What Depression Really Means

A depressive shares about her depression, in the hope that people will realise what “depression” really means. The writer wants to reach out to anyone currently facing depression or other mental illnesses such as anxiety and bipolar disorder. You can reach her at [email protected].

The thought of writing this article came about when I heard the news that the Chilean president candidate had to pull out from the race because it emerged he was suffering from depression.

It made me sad and angry because it showed that the world still largely did not understand what depression really is, what it means and what it connotes. I suppose it’s partly because people use the word so interchangeably. I am “depressed” because Manchester United lost the match last night. I am “depressed” that my crush does not like me back. I am “depressed” because I did badly in that job interview.

Sure, there are different degrees of depression. Some short term and some long term. But because of this loosely-used word and the lack of distinction, real clinical depression sufferers get pooled in with the lot and we end up being branded as negative whiney pessimistic, mopey, lazy people, when really what we go through happens to be a real challenging debilitating fully exhausting medical physical condition, as much as it is lumped in with a mental one. It is definitely far from what most in society deem depression to be.

And so here I am writing this article, speaking out for us, the depressives. This, so that people can understand us and view us better. I am writing this so that, if you are suffering from depression as well, you can know that you are not alone, and I can tell you it is alright, it is not your fault you are like that and you don’t have to be ashamed of yourself.

The shame that we depressives have to put up with is debilitating. Most of us never ever for a second thought that we would end being in this side of the spectrum. In fact, I used to be one of those that rolled my eyes and looked down on people going through depression, branding them as people who only knew how to look at the glass half-empty, who were whiney and pessimistic and exhausting to be around with.

Why couldn’t they just get their act together? How hard could it be? To just tell yourself something positive and snap yourself out of it?

That was until 3 years ago, when I slipped into depression myself. Trying to finish a crazy Master’s degree and a very bad and messy breakup in addition to a physical ailment I suffered just made me crash. Crash and burn I did.

I used to be the kind of person that people viewed as strong. I used to think I could withstand anything. But I guess my brain chemicals didn’t.

See, what most people do not realize, (and even depressives themselves) is that depression is as much as a physical illness as much as it is a mental one. You get cancer when for some reason your cells decide to divide and grow uncontrollably. You get Parkinson’s disease when dopamine-generating cells in your brains somehow die. Likewise, you will develop depression when your brain chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine dip to low levels. These chemicals are anti-stressors or play a big role in motivation and reward systems. Without them, you get frenzied, you are demotivated, and nothing you do rewards you with a sense of achievement or pleasure.

And that’s why some people are more susceptible to depression than others. Just like some people are more prone to cancer than others,  when their body may not produce as much chemicals as others would given the same stressors. The funny thing is, does society look down on cancer sufferers? Or people with disease? Yet, when it comes to those with clinical depression, we get looked down upon and stigmatized. Why? People understand that cancer sufferers’ bodies may be more susceptible to cancerous growth. But they don’t view them any weaker as a person. It should be the same as someone facing a serious mental illness, they shouldn’t be blamed for bringing upon the disease upon themselves when the underlying cause is just as much a physical one.

Yet, people undergoing depression constantly get judged for bringing this whole episode upon themselves. Most of the time, depressives — who are their own harshest critics — do so themselves too. This is mainly due to the lack of awareness that depression really is a physical illness caused by the physical makeup and structure of our brains in its capacity to produce brain chemicals. The same chemicals that are anti-stressing, what keeps you going and motivated while rewarding you with a sense of pleasure from what you do.

In my worst bout of depression, I couldn’t get out of bed. Because of the lack of brain chemicals, simple things get really hard. Like just brushing my teeth. It would be World War 3 in my brains just trying to fight and rally myself to get up and brush my teeth. Imagine the thing you dread doing most in your life. Take that dread and put it to something as simple as getting out of bed to take a shower. That’s what a depressive feels.

Things that gave us pleasure, would seem void and empty. The chemicals that help us see the world with novelty, being dipped low means that we see the world in a very mundane gloomy and empty way. And no matter how we tell ourselves otherwise and try to cheer and rally ourselves otherwise, it doesn’t just happen. Then we get upset at ourselves and beat ourselves up further for not being normal. We yearn to be normal. Everything about life fills us with dread.

And doing things can be hard. Getting things done is hard. Every day, you are battling the self who just wants to die and stay in bed to get up and continue to carry on doing things that keep you alive but which gives you no pleasure and no joy at all. But reading more about other people who have gone through depression has strengthened me so much. Ian Thorpe was one of them. At age 24 at the peak of his swimming career, he retired. It was only end of last year that he decided to reveal it was because of the clinical depression he went through. A BBC interviewer asked him if he regretted it, because he could have achieved way more had he stayed on. He didn’t, he said. He knew it was the right choice.

And you know what? As a fellow depressive, I can understand his choice. Others would think that he lost out on the opportunity to fulfill his fullest potential. But would you say to an athlete who injured himself physically that he should have just gone right back in and carried on, otherwise he would have missed out on his fullest potential? You wouldn’t. You would understand that the athlete would need to recover. And for an athlete with mental illness, that’s just as much the case.

Do I believe I will fully recover from this? I don’t know. Some people who go through illnesses recover and some just never do. But it doesn’t mean they don’t try getting better.  But going through depression has thought me so much. To take each moment as it comes, to put one foot right in front of the other to keep myself going forward even though it feels so much better to just crumble and fall apart.

I will keep reminding myself — I am not what I have done, but I am what I have overcome.

The writer wants to reach out to anyone currently facing depression or other mental illnesses such as anxiety and bipolar disorder. You can reach her at [email protected].


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Posts by Syazwina Saw

Posted on 1 November 2013. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0.

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2 Responses to What Depression Really Means

  1. Depression is peculiar,as well,in light of the fact that it's such a sharp hit to the senses.It's similar to nothing else you've ever felt, and it's hard to accept when it strikes that humanity hasn't discovered a superior approach to articulate something as agonizing.You may utilize "depressed" day-to-day,however trust me,you're really clueless about its meaning until the unhappiness plunges upon you.

    -Amy Pearson.

  2. Ranu T

    Nice post.