‘Depression’ is a term that gets bandied about all the time these days, usually by people who have no idea what they’re talking about. They seem to think that ‘depressed’ is just a synonym for ‘mildly upset’ or ‘slightly disappointed’, and apply it to everything from getting bad grades to watching The Notebook. Funnily enough, I used to be one of those people. And then I discovered what it really feels like.
Depression is not sadness. It is not grief, regret, distress, or displeasure. It is not an umbrella term for every negative human emotion. It is not really an emotion at all.
Depression is the absence of emotion. It is not a feeling, but rather the complete inability to feel. When you are depressed, you live in a drugged state of utter numbness. You exist for so long on autopilot that your limbs forget how to work on their own, and you care about almost nothing.
In comparison to depression, sadness is preferable. It is even enviable. Sadness may cut you to ribbons, but the pain is honest and clean and the wounds can be healed in time. Your heart may ache, but at least it can be reached. At least it beats. At least you are alive.
I am depressed. I can say that now and know what it means. I was trying to so hard to prepare for the future that I forgot about the life I’m supposed to be living right now. I’ve met deadlines, taken on part-time jobs, done volunteer work. But everywhere I turned, someone wanted something from me. Somewhere along the line, while I was handing out bits of my soul to those greedy outstretched hands, I discovered that there was nothing left over for the people who mattered: my son. My friends. Me.
Some people tell me, ‘You’re taking on too much; you need to learn when to say no.’ And then others tell me, ‘There are no jobs. Academic excellence is not enough. You need to have more experience.’ But getting experience means sacrificing more of my already tight schedule and coming home so mentally drained that I cannot cope with anything more taxing than staring vacantly at the wall.
The only time I can feel anything is when I am with my mother. Like any parent and child, we have our issues, but she is and always has been my best friend. She cares for me without mollycoddling and encourages me without pushing, and I am inspired by her even though she has no money and no career. My father once said to me, ‘All your mother ever wanted to be was a mother. She had no ambition.’ He meant it as an insult. I took at as praise.
I understood what he meant, though, because I had once thought the same. I used to wonder how she could have lived her entire life without ever wanting to be more than a shopkeeper or a waitress. Surely that was boring? Surely she felt cheated, unappreciated, unfulfilled? As I got older, however, I began to understand something: she may not have had a fat wage packet or a fancy car, and she may not have wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer or a teacher, but she loves and is loved more than anyone I have ever known. Her work – well, it paid the bills. But her life, her soul, her pride and joy, was her family. Her home. Her friends.
There is peace to be found in the simple things; I wish I had realised that sooner. I rejected a life like my mother’s because I wanted fortune and success. I pursued loftier goals – a first-class honours degree, a beautiful house, a highly paid job. And now I look around and know that I am halfway there. I am halfway to my dream of academic and financial achievement. It doesn’t matter that I no longer want it.
My grades are as high as they ever were, and my house is cluttered with objects that are as useless as they are expensive. I have two part-time jobs and a valuable work experience placement that will look great on my CV. I have everything I ever wanted. And do you know what I want to do with it?
Give. It. Back.