I got to thinking about the effects of depression when I read this seriously troubling piece in The Journal, which stated that almost half of all Dubliners would have an issue working with someone suffering from mental health difficulties.
But surely… they’re not talking about me?
Of course, “mental health difficulties” is a pretty broad term – and I can kind of exclude myself from that damning result if I think things like, they’re probably referring to worse mental health problems than mine or, they don’t mean depressed people, they mean seriously ill people.
But I’ve been seriously ill with depression, which is a mental health problem, and so maybe they are referring to me, too. It’s kind of a hard pill to swallow.
The effects of depression do not affect others
Let’s get one thing straight: depressed people are not (necessarily) un-productive members of society. We’re not walking around, like zombies, crying and wishing we could get back under the duvet. We don’t suck energy from a room; we’re not positivity vampires. We’re not balls of negative energy waiting to smother anyone and everyone we encounter.
Having a mental health difficulty is pretty similar to having a physical health difficulty. By and large, mental health issues can be – and are – managed. They involve everyday management and maintenance and upkeep. Sometimes, that upkeep is in the form of medication; other times, it’s about therapy; in my case, it’s about both. Add in some exercise and attempts to eat healthily and avoid booze and listening to Niall Boylan, and you have a recipe for a pretty calm, tear-free life.
It’s good to talk – but it’d be better to listen
Despite the fact that we’re constantly told to talk about our feelings; despite the fact that we’re more open than ever about depression and anxiety and stress and all of those little side effects of having human brains; despite the fact that we all – each and every one of us – knows someone who suffers from mental health problems, we still hold on to a whole fucking shedload of misconceptions about what the effects of depression are.
So, in an attempt to blow those presumptions apart, here’s a list of things that I do on a daily basis that depressed people probably shouldn’t do, right? Because, y’know, they’re depressed.
In short: I’m depressed – but I still…
…get out of bed in the morning. I know this may be surprising to some of you (who read a lot but never talk to other human beings), but I have never stayed in bed all day with the duvet pulled over my head, despite my diagnosis.
…have sex. Pretty regularly. There have definitely been various times throughout my life where my sex drive has ebbed (and flowed), some of which I can put down to low mood, while others might have been the moon or, you know, the fact that I just don’t always want to have sex. But being depressed doesn’t always make you entirely disinterested in sex. FYI.
…laugh (and cry). One of the biggest misconceptions about anti-depressants is that they entirely numb your feelings. Can this happen? I am pretty sure it can. Does it happen everyone, with every medication? Certainly not. It’s definitely a surprise to some people when I reveal that I am still a very emotional person, capable of experiencing a whole spectrum – not just a bland feeling of “meh”. I regularly laugh my head off and I still cry at the cinema all the time.
…don’t cry in every therapy session. Therapy can be really tough – and it can be really rewarding – but it’s so far removed from the movies, it’s laughable. I sit in an armchair, for one, and while I have cried in my therapy sessions, I’ve also laughed and rolled my eyes – and my therapist has laughed too.
…feel strong. I think that sometimes we have a perception of depression sufferers as being weak when, in fact, the exact opposite is true. I suffer from this fucking horrific disease and, honestly? I feel pretty unlucky. This isn’t an easy hand to have been dealt in life. It makes every day that little bit harder than it has to be. But I think it makes me strong – stronger than a lot of other people who think depression is weakness. Because “strong is fighting. It’s hard and it’s painful, and it’s every day.”
…think pretty fucking highly of myself. Because I’m strong, sure, but also because I’m funny and I’m kind and I’m generous and I’m ambitious and I’m determined. And I’m depressed – but I am all of those other things in spite of my diagnosis.
I laugh and I cry and I thrive and I work and I sleep and I wake and I fuck and I move and I lift and I eat and I drink and I scream – and if any of that’s surprising to you then, really, all this time we’ve been learning to talk, you haven’t learned to listen.
If you find yourself suffering with your mental health, please, talk to someone. A friend, a family member, your GP – or an independent service like Aware or the Samaritans. And if the person you talk to doesn’t know what to say, find someone who does. (Trust me, they’re out there.)