No reason why

This conversation happened more than a year ago now and I’ve just remembered it this week. Something prompted me I guess; I’m not sure. I was just sitting eating my tangelo outside in the weather on my tea break and it popped into my head.

This person was very well meaning. I’ve stripped back the conversation to those parts that are relevant to the point I want to make, which is that there is a difference between being sad, and having a disease called depression. This person offered several lovely and kind offers of sympathy and best wishes, and in the end we understood each other perfectly well, which is a satisfying and lovely point to come to between two people.

I don’t bear them any ill will, either now or at the time. I just understood then and now that when they said these things, they were meaning well and just didn’t understand what depression was and how it worked. So I explained my point of view, they understood that and asked several questions to help them get the facts straight, and we parted better friends. I’ve given the pertinent parts of the conversation below. At no time do I intend to reveal the identity of my friend. Honestly, the reason this conversation stands out to me is less because of who it was that said it, than that it wasn’t the first or last time I’ve been asked about sadness, or the cause of my depression, or had interesting versions of depression presented to me.

This post is to add clarity to what is depression, what is sadness or grieving or emotion, and why the difference is of any interest to you and me.

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Person, via text: “Danika, why are you so sad? Are you ok?”

Me: Yes I’m okay. I’m not sad, I have anxiety disorder and manic depression, or bipolar disorder.

Person: “You have everything a girl could wish for! A job. A loving husband. A place of work. A faith and I’m sure you have friendships and family. You have more than most. You have more than me. I don’t quite understand the reason for your depression”.

Me: There is no reason!

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This post is about you. And me. And everyone we know. It’s about how we think about mental illness. I’m not going to even go into the issues of stigma, discrimination, fear etc. There are many places where you can read about that. I just want to talk about how you, and I, and the next person think about, and talk about mental illness. I’ll narrow it down even further to my area of “expertise” which is depression, and manic depression or bipolar.

No one has more right or claim than anyone else to suffer from the medical condition that is depression. Depression just occurs. Like coeliac disease, or asthma, or cancer. There are people that are predisposed by genes or environment but at the end of the day, stuff just happens! We all know this about medical disorders but we tend to think differently about mental illness.

The opposite is true also. No one has less claim than anyone else when it comes to what diseases they get lumped with; their environment may be better but maybe their genes are worse or there may be life events that induce so much stress that the disease pathway is triggered. We don’t have to and don’t want to be competing for who should and shouldn’t have depression. Let’s just take it at face value and focus our efforts on supporting and caring for our friends who have depression.

Depression is not choosing to be sad. Depression is not a choice, just like grief and sorrow are not choices. Depression is feeling sad, mostly without a cause, and being bewildered by how extremely awful you feel in a situation where 5 minutes ago you were fine.

Bad things, very bad things happen in people’s lives. And the badness that they bring causes great sadness, grief, stress, sorrow, pain, hurt. When the badness can’t be removed or goes on for a long time or is so very hurtful that a person is under constant stress, mental illness can follow including post traumatic stress syndrome, depression and anxiety. I don’t dismiss or belittle any of the emotions caused by bad events. Like I don’t belittle mental illness. People suffering from either need our kindness and sympathy.

But I do believe they are two different things. And I do believe that knowing they are separate things, and talking about them in different ways will help the people suffering to know that you are trying to understand, and help them. And this is an extremely valuable thing when you are suffering; knowing you have people on your side who are trying to help as much as they can.

As far as I can see, there’s a) direct pain and suffering from specific situations, then there’s b) random pain and suffering from mental illness. I seem to suffer from random pain, for whatever the “reason”; but of course randomness doesn’t have a reason, it’s random!

At all times I have been very well aware of how blessed I am in life. That makes suffering depression worse in my view. Not easier.

I used to run this checklist over and over to find a source of why I felt so awful and like life was unbearable: a fabulous supportive amazing husband, a really nice house that we used to live in and now rent out, a satisfying career that pays well, a rented apartment in a great part of the city much closer to our families. Our lives looked picture perfect from the outside.

