I read, a couple of months ago, the views of a fellow ‘depression sufferer.’ She was going to be giving a talk locally about mental health, so I did a little bit of background reading before deciding on whether I would go along to listen. What I read, despite being supposedly the thoughts of somebody with depression, I found to be offensive and insulting. As well as completely wrong.
This person claimed that depression was not something that can strike anybody at anytime, but could be traced back to one moment. A moment of deep anguish, emotional trauma, a point at which life lost all meaning. I say “Bullshit!”
Let’s, for a moment, humour her. Let’s just assume that depression can be traced back to one defining moment. First, that moment has to be identified. So what moments in my life could have been responsible for my depression? The sudden loss of my best friend? The feeling once at university that I was out of my depth? Maybe it was just the constant bullying I suffered throughout my school years?
Nope, nope and nope. I can’t be sure exactly when my depression took a hold. I thought it was during my first year of university, but thinking back it was probably several years prior. But let’s continue entertaining this theory, and say that one of the three ’causes’ mentioned above was to blame for my depression.
Do I hold my best friend responsible for my years of pain and darkness? Am I really supposed to lay the blame at the feet of the first person I ever truly loved? Dishonour her memory and use her as an excuse for everything that goes wrong in my life? Not a chance.
So do I blame myself, for going to university when I was unsure if it was what I really wanted to do? Do I tell myself that it’s all my own fault? Definitely not; it would only make things worse.
That leaves the high school bullies; the people who went out of their way to make my life a misery. What, I’m meant to give them the satisfaction of having driven right to the brink and almost causing me to commit suicide? That is never going to happen.
Now, even if I can find it within myself to blame one of these things, why am I depressed and others who have been through so much worse not depressed? Am I weaker than they are? Am I incapable of handling stressful or upsetting situations? Am I so delicate and fragile that just the lightest tap can shatter my life apart?
No. I am none of these things. I am strong, and resilient, and not at all delicate.
You see, what this person was thinking of when she said depression can be traced back to one defining moment was not depression at all. She was thinking of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). Granted, there are many similarities with them, but they are not the same thing. And it is frighteningly ignorant of somebody who claims to suffer from one of these to not know the fucking difference.
Because depression is not caused by a single defining moment. It’s just something that happens. Like cancer. Cancer will strike any person at any time, not conforming to rhyme nor reason. There are factors that can increase the chances of it – hereditary conditions, smoking, radiation, asbestos, etc.. Depression isn’t caused by anything, but experiences or other conditions can ‘help’ it take hold.
When I was five years old I was hit by a van. My leg was broken – a nice, clean break of my shin bone. Here we have a cause and an effect: a five year old child being wiped out by a two-tonne van (the cause), and a broken leg (the effect). When I was seventeen I fell off a skateboard and fractured my wrist. When I get overly stressed I get eczema on my chest. My wisdom teeth are trying to grow sideways and sometimes cause me discomfort. We have causes, and we have effects; one thing directly responsible for the other.
But depression is not an effect. It just happens.