When most people hear the word “depression,” they equate it with sadness. If someone is depressed, the reasoning goes, they must be really sad all the time. The key, then, is to find out how to make the depressed person happy. Easy enough, right?
Well, not always.
Just type the words “I feel dead inside” into your search engine and see how many results come up. A great majority of people who experience depression report not being able to feel any emotion at all as being one of their primary symptoms. They don’t feel happy, but they don’t feel sad either. They aren’t at peace, but they can’t muster much anger about anything. They don’t feel emotional pain. They become numb to emotions.
People often wonder at the number of those among the depressed who also have various addictions. The practice of cutting is rarely understood. Researchers have often pointed out links between depression and high-risk behaviors. All of this would seem to run counter-productive to a depressive ever getting any better, since all of these behaviors usually result in making the sufferer feel guilty or ashamed and can even result in physical harm.
The obvious question, then, is, why?
There’s a line in the Nine Inch Nails song “Hurt” has a line in it I always found very poignant: “I hurt myself today to see if I still feel.” Sometimes the action is not intended to accomplish anything except producing a feeling of some sort. Any feeling, whether it’s pain or pleasure or a high of some kind or even some type of near-death experience. Someone with depression may make a decision that can only be described as stupid simply to experience a jolt in their emotions.
Of course, depression cannot be cited as a reason for every not-so-good decision in life. Every day, though, someone wakes up feeling absolutely numb to the world around them. Nothing brings them enjoyment. Nothing makes them grieve. Nothing makes them laugh. Nothing makes them cry. They desperately need something, but they don’t know what it is, so they fling themselves at anything they think might make them care again.
So for everyone who believes the key to conquering depression is to just figure out how to make everyone happy is missing the point. The solution is to make people excited to be alive again. To give them a purpose for getting out of bed every day. To replace whatever harmful behavior they are using to cope with something beneficial to them.
Sometimes it’s not just a matter of “taking a happy pill” and “turning that frown upside-down.” It’s about becoming a person again. There is no equation for that, and the journey will look different for everyone. Judgement will have to be replaced with mercy and understanding, because they are going to get it wrong along the way. The trick, though, won’t be to just keep going. It will be to just keep feeling.