Experts estimate that over 83 million people suffer from some form of diagnosable mental illness. Some generalize it as anxiety. Some generalize it as depression. Some generalize it as bulls**t. The media romanticizes suicide attempts and self-harm because they make a touching story about someone overcoming struggles by finding “the one” or through some feat of their own strength. But the very real truth is that these conditions are not fun. They are not sexy. They do not come with a tearful confession at just the right moment or a swell of dramatic music when you make a breakthrough. They wound those who have the resources and support to get through them, and they cripple or kill those who don’t. Many people don’t know what mental illness is, or what it looks like. So I guess I’ll have to try to explain it. Listen up.
Depression, despite what people may say, is an actual medical condition in which feelings of sadness, hopelessness, or disinterest in life persist for more than two weeks and interferes with daily activities like going to work or taking care of one’s family. A lot of people call themselves depressed to mean they’ve generally been feeling down. I’m one of them. 15.7 million adults are clinically depressed. I don’t know if I’m one of those.
A handful of online screenings say I may have mild depression. I agree, but my opinion doesn’t count for much when there are actual chemical imbalances in play (or not). It’s hard to tell if it’s something that needs to be treated clinically or something I just need to “get over.” I suppose it depends on who you ask.
Since I became single on January 3, 2014, I’ve spent nearly three years wallowing in self-hate, anger, sadness, and hopelessness. I spent the spring semester of my freshman year of college hidden away in my room, obsessing over why I would never find someone to love me. I chuckle at that sometimes because, while it certainly bothered me at the time, I would kill for that to be my biggest problem now.
I self-destruct the relationships I have allowed myself and withdraw myself from most people, believing that they are better off without me. At first, it was a conscious choice. I would ignore my feelings and keep myself from talking to people or asking people out to avoid getting hurt again. I ran myself down and normalized a negative self-image to explain why I was single.
Eventually, these thoughts and behaviors became subconscious. When people ask me why I don’t like myself, I can rattle off several reasons. But at the core, the idea of not liking myself is so normal at this point that I don’t even need an active reason. When I get close to someone, my feelings for them shut down as soon as we begin to talk about getting serious. What once was a choice to protect myself is now a self-sustaining trap that holds me in place.
I think about it every day. I obsess about it every day because I am past the point of hoping that someone will come along and sweep me off my feet and make it better. Even though the circumstances were handed to me, three years later I say that it’s my fault I still hold onto it. Maybe that’s true. More than anything else, it gives me the illusion of having the power to turn my life around.
A lot of people say that I need to take a step back and ask myself if my expectations are too high. It’s certainly a possibility that the kind of relationship I’m looking for just doesn’t exist. But to take the thing that I want most in my life and give up on it is something I just can’t do. For now.
My numerous therapists, counselors, friends, and family all seem to think that I’m not actually depressed. But this feels an awful lot like sadness that interferes with day to day activities and has certainly persisted for more than two weeks.