The frustration of depression

In November 2012, I was diagnosed with depression. Depression is an illness which provokes a wide range of reactions in people, depending on their own experiences. It is, to me, something intangible- just when I think I’ve understood its impact on my life and those around me, it slips away and mutates into something else. Some days I am able to brush it aside, other days it lies on me like a hot, heavy, suffocating blanket, preventing me from doing anything and leaving me tearful with frustration. I think for sufferers and for those who deal with them, be it friends, family or colleagues, depression is the most frustrating illness of them all.

When I was diagnosed, my doctor suggested anti-depressants and that I be signed off work for a few months. I was, after some initial hesitation, happy to try the anti-depressants, but signing off work was an impossibility due to the meagreness of statutory sick pay. However, after a few months of continuing with work, everything had changed. I was so tired and my attention span was so woefully short that I was making more and more mistakes by the day. After a particular crisis at work, I went to my doctor and was finally signed off. I struggled hugely with taking time off. Those who are sympathetic say ‘you must think of it as having a broken leg. Nobody would expect you to go to work with a broken leg, so don’t feel bad about it.’ But obviously one of the hardest and most frustrating things about depression is that you cannot see it. You cannot put a pin in it, do a test, take an x-ray and say ‘Yes! You have depression!’ Even to myself, I often wondered if I was truly ill or not. The general impression of depression is that you must be utterly incapable of doing anything, ever, constantly weeping, preferably with scars lacing your arms and a couple of suicide notes in your back pocket. One of my colleagues said after I’d left, ‘But she always seemed so happy.’ There are no set markers, only what you feel, and getting the full grasp of the shape of your own emotions can be astonishingly difficult.

This doubt surrounding depression diagnoses isn’t helped by the attitudes you encounter from some people. Most of the people I told (and I made a point of telling many people, after seeing from the experience of others that not talking about it only serves to isolate you further) were absolutely wonderful, hugely supportive, and told me to do whatever I needed to do to get better- including leaving work and taking some time off. However, from some people I received no support at all. One told me that I needed to be sure I ‘really was ill, and you don’t just need someone to tell you to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.’ I was told that people my age had no reason to be depressed, that people left university and suddenly had to deal with grown-up things like bills and so on, and found it difficult to cope with (interesting, seeing as I’d left university for nearly four years and had been paying bills when I was there in any case), but that this wasn’t proper depression. I was told that depression was massively overdiagnosed, and that this particular person doubted its existence. It’s difficult if not impossible to imagine someone denying the existence of a broken leg, to the face of someone who has just been diagnosed with it (although one doctor did try it with my brother, despite his bone being at a very odd angle). Unfortunately the situations I was in when all this was said to me meant I couldn’t slap these people and tell them to bugger off, which was unfortunate. It is these kinds of attitudes which get people into a lot of trouble these days if they are voiced publicly, but you can hear the undercurrent of grumbling and scoffing even now.

For one of the main reasons depression is so intensely frustrating is that unless you have experienced it for yourself, it is incredibly difficult to understand it in somebody else. When a close friend of mine was diagnosed with depression at university, it was at a time when we were all struggling with dissertations and final exams and we struggled to understand. We were all worried, all stressed, all fed up- what was so different about them? Why can’t they get on with it? And it’s only when you have suffered from it yourself that you understand- with depression, you just can’t. You can’t ‘just get on with it.’ There are days when you are against an invisible wall, and all you can do is stare blankly into space. Or cry. Or cocoon yourself in a duvet. Many days at work it was all I could do not to curl up under the desk in a ball. You are filled with a total, immovable weight, sunk deep into your chest and stomach, dragging your head down to your chest. Small wonder I wasn’t terribly productive in my last months at my job. But without having the experience in your own mind, recognising it as something other in somebody else is incredibly hard.

For partners of people with depression, I have the greatest sympathy and empathy. For them, I’d say depression is 99% as frustrating as it is for the sufferer themselves. So much of the time, there is nothing you can do. Someone you love is sat there, tears streaming down their face, telling you they’re desperate and scared and sad and can’t see a way out. They don’t know why they feel like this, and it is the absence of why that is the worst part of all. Some partners sit and stare helplessly, others cry too, others get frustrated and angry and tell you to ‘just cheer up.’ I understand the anger inside out and back to front, but in nearly all cases, getting angry is the most destructive thing you can do. Someone once told me that depression is anger turned inwards on itself. The person suffering is angry too, as angry as their partner is that they cannot defeat this cloying, dragging, desperate illness which is making them both miserable. In my experience, the best thing to do is to hug, and reassure. For me, putting something easy and cheerful on the television and offering to cook dinner are the next good steps. Then, because partners are frustrated and angry too, they should tell someone else what they are going through. Maybe not right away, although if they have a supportive friend at the end of a text that would be helpful, but arrange an outlet for themselves so their anger doesn’t clog them up too.

The last utterly frustrating thing about depression is that the person who is suffering is the best person to help themselves, even if they find it nigh on impossible to do so. Good support is worth its weight in gold, but ultimately, the person who is suffering has to be the one to get up and go to the doctor. To take the pills. To talk to a counsellor. To face the days when you can’t get up, and find the energy to do it anyway. A friend of mine said to me that just because I have all these negative thoughts, doesn’t mean I have to give in to them. You have to fight the battle for yourself, and keep putting one foot in front of the other on the days when it doesn’t seem possible. Of course, this is desperately frustrating because depression will keep throwing up moments or hours or days when you want to sink like a stone. I am still fighting, and trying to find more and more things to help me through the dark days. Reading children’s books can help lift the fog for a while. Getting outside. Talking to the dog. Going for a walk. Music. Dancing. Any little thing that makes you feel more like yourself, and less like a plaything for a killer disease.

