Just smile

A personal account of affairs surrounding depression and anxiety

Those words are given and heard by many people every day, whether online or in real life. This is a side effect of the stigma and the lack of a common understanding surrounding depression. People think depression is just a state of being, such as sad or happy, and that it can be cured with just standard cheer-up methods. While depression can make you more sad more often, it is not the same thing as just being sad.

There is a common misunderstanding that you are only depressed if you are sad all the time, stop doing what you love and stop talking to friends or end relationships. This is simply not the case. Depression, like I mentioned, affects everyone differently and that makes it impossible to say “depression will change your behaviors in these ways.” What depression does do is affect thought processes, which is often a far less noticeable effect and generally leads to the commonly recognized side effects. 

To explain more (and this may point to some trauma), I didn’t cry for six years because it just never felt like something I needed to do. Once the depression set in, let’s just say the tears became a little bit more easy flowing. For instance, a couple of days ago I was close to tears because I wanted a sandwich, and the closest place was closed. I then actually cried because my sweater shrunk in the wash. 

I think one of the big problems is that when someone like me, a guy, says that he cries, it is immediately seen as making him weak and lesser. This is a dangerous mindset and one of the most common stigmas in modern society, that crying is for girls. This causes men to close themselves off, often not seeking the help they need. 

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, white males accounted for almost 70 percent of suicides last year out of the 47,173 total in America alone. This cannot be ended completely, but it can be cut down. I won’t just say “just get rid of the stigmas” because I recognize that humans are stubborn. A better way to approach it is to make the people who fight the stigmas louder. 

A problem that can halt this, though, is my good old friend anxiety. Anxiety has a way of making everything feel like its a life or death decision. And sometimes this is quite literal. When I was younger I never took the top cup from a stack because I just always assumed someone had poisoned it trying to kill me. I was seven. 

Anxiety doesn’t always manifest like that though. It can just make everything feel like you’re making the wrong decision. For instance, I often won’t talk to people, even ones I know, because I can always assume that I’m going to interrupt them. You can’t cause an inconvenience if you don’t cause anything at all. This is like matches and gasoline when mixed with depression.

You want to reach out to people to avoid feeling alone, but you are afraid if you bother them they’ll become annoyed with you and stop talking to you completely. This causes many to suffer alone.

This is also not aided by another common symptom of depression which is a loss of motivation. “Why would I try to succeed if nothing matters?” Because you’re wrong is the simple answer. I have a thought similar to this rather often, but the only way to get through it is to come to terms with your depression and recognize how it affects mental processes such as that one.

This can cause people to not reach out when they should/need to because it’s just easier not to. Being aware of this feeling is one of the greatest ways to personally combat it. Of course, like any disorder, depression should not be fought alone. Loneliness can only end with others.

I don’t mean to say that you should just randomly force contact onto people who you think may be suffering. This can cause a feeling of extreme pressure and exhaustion that can be very detrimental to a depressed person. 

We have very little energy and while a little push to try and get us to come can help, making us do things and go places has a chance to make us recess further into our shell.

What I’m trying to say isn’t that you shouldn’t reach out to those who are suffering; I highly encourage it. Just don’t push them too hard, be weary of when they need a break and work with them on it. 

Simply put, the suicide epidemic is a ongoing tragedy, and it wont go away over night with a few extra texts. I won’t sit here and say we can end suicide altogether if we just watch out for each other, but what we can do is curve the numbers. 

Most importantly, if you are reading this and you think you might be suffering from depression, don’t hesitate to seek help. Therapy helps. Even if you don’t think it’s that bad or you feel like you can deal with it on your own, or if you don’t feel anything at all, talk to a professional.

Don’t let mainstream media convince you that you aren’t suffering just because someone else has at some point suffered worse. 

Everyone is valuable and important and no matter what you have been told or felt in the past, someone loves you and someone will miss you. Don’t become a statistic, become a hero, someone who overcame so that you can possibly help others. 

Author’s note: I do not believe myself to be the pinnacle source of information on depression and am not trying to deny what has happened to others. I am only speaking of my experience with depression and anxiety, not speaking to the universal experience as it affects everyone differently. 

Another important note, depression does not make you any more important or special than anyone else, it is like any other condition and does not make you cool or relatable, it simply makes you depressed. Having depression is not a choice.

~Matthew Traversa, Staff Writer~

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