For as long as I can remember, I’ve either suffered from depression or depression-like symptoms. When I was ten years old, I started self-harming, first by digging my nails into my hands, then later by carving scars into my arm. When I was thirteen, I spent a lot of my time thinking about killing myself. When I was eighteen, I felt essentially empty, emotionless, just a shell of a person that walked and talked but didn’t actually resemble an actual human being.
But like a lot of people with depression (or any mental illness, for that matter), I told myself that I couldn’t have been depressed, that depression looked entirely different from what I was experiencing. Depression was something you had to earn a right to through hardship much worse than anything I had ever faced, whereas I was just wrong. I was just off.
Even today, four years after I admitted to myself that I have depression, I still get that feeling from time to time. After reading an article written by a woman who overcame depression after years of childhood sexual abuse and being taken into foster care at the age of ten, my first thought was, “how can I claim to have depression when I haven’t experienced half of what she has?”
And then later that same day, I was talking to someone about their own experiences with depression, and they prefaced their perspective by saying, “I haven’t experienced anything close to the depression that you have, but…” They then went on to explain that when they were depressed, they would simply go back to bed after completing all of the errands that they had no choice but to run, seeing no point in being awake after that – something which I personally never experienced. My anxiety always kept me from going back to bed, even if I wanted to, because no matter how pointless I saw everything, I needed to keep going lest I make myself feel even worse. Whether you see that as a positive or negative is up to you, but it isn’t really the point – my point is that our experiences were different. And from my perspective, I have a very hard time seeing my depression as worse than another person’s because I clawed up my arms instead of going back to bed and giving up on the day.
But I think that that’s a common issue that many people with mental illnesses experience – the belief that your mental illness isn’t enough, that your reason for having it isn’t enough. After all, there’s always going to be someone out there who had it worse than you. No matter what you experienced, no matter what you went through, there’s always going to be someone who went through more.
And perhaps part of the reason for this is that mental illnesses like depression manifest themselves in different ways. Some people have an easier time hiding it than others. Some people cope with it one way, some another. And for those people who have an easier time hiding it, they’re constantly going to be looking at someone who has a harder time hiding it and wondering, “what right do I have to be depressed? At least I’m not like that!” But it really isn’t about that. It’s the same illness, just two different ways of dealing with it.
And perhaps another reason for this is the fact that it is a relatively common response to someone who has depression to ask, “why do you have depression? You have so much to be happy about!” This response is something that many of us have heard, but it comes from a place of misunderstanding what depression is. Depression is a mental illness. It is a disease of the mind, just as serious and crippling as any physical illness but invisible, more complex. Yes, depression can be set off by some occurrence in your life, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be.
And besides, if you have depression or depression-like symptoms, then you are not wrong. You are not simply off. The way you feel is valid, and it matters, and your reason for feeling that way, whatever it might be, is enough.
And why am I emphasizing this so much? Because it is important to recognize your own depression and to know that it is valid, because that is the only way that you are going to be able to reach out to get help.
As I mentioned, I have experienced depression or depression-like symptoms for as long as I remembered, but until I was able to recognize that that was what I had, that I was not simply ‘off’, I wasn’t able to reach out and ask for help, because I didn’t know how to vocalize it. And once I did know how to vocalize it, I was able to learn about it and find ways to cope with it. Only once I could talk about it without minimizing my perspective was I able to began the healing process.
And when it really comes down to it, pain is not a competition. It is important to help out and sympathize with people who have experienced worse than you have, of course, but the way that you feel is not invalid because someone else has felt worse. I mean, think about it in terms of physical health: why would you minimize and refuse to get help for a broken leg just because someone else had their leg amputated?
So let me leave you with these words: the way you feel is valid. Your reasons for feeling it are enough. And most importantly, you deserve to be happy and healthy and loved because you are an incredible, worthwhile person.