When people hear the word “depression” or that someone is “depressed” a lot of different things come to mind. People make assumptions about what that experience is like and what that person is like. These assumptions usually come from negative stereotypes about mental illnesses, like depression. As a society we don’t really understand mental illness because we don’t talk about it in an authentic way.
I’ve struggled with depression since I was a teenager and in high school I didn’t want to tell anyone about my experience because I was worried they would think I was weak and I was just complaining. I felt embarrassed, ashamed, and guilty that I couldn’t “snap out of it” and that I was “ungrateful.” From a different vantage point my life looked wonderful. My family has always been super supportive, I had great friends, and I did well in school (which has always been a big priority for me). I hated that I was depressed despite having all of these blessings. Back then I really thought that I wasn’t strong enough to overcome my depression, that I was the problem, and that other people would judge me just as harshly as I judged myself. It was hard to ask for help, it was hard to be honest with my therapist, it was hard to hear a diagnosis, it was hard to take medication, and it was even harder still to accept that I had depression. I blamed myself and thought it was my fault that I couldn’t fight my depression and win once and for all.
However, through therapy I learned that one aspect of depression is that the illness makes you feel inadequate. Depression makes you feel worthless and ashamed of who you are – but depression is an illness, not a character flaw. I told myself for years that I should be stronger and I shouldn’t need medication to cure myself, but depression is a chronic illness that you can’t cure. You need to learn how to manage it, which includes asking for help and educating yourself about depression. Now I know that I am not my depression; depression is an illness. I realized that when I talk about my depression honestly other people really listen and so many people can relate to my experience. Living with depression doesn’t mean you are weak, ungrateful, or worthless, but pretending you don’t have depression and ignoring your pain doesn’t help. You can’t lead a healthy, happy life if you don’t manage your depression.
Ultimately the strongest people are those that are aware of their struggles and do their very best to challenge them every day. Don’t buy into stereotypes or assumptions about mental illness because you define yourself, your depression doesn’t.
Have you felt labeled before? How have you dealt with it?