People dealing with depression live in a dark abyss. Much of the advice they get from friends, family, and others in their lives is cringe worthy. It can lead them to feeling more hopeless than they already do. This advice is usually along the lines of “You’ve got to buck up” or “Things really aren’t that bad.”
Actually for a person who is depressed things are that bad, and most would give anything to buck up or see the bright side of things if they could. The problem with this sort of advice is that you are expected to move directly from the start of the race to the finish line without doing any of the running in between. If you are depressed it’s for a reason. Solving your depression is not as simple as flipping a light switch or taking a pill.
Think of a mythical kingdom under the sea. Imagine being pulled underwater by a bunch of people who look and talk exactly like you except they have gills behind their ears. They look at you with genuine curiosity as you start to struggle for air. Confused, they ask you “Why don’t you just breathe?” You angrily think to yourself in a panic as your eyes bulge “If I could I would!”
Sometimes adjusting to environmental conditions is impossible because they don’t fit your nature. Imagine that the underwater folk realize your plight and decide to get you a bunch of scuba gear so that you can live in their kingdom with them. At this point you have woken up from a coma because you were underwater so long. You remember nothing about your life above the sea. You will always be considered the outcast freak who for some reason cannot breathe on his own, and your quality of life will be pretty bad. You will feel like you have a disability. You will survive, but you won’t really live.
What if all of a sudden your memory came back and you remembered there were people living directly above you on dry land who breathe air just like you? You change your environmental conditions, the way you relate to the world, and you don’t feel like a freak anymore. You feel like yourself. You take a deep breath of the fresh mountain air and yell at the top of your lungs “This is living!”
People who are depressed are trying to breathe underwater. Depression is a strong signal that your lifestyle does not fit you. It’s the most visible symptom of the unconscious internal conflict between what you want for yourself and what society says is best for you. What’s really depressing is that most people do not realize it and keep trying to figure out a way to breathe underwater. They don’t try to change any of their actual conditions; they just want their depression to go away. Taking medication is a lot like using scuba gear. It might help you breathe but it will do nothing to change the fact that you are still in the wrong environment.
Instead of hitting your head against the wall trying to ‘buck up’ or wondering what’s wrong with you, realize instead that our style of living in the West is only one of infinite ways that people have lived throughout time. It’s egocentric to blindly assume that our way is the best way. In a sense your depression is a gift if you choose to unwrap it because you will have the opportunity to learn who you truly are and with that knowledge know what you need to do to self-actualize and find a more fulfilling style of living.