I easily remember growing up with this idea that with mental health, you were either crazy or sane. Being mentally ill meant you were unable to function in our society and had to be shipped off to a psychiatric ward. Then, I educated myself, realized I suffered from depression and started treatment.
However, not everyone sets out to learn more about mental health. My depression is still misunderstood by some as a phase or an inability to be positive. However, it’s more than that, as I learned after 6 years of dealing with it.
It’s more than sadness.
Did you know that being depressed doesn’t mean I spend my day lying in bed, thinking about how much I hate my life? Associating a mental illness with “just being sad” minimizes it. Everyone gets sad once in a while, of course. However, being sad isn’t the same as having an illness that could possibly restrict you from leaving your house and lead to suicidal ideation.
It is not an attitude problem.
Over the years, my attempts to get help were mostly successful in receiving advice on how I could change my attitude. I just had to be positive, to stay hopeful and strong. I won’t deny that changing your thought patterns and behaviours can help you deal with it better. However, it is impossible to get better when your illness is reduced to a poor attitude.
You can’t look like an illness…
When a close friend of mine was going through a bout of depression, I told her I understood what she felt like since I was living it everyday. Her response? “You don’t look depressed.” I was offended at first but I knew she didn’t mean any harm. I didn’t look depressed because I couldn’t look like my illness. Even when I feel depressed, I can still laugh at jokes and focus on my work. Just because someone looks fine doesn’t mean they necessarily are.
…and your illness can’t have a specific look.
Forget what you see on television or the depression tag on Tumblr (you know, the one with all the black and white sentimental gifs). Depression isn’t only for teenage girls with pretty faces. It’s not for the grunge kids who smoke cigarettes while crying and spouting deep poetry either. Depression has no race, gender, age or social class. I once attended a mood disorder support group and the room was filled with men and women, old and young. They all had different jobs, different marital status and different backgrounds. The one thing everyone had in common was that they were affected by a mood disorder.
Once again, it’s more than sadness.
When I was younger, I didn’t think I was depressed because I wasn’t “experiencing feelings of sadness for more than two weeks.” I was still laughing and smiling, still going to school, but once I was alone I’d feel miserable. Sometimes, I wake up feeling numb and other times, I spend the whole day feeling frustrated. There has been times where I’ve just felt exhausted from troubled sleep or anxious about my future. Depression is a cocktail of emotions for me.
Depression is an awful feeling but it’s even worse when it feels like no one else gets it. The only way they can, however, is by informing themselves. I believe it’s important for those living with a mental illness to be able to be open about their experiences. That way others can base their perspective on mental illness on real stories instead of old stereotypes. And maybe some other kid will grow up knowing that mental health is more than being crazy or sane.
About Fatou Balde
Fatou Balde is a floater in life, currently dipping her toes in communications and psychology to see what she might pursue as a career. She’s been depressed since 12, and desperately trying to get better since 16.