What is depression?

If mood disorders had PR agents then depression needs to fire theirs. Popular media and even commercials for medications that treat depression seem to stick to the stereotyped version that’s been touted for years. You know the type: a person with a rain cloud over them, someone sleeping in bed all day with the lights out, another person wearing baggy black clothing and pulling shades closed to a sunny day outside like they’re nosferatu.

While at times depression CAN feel like this – it does a disservice to the complex ways this set of emotional struggles affects people. What about irritability and anger? What about forgetfulness? What about anxiety? These also come with depression but are seldom talked about. Instead it’s easier to picture Eyore and be done with it.

But depression comes in all shapes and sizes. Often times it comes with a pinch of anxiety too that leads to a painful loop of being anxious about your depression, then getting depressed because you’re anxious. A merry-go-round ride you never asked to be on…

Clinical depression may be situational as when a traumatic life event occurs, or it may be biological. We don’t only get our hair, skin color and body type from our parents – we get their emotional makeup too – thanks, mom and dad!

Biological explanations usually go something like: depression is not your ‘fault’ but is just a chemical imbalance in your brain that causes a mismatch in the feel good hormones vs. the not-so-feel good hormones which makes it harder to feel happy. This, clearly, is paraphrased.

While scientifically speaking this is mostly true, and people mean well to get you to see it’s not your ‘fault’ – it still can leave one to feel like “Oh, well then I’m just messed up then.” That’s not a great feeling either… The flaws in this explanation are evident.

There’s a better way, I think, to understand this complex disease. If you think about it, we are all, every one of us, endowed with a certain chemical makeup. Mine, to be brief, makes me brunette, with curly hair, dark skin and sensitive to dairy. In order to cope with my dairy sensitivity, I have to avoid milk and cheese. If I don’t – I will pay in some not so nice ways. So, to make my life easier I manage my diet to avoid pain and discomfort. I also have predispositions to anxiety and stress due to long histories of PTSD in my family from war-torn countries, discrimination, and the struggles of my immigrant father and grandparents. What this means is that I need to manage my behaviors to monitor the stressors in my life and take appropriate actions and steps to manage anxiety in my own life. That is my lot, we all have one.

When it comes to depression, regardless if it is genetic chemicals driving the moods or traumatic experiences – that is your lot, again, we all have one. But there are ways to manage. If you have diabetes, you manage the disease through diet, medication, and not eating a bowl of sugar for lunch. If you have an allergy to bees, you most likely are not a professional beekeeper. If you have depression, you should be educating yourself on the disease, on your makeup, and how to prepare yourself in the best ways to manage.

Having depression does not mean you are broken or flawed. You do however have a tough journey and in no way is it your fault, but with professional help you can start your educational journey to lead you to better techniques for more control over the beautiful life that you have been given.