What I Wish People Knew About Depression

It’s often hard for me to accept that not everyone in the world lives with depression. I ponder how there are people that consistently wake up each day ready to live, with joy in their hearts and energy in their veins. Why do I have to manage an illness that is unpredictable and exhausting? Why do I have to wake up on some days feeling empty and flat, unable to conjure up any emotions besides apathy and sadness? Why do I have to take medicine, keep up with therapy appointments, and spend time wondering if I can really make it through the day?

I wish the stigma and pain that come with depression were more understood by people who don’t have it. But this piece is not for them. This is for people going through the waves of an illness that is often hollowing, horrifying, and painful.

This is what I wish people with depression knew.

Radical Acceptance

I learned the concept of radical acceptance through my many years of treatment. Radical acceptance is based on the concept of accepting pain to free yourself from a suffering-focused response. It means telling yourself “it is what it is” and starting to believe it. There is nothing I can do to change my situation, but I can try to change how I respond to it. I learned this distress tolerance skill during the heaviest, hardest parts of my life, when things seemed so dark and hopeless. When my therapist first told me about it, my instinct was to scoff and resist embracing it. What do you mean I have to just accept this? Why can’t I change this?! I did not believe radical acceptance could possibly work in my head, so I continued to suffer through my episodes, screaming why, why, why? Trying to resist the depression and falling into a pool of suffering made me believe this was in my control and therefore made me feel worthless and a burden.

One day, however, radical acceptance clicked in my head. I thought, “Wait, why am I fighting this? Depression is something I will most likely live with for the rest of my life. It’s time to allow myself the freedom to not continue to fight against it and suffer.” Once I halted my willfulness and instead accepted, it was freeing.

On hard days, I still struggle to practice radical acceptance. The “why me” thoughts creep into my head, spiraling into guilt and shame. I don’t think a life without suffering is possible, but trying to accept my depression for what it is allows me to make room for self-compassion instead. Yes, today is hard, but what can I do to take care of myself right now? How can I reduce my symptoms in a healthy way that gives me the freedom to think beyond what I can’t control?

Facing Shame and Guilt

With depression, I frequently feel shame and guilt. I feel awful for canceling plans last minute when I don’t feel well. I feel guilty when I can’t complete basic tasks or am too tired to run errands. I feel ashamed that I can’t function like other people, like my best self, knowing I am usually an organized, bubbly, focused, and energetic person and hard worker when I am not in the midst of an episode.

I’m still working through my own shame and accepting that depression is out of my control. It’s a nonlinear line grappling with these feelings. But I want people with depression to know that it’s not their fault. Your character flaws as a result of your depression are not something you can control. What you do despite your depression is a strength. Continuing to live in a world that is not always kind or gentle is a strength. You are not lazy or selfish.

You are not a failure or a burden. You are not broken, you are whole.

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