2) Depression is a bully
It’s a sneaky, manipulative bully. Not only that — it’s a sneaky, manipulative bully that knows all your weaknesses and tender spots, and has at its disposal an arsenal of every uncomfortable moment, rejection, embarrassment, and emotional wound you’ve ever sustained in your life. It is, to put it simply, that kid who throws rocks at other kids on the playground.
I was lucky enough to grow up with two emotionally intelligent parents. They taught my brothers and me that bullying, more often than not, comes from a place of unhappiness. And of course depression is, in a number of ways, unhappiness given a name and a medical classification — it makes sense that it would have so much in common with that type of personality. But the thing about bullies is that the common wisdom about them often proves false. “Sticks and stones might break my bones, but words will never hurt me,” for example, has been thrown around for generations, but most people I know (myself included) would happily trade a wallop with either object for the erasure of certain words from our personal histories. Likewise, the “just ignore it” theory, regularly presented as the solution to a bullying personality, is virtually useless advice when it comes to fighting depression. Depression does not want to be ignored; it wants to be in charge, and it will take advantage of any opportunity to gain ground. Left unchecked — indeed, ignored — depression can sneak and manipulate its way into the deepest recesses of your brain, becoming that much harder to eradicate.
Which is why:
3) If you think you might be depressed, you have to tell somebody
I know, I know — this isn’t a secret. You’ve heard this one before. So have I: as part of anti-suicide campaigns, or scrawled at the bottom of pamphlets with things like “There Is Hope For You” written on the cover. I have to mention it anyway, though, because of the thought I’ve always had in response to the “tell somebody” advice: “It doesn’t apply to me.”
See, one of the complicated things about depression is that it comes in a variety of types and severities. The most visible types are the ones that can put people at high suicide risk: severe bipolar disorder — which can jerk people from manic highs to frightening lows — or an intense bout of clinical depression, which might drop someone so deep into what I think of as “the pit” that without seeking immediate help, they could be in very real danger of hurting or even killing themselves. And, of course, if you suspect that you or a loved one are at high risk for self-harm or suicide, you should absolutely tell someone at once. I don’t for a second mean to suggest that that isn’t the case. Tell your family! Tell a therapist! Don’t tell me — I’m just a girl on the internet with some lived experience, and I make no claims of being a professional — but definitely, definitely tell someone.
Having said that, though, for a lot of us, depression isn’t — or at least doesn’t feel like — something that makes us high-risk for suicide. What I have, for example, is moderate clinical depression, linked in to my generalized anxiety disorder. It’s the kind of thing that might slow me down or even stop me in my tracks, but it’s never pushed me to a place where I was in danger of seriously harming myself. And that fact — the fact that I’m not thinking about killing myself any time soon — has, more than once, given depression an avenue to keep me from getting help. It has allowed thoughts like, “You’re not depressed enough for it to really count,” or “This is something you should be able to handle on your own,” or, “Nobody wants to be bothered with your problems,” or, “When they say you should tell someone if you think you’re depressed, they’re not talking to you.”
I am here to say: if you think you might be depressed, then I am talking to you. Whether mild, moderate, or severe, depression is not something you should be trying to handle on your own. That’s not, by the way, because you’re not strong enough, or smart enough, oranything enough to deal with it by yourself — it’s because depression distorts your thinking, and to sort through something that distorts your thinking, you need help that does not live inside your own brain. You need an ally that your depression does not have the power to affect. You need an objective party, and when you are depressed, thinking about yourself in an objective way becomes incredibly difficult.