Depression is a difficult illness to understand. It’s hard to understand for the people suffering from it, but it’s downright impossible to know everything that a person who deals with depression on a daily basis goes through if you have never experienced it personally. For this reason, I have come up with a few real-life examples to help those who may not fully understand what depression is or how it functions. Of course, this will be the simplistic version. Depression is an extremely complex disease. As a person with depression myself, I have learned that it is very difficult to understand even for those who have the best intentions and the most empathy, love and support. If a person has not had personal experience, it is almost impossible to know what depression feels like.
I am writing these examples with the knowledge that some of these may strike a chord with people. They are meant to. Depression is a devastating disease, just like many of these very real examples can be devastating to many people around the world. I want to be as honest as I can, but it is also never my goal to offend anyone.
The Head Cold
You feel a cold coming on. It’s a sort of scratchiness in your throat and a foggy feeling in your head. This lasts for a few days and progresses to some more severe symptoms. Your throat is sore now and you have a high fever. There are body chills and the sweats and nausea and you just want it all to go away. It feels like this cold might never end. Finally it does. About two to three weeks later, the cold returns with a vengeance. The cycle repeats itself exactly like this for the rest of your life.
You are doing well with your chosen career path. You are steadily moving up the ranks and your boss always speaks highly of you. You get along with your coworkers, not to mention you actually like what you do. Then there are cutbacks at work and you are one of them. All that you have worked so hard for seems to be lost in that moment and you wonder why it was you.
It takes you several months just to find another lower paying job to support your family and this causes you to change insurance, re-evaluate your budget and you’re not nearly as satisfied with your job. Many people have had to do it, but you didn’t think you’d be in this position until now. This causes a huge blow to your self esteem and tension in your relationship.
Note: This relates to the turmoil a person can go through when they are trying to find the ‘right’ antidepressant. With mental illness as opposed to most physical illnesses, it is pretty much strictly trial and error, and it can be frustrating to say the very least. You can try for months just to be disappointed in the outcome. You can also be satisfied with something you are taking for a while and eventually it may stop working.
You are in a committed relationship with a partner and things are going quite well. You are happy, he/she is happy, and life is good. You are in love.
One day, you are living life as usual and your partner doesn’t come home as planned. A friend tells you that they saw your partner out with someone else. When your partner finally comes home you confront them about what your friend saw and they break down and confess everything. They have been cheating on you for weeks. They are begging you to forgive them, but you are so blindsided you can’t believe it.
The pain is gut-wrenching — it’s the most excruciating pain you’ve ever felt in your life. You cry for days, barely eating or sleeping, even wondering why you bothered to try up until this point. Finally, your partner convinces you to give them another chance. Six months later, he/she cheats on you again, and the cycle repeats itself for the rest of your life.
The College Student
You have a full-ride to your dream school, and you’re a few weeks into your sophomore year of college. Suddenly, your throat swells up like a balloon, and you start to get a sore throat like you’ve never felt before. You go to the doctor and she says you have a severe case of mono and it is contagious, you must go home for two weeks. This is devastating news, as you have a scholarship to maintain.
After the two weeks is over, you are still suffering from complications and symptoms due to the mono and it is very hard to maintain your grades. Unfortunately, it is too difficult to make up the work that you missed from the two weeks at home on top of the work you need to get done daily, not to mention you have a part time job. The scholarship is retracted and you are not allowed to attend school for the year, as financial aid has already closed and no one in the immediate family can sign for a loan. How are you ever going to pay for college now?
You are completely devastated. You planned on graduating in line with your classmates, peers and friends. You were going to get your dream career alongside your best friends and you had your entire future laid out. Plans are disrupted and your self esteem is in shambles
Note: This one is a specific example. Instead of using depression as the illness, I used mononucleosis. I did this to show that any physical illness as well as any mental illness can present itself spontaneously and throw you off course. This is what happened to me in college when my mental health deteriorated.
The Broken Down Elevator
You are riding in a crowded elevator filled with people to the top floor of an office building, in a hurry to get to your meeting, when suddenly the lights turn off and the elevator halts to a stop, jerking the unsuspecting passengers into the walls and the people around them. Suddenly everyone starts to panic and groan, because this is the last thing that they want or need.
Thoughts start to race through your mind as the walls are seemingly getting closer together. The room is getting hotter and the air is getting thinner. You look around as people start to bang on the doors and smash the emergency buttons on the key pad, but no one is coming to help. It has only been a few minutes, but it seems like you’ve been in this elevator for hours. What if this is it? What if you die in here? What about all of the things you haven’t done yet? What about your family? Your breathing starts to become labored and your chest starts to hurt. Suddenly the lights come back on and the elevator begins to move again, and there is a collective sigh of relief.
Note: This represents the anxiety that can often go hand in hand with depression. Sometimes anxiety does not always need a cause, however, such as a broken down elevator in order to be triggered. Sometimes anxiety just exists.
These metaphors only represent a fraction of what a person with depression may go through. However, I hope they may yield a clearer understanding of depression to those who may not fully understand.