What is depression?

My mum said something interesting to me last week. She was talking to one of her friends who referred to someone as depressed, and it made my mum mad.

Why would such an innocuous statement make my mother upset? I knew right away. It’s because to my mum, all depression looks like my depression. To mum, depression looks like your child wanting to die, trying to figure out if living is worth the pain she’s suffering.

There are people who seem to have tidy depression incidents. I envy these people. When I suffer from depression, it is a long, slow slide into misery and despair. Though I never act on it, I know it’s bad when I acknowledge to myself that I’d rather not be around. As a good depressive, I have a plan, though I’m quite sure I’d never actually follow through.

Also as a good depressive, I know that when I hit that point it’s a sign that I need to fight. I’ve been down this road a few times now (four, by my best guess), and I know what to do: engage friends, be social, commit to physical activity, participate in things you love to do with quick results, get my meds revised/upgraded/changed. These things make sure I remain here and present, instead of giving up and crawling into bed and never getting out.

The picture in this post is me, depressed, about to hit the bottom, but fighting. I did a shitload of knitting (a new activity with lots of quick results), and this is a photo I took of me working on something I was going to give to my Mum in December. See how that works? I’m going to make something, but I’m not giving it away for 5 months so I’ll be here for that, because I want to see how happy it makes Mum.

Depression is a battle that never really goes away. Even when it’s gone for a while, you remember it (though you sometimes forget how much it sucked). It’s harder for the people who know how much you’re hurting inside, the ones you turn to for help (an incredibly difficult thing to do).

I think depression is hardest for those who haven’t truly known anyone who has been at the bottom. It’s hard when you want your friend/lover/child/parent to just snap out of it. Their depression is boring, and your inability to help is frustrating.

You are helping. Even if it feels like you say the same things over and over again, or if you can’t say anything right, you are helping. Even if you think your friend/partner/child/parent is the most boring person alive because they never get out of bed/leave the house/DO anything, you are helping. You’re helping because you provide a connection to life, and you force that person to be present in this life. Your attention provides a reason to stay alive.

I wish that I was a person for whom depression was me feeling a little off, a little disconnected from life. I wish that I could have been that person that my Mum was irritated by. But that is not my type of depression.

On Tuesday, Bell Canada is going to donate money from every phone call and text made on their network in Canada to mental health charities and organizations. They’ve got a great ad campaign going to get people to talk about mental illness, or mental health.

If you’re not a Bell client (like myself), can I encourage you to participate in the dialogue about mental health? I think it’s a good week to think about recent proposals around mental illness and the legal system. I think it’s a great week to think about your workplace and how it supports people struggling with mental health issues, and how you can work to make it more supportive. I think it’s beyond time we started talking to provincial legislators about why mental health care is largely outside the provincial health system, limiting care to those with the funds to buy it.

For those of you with people in your lives who suffer from a mental illness, I encourage you to have patience. Love your friend/lover/child/parent. Be their connection to life.

For those of you who feel like your heart is being ripped out of your chest with every breath, and who wonder if anything is worth it, I want you to know that there are lots of people out there who understand, more who love you, and even more who would really miss you if you weren’t here. Stay and fight. And talk. And love. And live.

That’s what depression is to me. What is it to you?