What It Feels Like Living With Depression, The ‘Uncool’ Mental Illness.

October 9, 2019

Mental health isn’t a popularity contest. But if it was one, depression would be losing.

Scrolling through Instagram, you’d be forgiven for thinking women with anxiety and women with depression have nothing in common.

In real life, we know both mental illnesses are equally debilitating, and more often than not, come as a package deal. But from the outside looking in, society and social media paint a different picture.

For example: If the traditional stereotype of anxiety was a person, she’d be a busy young woman wearing an on-trend leopard slip skirt with a coffee in hand. A true perfectionist, she’s fast-moving and full of energy, and cares deeply about the things and people in her life. So much so, she might even stay up wide awake every night just thinking about them. Flaws aside, she’s cool.

Depression, on the other hand, would be an underachiever. She’s slow on the uptake and unreliable. She calls in sick and doesn’t care enough to get out of bed. She’s a downer. Lazy, even. But definitely not cool.

I know the latter well because I am her, and honestly, I do use these words (and worse) to describe myself at times. In the past when a down period would hit me out of the blue, I’d tell my boss I had the flu or a migraine rather than admit I was sad for no reason at all. Then, I’d spend the day criticizing myself for being a slob and not just getting on with it. For not being capable of putting on clothing and showing up.

Of course, ask anyone living with anxiety and they’ll tell you their mental illness is not cool. In fact, it’s the complete opposite. Anxiety doesn’t feel very cool in the midst of a panic attack or when you’re scared out of your own mind.

But what matters is what we can see, and from the image presented in our feeds, anxiety appears to be the cool mental illness. The mental illness for hardworking, successful people.

But depression? No one wants to have depression. That’s why no one’s talking about it and it feels like no one else in the world is going through depression, too. It’s why I often find myself asking: when will my mental illness come into fashion?

Right now, anxiety is the most common mental illness in Australia. Stats from Beyond Blue show one in three women will experience anxiety at some point in their life.

It’s also trendy.

That’s not to diminish the very real impact anxiety has on people’s lives, but with more people being ‘open’ about it on social media (or as open as one’s highlight reel gets), we’ve inadvertently glorified anxiety into something far lighter and more palatable than what it really looks and feels like for people in the thick of it.

Mental health isn’t a popularity contest. But if it was one, depression would be losing.

It’s ironic because, as psychologist and Head of Clinical at Lysn Tahnee Schulz explained, anxiety and depression are closely intertwined. They can also sit side by side.

“The outcomes of anxiety and depression are very similar, despite presenting differently. You can be paralysed by fear, but you can also be paralysed by depression,” Schulz told Mamamia.

“The chances of experiencing anxiety and depression comorbidly (together) is also incredibly high. Of the 20 per cent of people who will experience mental illness, around 11.5 per cent will experience one disorder and 8.5 per cent will experience two or more. The most common combination is depression and anxiety.”

But, if anxiety and depression are so closely linked, why are we only talking about one of them? Why aren’t we boasting about depression or dropping the D word into casual conversations?

Part of this comes down to how we use the actual words. While we’re less likely to say ‘I’m depressed’ when what we really mean is ‘I’m sad or bummed’, ‘I’m anxious’ is readily subbed into everyday life in place of ‘I’m stressed out’ or “I’m worried about this’.

Schulz added, “People will quite openly when they’re worried about something, when they’re being fastidious or thorough, say ‘I’ve got anxiety about this’. It’s positively promoting it as being an attractive trait. The subtext is: She’s very thorough. She worries about this, even when she’s at home, because she cares so much. She’s so particular and detail-oriented.

“The stigma of depression is different than that of other mental illnesses largely due to the negative nature we associate with it. We generally seem to view depression as being unattractive, unreliable, sloth-like, disconnected. The subtext behind the actions of someone living with depression is: She’s disconnected. She doesn’t care enough. She’s lazy. She’s not trying hard enough.

“Most damaging of all, depression is tied to suicide or a negative outcome and we’re not tying anxiety to the same consequences. Anxiety’s story is more empowering and we associate having anxiety with a sign of energy, whereas we associate having depression as a sign of weakness.”

Despite how common depression is, only half of people affected will seek help. It’s the stigma and shame of ‘being lazy’ and ‘not trying hard enough’ that keeps us from getting the help we need. And what kept me from asking for help.

For me, depression didn’t feel like a worthy enough reason for being a bad friend, a flaky employee and a selfish partner. If everyone else on Instagram can face the world, why couldn’t I?

When it comes down to it, mental illness is mental illness. One is no better or cooler than the other.

Just like a broken hand is no more serious or debilitating than a broken foot, anxiety and depression are different sides of the same all-consuming coin, more often working together than against each other. The only difference is – anxiety has a face we recognize. It’s time we put a face to depression, too.

Language also matters. We need to be thoughtful about how all of us, myself included, use it to describe what living with depression and anxiety is really like, warts and all. Being honest, really honest, about how we’re feeling, showing compassion for each other and encouraging people to seek treatment is the only way to make sure depression isn’t a long, dark night, but a fog that can and will lift.

Deep down, I still feel like my depression is daggy. Undesirable. Unattractive. It’s not something I announce with a sense of pride.

Hopefully, that will change.

Featured image via pexels.com. 


This article was republished with full permission from mamamia.com.au. You can read the original version, here.

If you liked this story, read more like it on mamamia.com.au:

“I Was Scared Of My Own Mind.” 7 Women Share What It’s Really Like To Live With Anxiety.
6 Women Share Exactly Why They “Broke Up” With Their Therapist.
‘I Don’t Cover Up The Scars From My Cancer. But I Felt Shame About My Mental Illness.’

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