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I am depressed. Please stop telling me to "cheer up."
I remember the first time I heard the word "depression." I was 11 and in my first year at secondary school. My best friend at the time had obviously just learnt that this word meant "upset" or "sad" or any adjective that similarly describes a slightly disappointed or uneasy emotion or feeling. She used it to describe anything from there not being the dessert she liked in the lunch hall to having to do P.E. class (to be fair, a pretty depressing experience). I didn’t realise how serious it was to claim you were "depressed." At that age it’s very easy to throw around words without knowing the meaning. Unfortunately, we seem to continue to do so as adults. I actually just did, by claiming that P/E claim was depressing.
The day I learnt this word held weight was when my friend didn’t want to take part in gymnastics. The teacher asked her what was wrong. She replied, "I’m depressed." These words coming from an 11-year-old girl obviously shocked our teacher, despite the fact my friend seemingly had no idea what she had just said. Immediately she was sent to the nurse's office and she got the rest of the day off school. I couldn’t believe it! Was it THAT easy? I’d been physically throwing up before and still had to stay in school!
I never did use the "I’m depressed" card to get out of class. I think truly because I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t really know what depression was. How funny that I had no idea what was about to ingulf the rest of my life.
I started to feel "unhappy," let’s call it, at about the age of 13. I had never been truly "cool" or "pretty" or "popular" and I’d never really had many friends. I was aware that people made fun of me because I liked Edward Scissorhands and dinosaurs and my clothes weren’t from Nike or Tammy Girl. I had freckles and fluffy hair, and I brought my packed lunch to school in an Aldi bag. But it never really bothered me. Even being bullied never truly bothered me like it should. I just sort of felt numb to it. Kind of like it was normal. Yes I desperately wanted to be "cool," but I wasn’t, and that was that.
As I progressed into my teenage years, I felt an emptiness that I couldn’t really shake. No matter what I did or what was going on in my life, it was always there, like a negative cloud, hovering over me. At first it wasn’t that intense—actually I barely noticed it most of the time—but the cloud continued to grow. When I was around 15, I started cutting myself. When people asked me why, I just said, ‘"I don’t know" and I still don’t. It just felt good, and when I was upset or angry it helped me cope. I didn’t have any reason to really be cutting myself, so I felt ashamed that I was. I had great parents that loved me, a beautiful home, I was at the best school in the area, I was healthy and intelligent and had great prospects, but still I felt this urge to self destruct.
I guess that brings me to the point of this piece. I have now suffered with depression in its varying stages (but always present in some way) for over 15 years. There are days when it is worse; those days are the days I question my life. I feel pointless, worthless, a failure. I have nothing positive to say about myself or anything around me. These feelings come from nowhere, no trigger, no rhyme nor reason. At all stages of my life I have felt like I am not enough, this feeling of emptiness no matter what I achieve. Win an award? Ok, but I could have won two, what loser only wins one? Buy my own house at 26? Yeah, but if I had saved more money and not pissed it away, I would have gotten the house of my dreams. Nothing is ever enough. Everything always feels like a failure. The view points can seem selfish, as well as overtly pessimistic. I HATE being like this. I hate myself for feeling like this. I question my point everyday. I feel so sad for what I do to my partner and my parents. Sometimes I think it would be easier if I just wasn’t around.
Depression, though awareness is rising, is still deeply misunderstood. It is an illness, a serious and, in some cases, life threatening illness. When I tell you I can’t remember the last time I was happy, it might sound like I’m an emo kid writing poetry. I am a 30-year-old woman, carrying my first child with the love of my life. I should be ecstatic, and I am, but my brain will not allow the good things in my life (of which there are many) to be seen in a positive light. I am constantly second guessing myself. I question why I feel like such a failure everyday; some days I am so exhausted by my own brain I can’t be bothered to get out of bed. It is a horrendous way to live and it is so important that we understand that this is a very real way of life for many, many people. I am constantly plagued with guilt, all consuming misery, and a sense of self hatred that never shifts.
Those that do not suffer will often think people with depression are spoilt, over reacting, attention seeking, or just plain lazy. I have been told to "cheer up," "move on," "get over it," and "it’s not that bad" so many times and I wish I could, because my life really isn’t that bad at all. Actually, it is pretty fucking good. I have recently started therapy (can you tell?) something I have been wanting to do, but resisting, for years. Between my pleading mother and exhausted boyfriend and our first born child currently sitting comfortably in my womb, I decided it was time. I am hopeful, but not too hopeful. Depression is an all consuming presence and I don’t know if I will ever truly be rid of it, but I hope that with research and understanding and awareness there will be more help available and people will be more open to learn about it.
If you suffer, know that I stand with you and I understand your pain. I’m so sorry you feel that way. If you don’t, I hope this sheds a little light on how those of us who do suffer feel everyday. Next time you tell someone "it’s not that bad" or to "cheer up," consider what could really be going on.