“She looks fine to me,” another mom said. I was talking about someone whom we both knew suffers with severe depression.
“Depression looks like that sometimes. But it kills people,” I added. I watched the woman tilt her head. “What?” she asked.
“It's serious. It kills slowly sometimes,” I said. She stopped walking.
I wanted to say more, to remind her that depressed people may look "just fine" but depression once tried to take my "just fine-looking" son, tried to take me too once. Depression crept into my house, right in front of my loving family. It sauntered past the dogs, the cats, up the beautiful stairs of my home. It arrived maybe when I was sitting on a cute rocking chair, reading bedtime stories, watching my child. But I didn’t see it. I couldn’t catch the illness creeping into the mind of my "just fine" looking boy, stealing his love for riding a bike, kicking a ball— for living.
Depression knows how to act. It might dress-up, wear sneakers, wear designer clothes. It might not say much, might not hear advice, positive affirmations, and compliments.
Sometimes depression could flourish in the kid or the dad or the mom who acts organized, who dishes-out advice. A survey documented that 46 percent of psychologists actually suffer from depression.
“But they have doctors for depression. Good medications,” someone said to me once.
But treating depression has been described as "primitive guesswork" by experts. And some depression doesn’t respond at all to treatment. Plus sometimes people with depression resist or refuse treatment—because they’re so depressed.
Depression is tricky. Its victims could become complacent or angry, might lose jobs, friends, and marriages. Yet still some people with depression run countries, like Abraham Lincoln; make world changing discoveries, like Sir Isaac Newton; or write award winning series of novels like J.K. Rowling.
Depression is exhausting. It makes some people lose or gain weight. But some look fabulous while depressed, like L'Wren Scott or Kate Spade. And then they die.
Depression weighs a ton. It might make every-day tasks feel heavy and impossible, but on the other hand, Windham Churchhill, who suffered with severe depression, still managed to get the UK through World War II.
“Don’t get up, don’t go to school, to work, whatever. You aren’t needed,” depression says. The illness bends the truth, whispering that a child, a mom, a dad, a superstar clothing designer is bad, useless, foolish, failing, unpopular unlovable, should die. It repeats negative messages, but many people with depression still go to school, to work, to lunch with you even. People with depression sometimes act like they're in control, even when they're thinking about death.
Depression says “See, I knew you couldn’t do it.” It looks at a photo, looks in a mirror and depression hates. But people with depression smile sometimes like Gwenyth Paltrow or Jim Carey.
Though depression is an illness, “It’s your fault,” it lies to many of its victims.
Sometimes it disguises itself as a bad attitude.
“She shouldn't be depressed. Look at all she has,” someone says. But clinical depression can’t be fixed with money, gratitude lists or lectures. It finds its way into the brain and heart of strong, weak, rich or poor, successful or struggling, faithful, or faithless, thin, or overweight people. It can’t be thought away, advised away, shamed away.
Depression isn't the fault of the depressed.
Like cancer or another life threatening illness, depression needs us. It needs humble consideration, not minimization, shame or stigma. It needs us to ask questions, to validate an individual's struggle, to recognize that the brain is linked to the heart, to the human, to you and me.
Depression needs a knock on the door, a listener, a phone call, a lunch, a flower, a hug.
Depression needs simple questions like, “How are you feeling— really?” It needs you and I to stop backing away, but instead to remember the mom or dad or coworker who hasn’t been around lately, who stands too often in the shadow, talking about the negative.
“But she never returns my calls,” someone says.
Depression might seem snotty, stubborn, mean, and, well— downright depressing sometimes.
But depression is an illness that kills. It isn't "just fine."