Depression – The Words Matter

There are certain terms that are frequently used when talking about or describing depression. It’s a darkness or a hole, an abyss or a void. You fall in and then sink to the bottom. You can hopefully climb out of it. It’s a battle, a war, you fight it as if it’s a person. It’s demons or monsters, a mountain or a tunnel.

You may read these and think the words are cliché, and they probably are. You can hear them and swap them out nearly interchangeably, choose them from a master list, they are generic.

This is worrisome to me, I fear that they have lost their meaning because of their use, or overuse. We have rationalized these descriptions to the point that they no longer convey what they once did.

I was depressed long before I realized it, before I even knew what depression was. It’s a set of feelings that encompassed my life, feelings I couldn’t identify, feelings I struggle to recognize even to today. What do you do when you don’t understand something, don’t have the right words to try to explain it? I grasp for things that are similar, I make analogies, and these analogies work because they are universally understood. They give people who aren’t experiencing depression the ability to try to understand how it feels, a glimpse in to a world that is different than the one in which they live.

They also help me make sense of my own experiences. If I can put something in to words, turn it in to a concept that is known, then maybe I can understand it, and maybe even change it.

These are the terms I use because this is how it feels, at least this is how it feels to me. These words are important. These descriptions matter, they are real and when people share them, try to step back and think beyond the words, think about what people are saying, and think about the actual feelings that are behind these words. Most importantly think about the people saying them, people who are desperately trying to make sense of things, trying to connect with others, and trying to find a purpose for each and every day.

Photo via Michael Chen CC Attribution 2.0

7 thoughts on “Depression – The Words Matter

  1. I know it’s extremely important to you to be heard and understood – especially when discussing something as meaningful and personal as your emotional state. The words used to describe depression are commonly used, true. Even the word “depression” itself is used all too commonly – often to describe a fleeting sense of sadness or a reaction to an event or circumstance. While there are similarities, I’ve learned that true depression isn’t so much something you “feel” like an emotion as a way one’s mind works and processes input.

    In that way, as a person struggling with depression, you don’t approach life from a “sad” mindset – you approach life from a place of lack of energy, anxiety, a generalized negativity that send you “down that hole” or into battle – just by trying to get through the day. People without depression sometimes think you have more control over the challenges depression put in your path, thinking that it’s something you can “will” or motivate yourself out of. If only it were that uncomplicated…

    The words matter and it’s important that they are really heard for what they’re saying. Instead of becoming shorthand for deeper issues, they need to be considered with an open mind and heart.

    1. I think you said what I was trying to say more eloquently than I did, and I thank you for that. You have always understood me and the words I use and for that I am eternally grateful.

  2. I’ve struggled with depression since middle school. And it is a struggle when I’m in the middle of it. Although sometimes it is a comfortable, familiar place, too, because it has been a part of my experience for most of my life. Not a good or welcome place, but familiar and known.
    my experience has been that if people want to be with me through my hard times, then they will understand the meanings behind the insufficient words. And if people believe that I can just pull myself together, then no words will ever be enough.
    Sending a hug…

  3. Depression from my perspective, based on the observed experience of those who matter to me, is like loss. A slow loss. A wanting to cast a line and hope he or she will grasp tightly enough to allow me to draw them back from where they have gone. At the same time, at least for me, there is a fear that the weight will pull me instead and I will be drawn to where they are instead, no longer capable of helping, but hoping for someone to provide me strength and assistance. My mother has experienced some form of depression most of her life. Sometimes it is so severe, her anger and negativity make it impossible for me to even speak to her. I appreciate that you take time to explain something that I have always tried to understand.

    1. Those who are casting that line I think do understand, or at least try to understand. It takes a special person to want to be that support for someone. Thanks as always for your comments and your friendship.

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