well, that’s a powerful force in itself.
Depression is a fine example of The Lindy Effect which states that every day a status quo is maintained, the likelihood of that status quo remaining increases. That is, each day in a depressive state, makes us believe more in an eternity of misery.
But what are the solutions? How do we support each other and ourselves through depression? How do we see the reality outside of a lost remote?
Psychologists say that depression is a mix of biological, psychological, and social factors—that is, it has to do with what’s going on in your body, in your mind, and in your life. They say to exercise (HIIT training, especially), meditate, train the mind, go to therapy, reach out and talk to people.
Journalist, Johann Hari, says depression is the result of lack of connection to: people, meaningful work, good values, nature, among many other things. He says the process forward is all about reconnecting with those things and people we crave connection to.
And grief researcher, Elisabeth Kubler Ross, calls depression for what it is: “the common cold of mental illnesses.” She says that it must be normalized and talked about in a way that makes it okay to talk about.
I think we must do all of these things. We must invest in the three-legged stool (bio-psycho-social). We must find ways to reconnect to life and each other. And we must discuss depression as if it were normal (because it is).
If you feel as though you are slipping into a depression, or are already in one, as a first step I urge you to seek professional help, but also to give a close friend (or me) a call.
If you have a friend or a loved one that seems to have stumbled into a depression, don’t try and hit them with all the research. Be there for them. Listen. Go on a hike together. Read Lost Connections. And when they ask for it, get them the help they need.
In dark times, we often avoid light. We don’t want other people putting a spotlight on our shit. The paradox is that that’s often exactly what we need to feel better. This is critical to remember from both sides.
The first time a therapist mentioned depression in a session, I was taken aback. She asked, “How are you doing with your depression?” And I replied with some snarky remark like, “I’m not depressed. What did I say to make you think I’m depressed?”
Like searching for a perpetually lost remote, I was blinded and frustrated. I was so concerned with the fact that the show was still running without me that I couldn’t focus on my next best move. All I talked about was my frustrations at work, never my real emotions.
I couldn’t see my experience for what it was.
The greatest gift we can all give ourselves is the gift of letting go, of being okay as we are — happy, sad, whatever. It’s to acknowledge and accept who we are and what we are experiencing. This means feeling the hard things, and sometimes, labeling our experiences in ways we wish we didn’t have to.
The second I stopped resisting what was, and felt the depth of despair, things fell back into place. I was suddenly okay.
And soon after, I found the remote.
The show went on.
And better yet, I didn’t care to sit around and watch.
I started writing my own.