By Jonathan Decker, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist
THE WEIGHT OF DEPRESSION
Could you eat a bowl of cereal? Of course you can, it’s so easy! Now imagine that I’ve strapped heavy weights to your arms. Could you still do it? If the weight were heavy enough, how long would it take before your arms started shaking and you gave up in exhaustion?
In this scenario, no one would say that a person is weak because they can’t finish a bowl of cereal while weighed down, nor would they say that the cereal itself is the problem. Yet persons suffering from depression often belittle themselves because the simplest task seems insurmountable. They see themselves as pathetic, failing to accept that it’s the weight of depression, not the task itself, that they struggle with.
WHAT DEPRESSION IS
To be clear, when most people say “I feel depressed,” what they mean is that they feel sad, gloomy, and in a funk. That’s normal and is not to be confused with actual clinical depression, which is a whole other beast entirely. Persons with this diagnosis experience a host of symptoms, ranging from hopelessness to low self-worth, from suicidal thoughts to loss of interest in things they used to love, from having zero energy to utter despair and crying uncontrollably. With clinical depression, these symptoms occur to such a degree that they interfere with the person’s ability to live his or her life.
Contrary to the unfounded ideas of some, depression isn’t chosen, nor can it be overcome simply by “pulling oneself up by one’s bootstraps.” It can be crippling, figuratively speaking. Simple tasks like showering, preparing food, getting dressed, or even getting out of bed seem like mountains to climb.
HOW TO FIGHT IT
First of all, recognize that this is a very real burden and can only be fully understood by those who’ve experienced it. Its existence is not a sign of weakness or lack of willpower. Be supportive and understanding of those who are enduring this.
Secondly, keep trying. While there are many treatments for depression, the universal key is the sufferer’s unwillingness to give up. I tell my depressed clients “You can’t wait until you feel better to do things; you have to do things in order to feel better.”
The person who tries to eat the cereal while wearing arm-weights will find that, over time, their arms are grow stronger and the task gets easier. Similarly, the depressed individual who keeps trying will find, through much pain and effort, that it’s generally getting easier, bit by bit. Remember what Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do, not that the nature of the thing has changed, but that our power to do has increased.”
Thirdly, celebrate the large victories disguised as small ones. For someone weighed down with clinical depression, sometimes getting out of bed and taking a shower is a triumph. Instead of thinking “I can’t believe how hard that was for me. It’s so easy for others. I’m pathetic,” realize that those for whom it’s easy are eating cereal without arm-weights. Celebrate every difficult step you take, every task you accomplish when you don’t feel like you can, and let that motivate you to go further.
Persons suffering from depression can lead happy, fulfilling lives, but it will take their effort and our support.