Warning, some readers may find this post triggering.
Hello. I’m Harvey. I have liver disease. I have Crohn’s Disease. I have Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. I also have Depression. Not a lot of people know that; that I have depression. They know about the other things. Because I tell them. If I’m out, and they see I’m not drinking alcohol, I tell them about my Liver Disease. If I am having a flare-up and am running off to the toilet every hour, I tell them about my Crohn’s Disease. If I go from crackerjack to walking dead in a matter of minutes, I tell them about the chronic fatigue.
Depression is never an easy conversation
Should they ask if there’s something wrong with me, and I mean really wrong with me, I just say I’m having a bad day. I do this because, for me, it just isn’t worth the hassle of explaining depression to someone who doesn’t have it. It isn’t just the physical reaction of them going “oh”, and then struggling to ask what they think is the right question, it is the emotional task of opening oneself up to the critique of someone who probably knows little about it; it’s never an easy conversation. This is perhaps the eternal plague of depression – it is so painful, so impossible to imagine and to explain, that anyone who doesn’t have it must, by default, be utterly unaware of what it is and, more succinctly, what it does to you.
Hello. I’m Harvey. And I’m having a bad day.
But I’m not really. I am having a terrible day. In fact I’m having a terrible week, a terrible month, a terrible year.
I don’t enjoy the idea that I am putting my difficulties onto the shoulders of others
See, that makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t it; hearing that my life is terrible. Given the option, you would choose against hearing it. Suddenly you have been burdened with information that cannot be unheard or miscommunicated. And you’ll never see me in the same way again. That’s why I don’t tell people I have depression. It is unfair on them. One person having a bad day is enough, even if the second was kind enough to ask. I don’t enjoy the idea that I am putting my difficulties (and such profound ones) onto the shoulders of others, in spite of the fact that they’re probably willing and able to take some of the weight off of my own.
Hi. I’m Harvey. I’m just having a really bad day.
Something unexplainable went wrong. Nobody should feel this alone. Nobody deserves this level of loss, this anguish, this unfaltering state of defeat, this spinelessness, this worry. This cocktail of misery that is force-fed to you by your brain, the very tool designed to keep you alive, and you drown in it very quickly, floundering in this ocean of agony, hands vainly grasping for the remaining shreds of your humanity that your mind contrives to keep out of reach.
People think depression is self-indulgence with a scary name
And they have the audacity to tell me that sometimes, everyone feels like I feel now. Nobody likes being alone, everyone has bad thoughts. Nobody thinks they’re perfect. Everyone wonders what it is like to be unloved.
And to them I wish I could say, “Not like this, they don’t. This is an infection". It tells me that there is no point in living. My day only truly begins when I am left alone with my thoughts. That’s when the battle starts. And it is one minor battle in a life-long war; a war that, if lost, will take from me my right to live.
But I keep quiet. I say something completely different, trivial or mundane.
Hi. I’m Harvey. Don’t worry about me. I’m just having a bad day.
I have spoken to friends (and family) who regard depression with scepticism and cynicism, who genuinely think that it is self-indulgence with a scary name. At first, I hate them for saying these things – they often don’t know they’re talking to someone who can vouch for its undoubted existence and its destructive power. Then I have to take a step back and realise that, to someone who doesn’t know… to someone who cannot know, sorry, it must very much seem like self-indulgence. The same can be said of other diseases that have not been diagnosed. Appendicitis can be described as ‘cramp’, migraine can start off as ‘headache’, even some cancers can make their presence known by causing its sufferer to vomit or fever, like any run of the mill ‘bug’.
The difference between depression (and many other mental health issues) and other ‘physical’ diseases is that people maintain their critical stance after a diagnosis has been made. For example, I doubt you would say, “Hey, have you tried, like… not having diabetes?” to someone who clearly has diabetes.
I don’t know why people persist in mythologizing depression as a simple sadness so, when people ask if I’m okay I just reply, giving them a safe answer to a safe question.
Hi. I’m Harvey. And I’m having a bad day.
All I need is for more people to ask
Here’s the thing, though. All I need is for more people to ask, and I’ll be more willing to tell. I think that a major issue with depression is that many people seem adamant that it either does not exist or they feel that it is acceptable to ignore. It is almost beyond taboo. It isn’t feared or spoken of in whispers, it is downright neglected. That’s scary, don’t you think? That people are taking their lives? As a last chance saloon to rid themselves of torment, people willingly kill themselves because, for them, it is easier than continuing to live. While people allow this ‘idea’ of depression to inform their opinions on it, as opposed to embracing the truth of it, this will keep on happening. But there is a simple solution: when you ask someone if they’re okay, mean it. This a situation that could so easily be countered by a caring friend or a culture that supports those experiencing mental health – we need people know it is okay to admit to having a problem and that will not happen while mass opinion dictates that mental health is simply a whinge that went too far.
Hi. I’m Harvey. And I’m having a bad day.
Consider this my personal plea. Don’t allow me to just say this and carry on with my day. I have depression. So do many other people. This is me begging you to do some research. Understand what I face every day. Tell others what you have learnt about depression. It all starts with everyone realising that this isn’t some game. This isn’t angst. This is very real and very dangerous. It’s crushing people, like me, who feel that they cannot speak to anyone about the difficulties they face on a daily basis.
You must understand. When I say “I’m having a bad day”, that’s not what I mean.
I’m keeping a last, secret bit to myself.
Because I’m terrified of how you’ll react.
Hi. I’m Harvey. I’m having a bad day. And I’m crying out for help.