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What Real Depression Is
Friday, October 12, 2012
Lots of people come to group because they are suffering from depression... or they believe they are. I say "or they believe they are" because a lot of people who come to group for depression don't have depression--even though they are diagnosed with it and medicated for it. These people are clearly depressed, but being depressed is not the same as having the mental illness that is depression. Everybody gets depressed at some point in their lives. But the ones who believe they have depression when they don't are people who simply hate their lives. But hating your life is not depression--although it can certainly make you depressed.

Now that I've been leading a support group for years, it's become pretty easy to figure out who has true depression and who is just depressed because they hate their lives. You'd think you could figure this out by paying close attention to those people who just go on and on about what's wrong in their lives... about all they things they're lacking. But that's not how you figure it out. You figure out who has the *mental illness that is depression* because these people are very aware of every great thing they have in their lives, but they still feel like shit. That's how I can tell they have a mental illness, because a rational person with a lot of great things in their life should be a fairly happy person. Yet those with the mental illness that is depression aren't thinking rationally, because a mental illness makes you irrational.

What's more--all the great things these people who suffer from true depression have only make them feel even worse. They feel so bad because they are aware, to a certain extent, that they are lucky and that makes them feel kind of spoiled. They turn on the news in the morning and see what true suffering is--people who are far worse off than they will ever be. This makes someone with true depression even more depressed.

But there is hope for someone with true depression, as hopeless as things might seem. I'm writing this blog for those people. Personally, I believe that there is more hope for people with true depression than there is for the sad sac who just hates his life. There are three big reasons I believe this.

First, if you can identify the great things you have in your life, you've got an edge on the guy who hates his life--because you don't really hate your life, you just have a mental illness. When you start beating your mental illness, all the great things you have that have been making you feel kind of spoiled will be there to cheer you up... those great things are just waiting for you to take advantage of them once you finally get your illness under control. Those things will be your reward for getting through your illness. For someone who just hates his life, there is no such reward waiting for him.. Even when you're at your lowest, you know you have things you're lucky you have--something like a great family or a job you used to love before your illness came into the picture--and when you overcome your true depression, you'll love that job again. Early on in my recovery, I hated writing because I couldn't do it as easily anymore. But once I started getting through my illness, writing was fun again and I love it now more than ever (and I'm better at it now more than ever)...

Second, there is medication to help with depression. Medication doesn't do much to help the person who hates his life, because that person is unable to help himself.

Third, I have found that almost every person who has recovered (or is in the process of recovery) comes out of their depression as a better person. These people typically become far more empathetic than the average person. The capacity for true empathy is one of the greatest character traits one can have, but it's also one of the hardest to attain. Empathetic people know what it's like to be low, and they know how lucky they are to have the things they do. They can inspire those who need inspiration more than anything. In life, you don't come across all that many people who are truly empathetic--but if go to a good support group, you'll find that the majority of the people in the room are.

Now let me say--if you don't have anything good in your life, it doesn't necessarily mean you're someone who just hates his life and doesn't have the mental illness of depression, like I talked about above. But I choose to believe that nobody has nothing good in their lives--they just don't *think* they have anything good in their lives... they just *think* they've got nothing going for them. The truth is, everyone does. Let's say you're so depressed that you take hour long showers (I've been there). Well, there are lots of places in the world where people drink out of the same small water hole they go the bathroom in. So that makes you lucky to have that running water.

Some depressed people know what they're lucky to have and while some people with depression have to put in a lot of effort to see what they're lucky to have. But I've got to believe that everyone is lucky to have at least a few things in their lives--they just don't realize it or can't see it at first. Many people live in poverty on a level we can't fathom because we never have to see it. (I did, though--I spent all four years of high school living in the country of Mexico). But even the poorest of the poor can have families, and can be happy because their family gives them more joy than poverty gives them pain.

At group this week, a guy who has suffered from depression brought up something that boosted his self esteem and self respect. He asked the people close to him to write a letter about what they liked or appreciated about him. He told the group that those letters played a huge role in turning his life around and overcoming his depression.

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