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34 thoughts on “The frustration of depression

  1. Well done for helping people understand how it really is. I think the world generally lacks empathy – people are selfish and it’s almost like they are afraid your depression will rub off on them as well. I’m with you, the ones with all the advice are the ones you generally want to slap – if only we could!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve been feeling something similar to this and I am trying very hard to get over it. It’s not an easy thing to do, but fortunately, my boyfriend is very supportive and tries to not get mad at me if I whine and tell him stuff he’s heard hundreds of times before. Hope I find an easier way to do this, I haven’t visited the psychiatrist yet since I’m not sure I want to take anti-depr pills.

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  3. Great post, even as someone that gets depression now and then even I can’t explain why it happens. I found distracting myself works a bit but there is days where i feel like just laying in bed for hours doing nothing.

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  4. Reblogged this on Literal Lessons of Life and commented:
    This piece was very informative about depression to a person who has never had the misfortune to be faced with such a nebulous nemesis. I’m reposting because I learned about what I can do to help someone who is suffering from depression. Being aware of what someone who’s depressed is going through and also, seeing some simple things that can be done to ease their suffering is worth a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Well said. I was diagnosed some years ago, and I’ve been taking anti-depressants ever since. I refused at first, because I was worried the medication would interfere with my writing. Other professional writers had told me about their experiences with medication creating what amounted to writer’s block. I’ve got a good treatment plan now. I wish you all the best in dealing with your depression.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You’re absolutely right in saying that ‘one of the main reasons depression is so intensely frustrating is that unless you have experienced it for yourself, it is incredibly difficult to understand it in somebody else.’ However, your words here clearly help people understand it better, even if they haven’t experienced it. So thank you for writing, and thank you also for talking about partners of people suffering from depression. It must indeed be very hard for them, and even question their own self-esteem, as they feel unable to help the person they love… They too need to be reassured and respected, they’re fighting the battle too.

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  7. Depression is a very frustrating condition not just for the sufferer but also for their friends, family and support network.

    Suffering with depression is difficult because the only person who can help you is you but your image of your life and situation is often untenable. You are the only person to treat yourself but your are in no state to be able to do so. This leads to days on end of crippling, negative feelings.

    What it is important to realise for non sufferers is that there are serious physical implications of depression as well as mental ones. You often are immobilised by the feelings of ‘nothing matters’. That single thought that everything is worthless and therefore you are worthless, can be the most crippling and dangerous aspect of depression.

    Having suffered depression myself, I realise that sometimes the situations or the people I am involved with, must change.

    The hardest step in treating depression is the sufferer recognising that they are depressed. However once this has been established, the next difficult task is to summon the courage to get help. It can be very difficult to let yourself be helped because the more depressed you get, the more you need the feeling of negativity to satisfy the addictive feeling of self deprivation.

    Deep depression actually begins to become addictive to the point where you may begin to actively seek situations to justify your depression. This is a slippery slope however as depression if left untreated can have serious consequences.

    My word of wisdom regarding depression, take the time out, ignore the ignorant people and take one day at a time. If you can excuse the cliché, start small with a small routine of building your life back. It maybe waking up and making a tea then returning to bed. Then try toast and then going for a walk: each time taking care to understand and enjoy the simple process of living and being in control of your life and time. Once you are comfortable enough to start socialising again, meet up with some trusted people. Explain to them that it will be short and that you may not be the best of company but to bear with you. Encourage them to act as normal as possible to ease you into normality again. Keep taking small steps until you are confident in yourself again. Rebuild yourself and take control of your life.

    This is just a suggestion, I wish you well in your endeavour.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Reblogged this on Life and Training Diaries and commented:
    This is an incredibly interesting and thought provoking message! I am 100% in agreement, Depression is something that is very often overlooked, cast aside and usually because people just don’t understand. Which doesn’t in anyway make it less important or real. I find this with all kinds of mental health. Just because one cannot see the pain, or the person does not have any physical scars, does not in anyway mean that a person doesn’t have internal scarring or that what they say is happening to them doesn’t exist.

    I myself do not struggle with depression, not to this degree, I did at one point in my life struggle a bit, and was on the verge of taking anti-depressants myself, however I realised that it was depression that was induced by the birth control I was taking and once I was off felt a million times better. My fiance, would often see my crying, and not know why, he would ask and i would respond, I have no idea. but it was real, to me and to him, not knowing how to help or not be able to fix the problem. I lucked out that it was a hormonal imbalance, that could be remedied so easy as to stop taking a small pill, but my heart goes out to all those who don’t have a fix, whom are constantly struggling to find the right medication, and dealing with the side effects of each medication they try.

    Nobody realizes that depression is not solved with a pill, it numbs the pain, it can provide some relief but it doesn’t go away. And in some, that pill might not even work, they may need to try another and another and another until one is found, and for some no pills help at all.

    Depression is real, it is debilitating and I wish more people knew more about it so they didn’t just sweep it under the rug like most other mental health disorders…

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  9. I understand a lot of what you posted here. One of the hardest things about depression is the more it defines aspects of your life easier it becomes to let it define you as a person. The pain of it numbs you. And being so numb that you can’t care only makes things worse.

    I wish you the best of luck in dealing with this.

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