Is depression a mental illness? I’m going to explore that question in every way that I can; drawing from most of the experiences I’ve had in the past whenever I’ve encountered it.
For some, it is, for others, not so much.
To be clear, I’m on medication right now that if I stop taking it, I’ll more than likely become depressed. That doesn’t mean I’m unwell per se, only that I need to take it to stay well.
Let’s start with the clinical side, and then we’ll move onto the holistic side, and then we’ll look at ways I try and stave it off, or keep it at bay.
I was born with a condition that makes me more susceptible to anxiety and depression than most other people. I don’t think there’s a clinical diagnosis for it yet, and I’m not even sure if psychologists and psychiatrists fully understand — but the way my brain is wired it means I will react to certain situations in a different way than others will. I will take conflict harder and feel more anxious, and I will become unhappier when presented with uncomfortable circumstances, where most people would just plod on through. In my later life this has become regulated with anti-depressants and I can live like a general member of the public.
It’s taken me years to get my head around this because depression was such a multi-faceted thing for me. My social life was affecting me too. It was hard for me to understand that not only was I effected on a neurological level, but also my social circumstances and my upbringing would play into the whole scenario too, creating a two-way feed into my depression. The neurological side was creating a barrier to my social side which created a huge feedback loop of horribleness.
Think of it this way. As a young teenager, my general state of mind was on edge and depressed; my mind would shoot to the worst scenario of a situation I was in, skipping all other in-between outcomes and just went straight to the very last. This was the neurological part of my brain that had me doing this — which then had a negative effect on how I dealt with the situation. This created more social problems for me and through that, it fed back into the neurological part of my mind.
So the idea for me to be on anti-depressants was to cut that feedback loop off. If being on medication halted me from going any more anxious and depressed then this was a good thing.
But you see the damage had been done. When I finally got real help for my condition I was already deep down a rabbit hole of mind-fuckery and bad social circles that even although the feedback loop chord had been cut, I was still going to have to bring myself out of the situation that I was in, or I would continue to be depressed. The social side of my depression would still fill its boots. So I had to be brave and pull up my big boy pants. Of course, there was nothing wrong with staying as I was, but I was determined to heal and live a fulfilling life.
The situation I was in? Well. I didn’t have a job. I spent most days watching re-runs of Buffy the Vampire Slayer on my TV and whenever I was invited out to socialize it would normally end up in me getting sozzled, acting like an idiot, and then regretting it the very next day. In fact, getting sozzled and acting like an idiot was the very reason why I found myself alone with very few people that wanted to know me, with no job and no realistic outlook on life. I was a no-hoper at one point.
The process in full went something like this. I was depressed, so I would have a drink to cheer me up, then I would act like a complete idiot and lose friends, sometimes even get into fights. The next day I would hate myself, which would further regress me into depression. So, not only was I neurologically depressed, but this was directly influencing the outcomes of my social life. I felt numb.
To heal I had to repair burned bridges — often this would be a scene of me sitting there, feeling bad, apologizing for my dickheadedness. Occasionally, I would get a friend that would apologize to me, and say that they didn’t act appropriately themselves, and they could have done better. I kept those friends coincidentally. An apology to me was unexpected, but it went to show how well they valued me as a friend.
My anxiety had caused me to flee from conflict and difficult situations which had caused me not to progress in life. Never taking risks, always having to know the outcome before I dared do anything remotely different. The process of healing with my friends helped me understand that sometimes I just had to bite the bullet and be mature about life. Often there were no black and white situations and life looked more-so several shades of grey.
Accepting my parents for who they were was the next step. My parents have never understood me, I don’t think. I was always trying to change my dad because the way he was with me was questionable at best, but finally just accepting that he would always be the same no matter what helped a great deal in my recovery — trying to change the world was too hard. Change what I could and accept the rest. Move within the parameters of acceptance. I learned that my life was 10% circumstance and 90% the way I react to that circumstance.
Of course, stopping drinking was a no brainer. This was the catalyst to all of my problems at the time. Not the cause, but certainly something that was making it all worse. So I gave all that up. No drinking. It was hard at first, especially when all that I had learned through my life is that alcohol solves every problem there is. So stopping was hard, but I got there.
The next was probably the most pivotal change to my depression — and that was learning and achieving. Achieving is subjective. Everyone has different goals. Achieve what you want.
I’ve always wanted to achieve high standards — so I walked a slow process to that. Community awards, national awards — I was even at one point invited into the Political sphere to make a play for standing for my constituency but I declined because I knew that would take me away from my family. I’m a family guy at heart.
Anyone can get depressed, though. That’s the whole idea. You don’t have to be unlucky like me and have a chemical imbalance in the brain, it could be a whole onslaught trifecta of childhood issues, social issues and leading onto drug-use issues and then depression. You could have had a parent that continually told you that you were useless. Or, like me, you could have found yourself locked in a cycle of substance misuse and hating myself for it. The possibilities are many.
So it can be a bit of both, really. Sometimes it can be an illness (like I have), and other times it can be situational and related to your social situation. Nevertheless, there are many ways and means to stave off the depression, like therapy and trying to continually better yourself.
I hope this has been insightful. Thank you for reading!
Previously Published on The Relationship Blogger