Do you know what it feels like to be surrounded by people you love and who love you, in a great nightclub, with music and alcohol, but still feel nothing? When you can’t see the flashing lights, or can’t hear the blaring music? When everything is just…nothing?
No sense of joy, no sadness, no love, no guilt, no nothing. Just void.
Most people think that depression is being constantly sad. But it’s more like the feeling of nothing. Like your face was dipped into a bucket of ice and now you have to live with that feeling of numbness. When your favorite food tastes bland, the music you love sounds like radio silence, and doing anything, anything at all, feels like just too much work.
When I was just starting out as a psychologist interning at Sion Hospital, I was surrounded by people with various disorders. I knew all the symptoms, names, forms therapy, medication—you name it. I felt empathetic during therapy sessions with clients who were describing how they felt. But it was only when I suffered from depression myself that I realized what it actually was. Every description of it that I had ever heard or read was not appropriate enough for what that state actually felt like.
The worst part of this disorder isn’t the fact that you don’t want to eat or sleep or go out, it is the lack of an effective support system. A support system exists for people living with cancer, but not for those with depression, anxiety or any other mental illness.
Being a psychologist myself I was very concerned when it came to telling people about my depressive episode. I was afraid it would taint my reputation as a mental health professional. However, over time, it became increasingly difficult to have to deal with it myself. I opened up to my five closest friends. The so-called “advice” that I received was nothing I hadn’t heard before, but for the first time, they were being said to me and for me.
“I think you are overreacting”, “Just sleep it off”, “Even I’ve been through the same thing, but I just watched my favorite TV show and I was fine the next day”, “I cannot believe you are taking medication”, “What do you have to be sad about?! You have everything”. I could go on.
At first, I was extremely hurt and felt isolated. I stopped talking to or telling people, thinking that no one understands and there was no point in expressing how I feel.
An American politician and gay activist – Harvey Milk was once asked by a young queer boy, “How do I help the movement? What should I do?” and Mr. Milk simply said, “Go out and tell someone.”
Go out and tell someone – this somehow became my driving force, and therefore I did. I started out by telling people that I have depression and then eventually moved on to even tell them how they should respond to it. For example, extend your unconditional love and undying support even when you don’t understand what the other person is going through. Recognise the importance of believing your loved one when they say, “I don’t know why I am feeling this way”.
Generally, family and friends in lieu of ‘trying to help’ often do the opposite. Telling a depressed individual to be grateful, to think positively, to cheer up or to simply not pay attention to how they are feeling, are all the things that person doesn’t want to hear.
People suffering from depression reach out to their friends and family simply to have someone to hold their hand while entering therapy, or any other form of recovery. They are not expressing their feelings in order to get advice on it, or get your sympathy. It is more about getting the love and support so that they know this: “even though my family and friends may or may not understand what I am going through, they are still by my side because they still love me no matter what.”