I am blessed to have a relatively minor form of depression. I don’t miss school or work, I’ve never made a suicide attempt, and I can get through my life without stumbling too much. The increasing awareness of depression and the attempt to end the stigma around it are vitally important, but like many awareness-raising campaigns, they miss the nuances of the wide range of possible experiences.
Because I usually can function pretty normally, I try to be very open about having depression, to reduce stigma and let people ask questions if they have them. I typically receive very accepting responses—as long as I’m stating merely that I have it, or that I have had a hard week. Keep it abstract. “Oh, yes,” people say, nodding. “My cousin has depression, too.” And then we go about our conversation.
What people do not seem to be able to handle is anything explicit, anything specific to how I am feeling or my thought process. “I really hate my body right now and would like to cut pieces of it off if I didn’t know better enough to stop myself” is definitely not a sentiment most people would be comfortable hearing, I get it. But it leaves me in an awkward position. Because most of my depression manifests only in my head, there’s no proof that I have depression, so to speak. I could tell people my disordered thought processes, but that’s too upsetting for most people, even if I’m not currently upset about it. So, I end up saying I experience this difficulty, but only in vague ways that make it seem like I may be exaggerating a regular bad mood.
I don’t know that I can really ask people to listen to thoughts that are honestly pretty messed up. But never expressing them out loud, when I’m the kind of person who expresses everything else, makes me feel weird and secretive. Occasionally I can talk about it with another depressed person, and we share some morbid laughter over the weird things this disease does. But it’s not enough. I still feel like some kind of poser.
I don’t have a solution for this. No one likes talking about unpleasant things, and I doubt that will change. But I wish that I had an outlet for expressing my experiences. Those with more serious forms of the disease certainly deserve more attention, more funding, and more acceptance. I hope along the way, we can develop a method for having these conversations.