Being depressed is something that can be hard to talk about. For a long time, for me, it was easier to open up about it by renaming it--melancholy. It made it seem lighter and easier on the palate. So instead of announcing that I can get so depressed and sad that I can't find the willpower to shower or vacuum or get out of bed, I would say that I'm prone to melancholy. It's a coping skill I created. A way to keep people from getting uncomfortable, without shutting them out completely from my reality.
But maybe I've also made it seem less serious by lightening it up for people. If you've never been depressed, you may think that my experience with depression is no big deal by the way I used to speak of it. Being prone to melancholy sounds like something a Victorian-era widow would do in her spare time. Not something someone who is having visions of jumping off bridges would be going through. I fear that I somehow supported the idea that depression can be made light of by softening the reality of my illness.
My personal experience of depression is cyclical. At one point I was diagnosed with SAD, seasonal affective disorder, and clinical depression. The fact that my nine to five used to be in a basement with little windows that had actual bars on them didn't help. During those basement days, to help with my mood I had a personal happy light for my cubicle. It was a natural way I battled my depression and felt like magic in the middle of a wet gray Portland winter so I frequently had it on.
As I sat in front of my happy light one day a co-worker walked by. His actual words were, "What?!? Is that a happy light? You don't need that. You're not depressed." He then chuckled at how clever he was. All I could get out of my mouth before he had walked away was, "I'm not?" First, I was shocked. Then, I was pissed. How did he know what I feel? Eventually, I was resolved. I was depressed. I did need my happy light. What made him feel like he could say otherwise.
When he walked back by, I spoke up. So many times I would've laughed along with him, making light of the fact that I have a happy light. Brushing it aside and just letting him think he'd brought levity to my situation. Because in reality, I know that is what he was trying to do. But instead, I stopped him on his way back by my cube. I told him that I didn't like that he had said those things. That I did need a happy light and I didn't appreciate the way he'd concluded that I didn't. He was, of course, a bit embarrassed and apologized and said it was meant to be a joke. But guess what? Depression isn't funny. It isn't a joke. According to the Census Bureau, 54% of Americans view depression as a personal weakness; 41% of women experiencing depression are too embarrassed to get help, and 15% of people with depression will commit suicide. Making a joke out of depression does not help.
Depression isn't funny. I don't think that calling depression by melancholy was necessarily bad. At the time it was a way for me to open up to people I wasn't very close to about my battle, a testing of the waters per se. Though in reality, many people have their own stories they're eager to quietly share when I do bring it up. Depression is still seen as a weakness and has stigma and shame attached to it, so many people choose to bury their experiences instead of sharing and supporting others whose lives have also been touched by the illness. The myriad of ways I choose to break down the walls of communication for myself are okay. But it's still nothing to laugh at.
I'm glad that I had the chance to tell my co-worker that I am depressed. He couldn't tell from the outside that I was suffering and didn't understand that I was hurting. But now he knows the truth, and that my truth and the truth of others that are coping with depression is nothing to joke about.
Are you dealing with suicidal thoughts or need help? Find help here or call 1-800-273-8255.