But looks can deceiving. Many people didn’t know then that I was depressed, my husband included to an extent. I don’t know what your life is like right now. I can look and see, but what does that really tell me? You’re smiling, wearing nice clothes, visiting your folks for the weekend and playing happy families.

I know that I don’t know you, or what’s going on with you unless I ask. Unless we have a chat, a bit of a delve into the goings on in each others lives.

So I try not to judge from the outside; easier said than done! It’s just impossible to know what’s under the skin of a person. You can try to figure it out, but there’s only one tried and tested method. Just ask.

So why am I sad? Or why was I seen to be sad at that time?

No reason. Absolutely no reason.

No fight, no situation, no happening.

I was happy, contented in my married life, satisfied with my new job, safely housed, no stress, no worry, no issues.

Believe me I have scoured my life for something to show me why.

I had the lovely-turned-awful awful ex job, the horrid horrid ex-commute of my husband’s and his very unsatisfying ex job, and the commute of mine turned solo for the part year plus not seeing each other apart from after 8pm at night. Those had brought a lot of strain over a year couple of years, but we’d fixed it, it was better now!

We both changed jobs, we both moved closer to work and to family support, we were getting on famously and then this! Just out of the semi-blue and into my head.

Crying, anxious, panic attacks, tired, exhausted, famished. .. Just spent! Barely surviving, hardly keeping on going, struggling!

And why?

There is no why.

This is my favorite saying about depression. There is no why!

I was and am well aware that apart from my mental health, I lead a charmed life. I consider myself very lucky, very blessed.

But that don’t stop those tears a falling!!! Doesn’t stop the hurt, the pain, the anguish, the struggle with to-live-or-not-to-live. Although of course it’s not really living to live with full blown depression.

It’s like this: you’ve gone to the seaside for a weekend getaway. You look at the sea. You know logically from experience, from knowledge, by other ways that the sea is beautiful. You love the sea. It’s your favorite place to be.

But. You. Can’t. Feel. It!

You can’t feel it. You stare and look and look again. You touch it, you taste it, you smell it. Everything you do increases your certainty that you should love it, you should be happy here, you should enjoy this moment.

But you can’t.

You try to put yourself through the motions. You walk barefoot on the sand like you used to love to. You let the waves wash over your feet. You breathe deeply and take in the salty, seaweedy smell. Something inside of you should be rejoicing at this moment; thrilling, embracing it, loving it, loving life.

But it isn’t.

Why?

Because. There is no why. That’s depression, that mental illness.

Just like you can’t change your thyroid function, your heart beat or the pain in your toe by wishing it, you can’t will your mind to work differently. It will happen eventually. Medications, counselling, mindfulness, GP consultations, psychiatrist consultations in my case, and simply time.

But it can’t be rushed, it won’t be hastened, and then one day you will feel something more, a bit of excitement, some happiness, some joy and it will be amazing, and you will know you’re starting up the path to regular emotions and a regular life. What a moment!!

I should explain one more thing. Depression is a lack of feeling, feeling awful, pain and hurt. But not every minute of the day. Sometimes in a bad day there are still moments that remind you of your previous life, that just work, and feel good. These can help to disguise and abate some of the depression. But going back to depression feels a little worse after that.

I think this is what throws people off, including me at the start. Did you know that the night before I went to the emergency department because I thought I might die, I went with my husband to our good friends house for dinner and we laughed for 3 hours straight until my belly ached, my face muscles went into spasms and I was completely exhausted? In hindsight it is possible that I was on a high that night, but it’s still a point worth making, that depression doesn’t take up every minute of every day, but when you’re in it, it certainly feels that way because you can’t remember happiness or the good times. So if you can, remember the good times. Write them down on your wall, set up reminders in your phone; anything to remind you that it’s not all bad, and maybe that will help you get through to the day when some of your feeling comes back, and you can see the light!

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