Everything people say to you when you’re fighting depression at college
And how you can convince yourself that it’s your problem
Explaining depression to someone is like trying to explain the color green. When you’ve seen it, you know – otherwise there aren’t quite ever the right words.
My entire life I have struggled with depression. Despite having a family that is supportive and friends who listen, I still occasionally catch myself thinking that it is my fault and I should just get over myself.
The exhaustion, the crying, the physical pain – I have dealt with these things in both good and bad ways.
Due to depression’s often elusive nature, people tend to not know how to approach it.
Even though they can mean well, here are things people say that can make you feel as though depression is your fault, and you should just snap out of it.
‘You just need to get on a better sleep schedule’
Even though I have slept ten hours a night for the past two weeks, it’s probably just that I’m sleeping during the wrong hours. So what if I slept for 15 hours last weekend and still couldn’t get out of bed – must have just been a fluke.
The truth is: Exhaustion becomes an unbearable force when you’re depressed. No matter how much I sleep, I can crawl back into bed for another few hours. It has nothing to do with rearranging my sleeping hours or making sure I’m going to bed earlier.
‘Everyone has a lot of schoolwork’
I’m not pre-med or an Engineer, so why should I be particularly stressed? Everyone is overworked and overtired, pulling all nighters and drinking copious amounts of Red Bull. I went home at midnight and slept until noon the next day.
And why am I crying over my schoolwork? It’s just for school – this is completely irrational. Snap out of it.
The truth is: Small things can seem really overwhelming when you are depressed – and it doesn’t have to be rational. Empirically I understand that I have gotten more sleep than others and that my major isn’t necessarily the hardest, but in my head I am still overwhelmed and so to me it is very real.
‘Other people suffer through much worse’
I am a white, upperclass female at UVA. There are people starving in China, and people who have cancer at the age of 14. I have parents that support me, I’m at a great school, and I have all of my limbs. Those people deserve to be depressed, not me.
The truth is: Once again, I know this empirically, but when I’m in my head, it’s hard to be rational. Trying to rationalize someone out of depression is like trying to tell someone to stop having a broken arm.
‘Eating disorders aren’t self-harm’
I don’t cut myself, I don’t burn myself, I don’t even like getting shots. I definitely don’t harm myself. Bulimia is an eating disorder, which is completely unrelated from depression. It’s clearly a body image thing. If I’m not drawing blood, it can’t be that bad.
The truth is: Self-harm comes in all shapes and sizes, including eating disorders.
‘Don’t you feel like you’re not really ‘you’ on medication?’
You’re right, maybe I should stop my medication. How can I know who I really am unless I remove any sort of chemical interference with my brain? And yes, I know that taking two different medications for depression seems like a lot – it’s severe.
While I’m at it, I should just stop taking my birth control and throw away my inhaler for my asthma. How will I know who I truly am unless I breathe every day with my “true” lungs. If I’m going to live in my own, un-medicated head, I should live without any form of medication whatsoever.
The truth is: I contemplate this myself all the time, and so having an outsider bring it up doesn’t help. Yes, I worry that maybe the medication makes me a “different” person, but if I’m not taking it, I can barely get through my day. It’s a tough tradeoff that needs to be supported instead of criticized.
‘You’re not suicidal, so it’s not that bad’
I’ve never actively thought of ways to kill myself. The thought of not being alive anymore has crossed my mind, but if I’ve never actually made a plan that means I’m not suicidal, right? And if I don’t want to die then my depression is definitely manageable. It’s just like being sad. Every minute of every day for as far as I can see.
The truth is: OK there were those few times that I thought about it, but…
‘Suicide is selfish’
I wouldn’t consider suicide – what would that do to my mother? Even though I feel as though I could rip my own chest out the pain is so fervent, and each day is a living hell I can nearly not make it through, taking my own life would certainly be selfish of me.
And again, I don’t cut myself.
The truth is: Think about how much pain you must be in in order to feel as though you literally cannot go through one more day. I have been at that point, and the thoughts that go through my mind were not selfish but desperate, painful and overwhelming. Saying it is selfish is another push in the wrong direction.
‘You don’t seem depressed’
You’re right. If I don’t seem depressed, then I must not be.
The truth is: I have been told that I am one of the happiest and most smiley people that my friends have ever met. Depression isn’t just lows, but a combination of ups and downs. Coming across as a confident, don’t-give-a-fuck women one day, doesn’t mean I don’t go home and sleep for 14 straight hours the next.
‘Have a drink, you’ll loosen up!’
Yeah, a drink. I’m able to drink on my medication, technically, in moderation.
And hey, if I drink enough I won’t remember that I’m sad so I can just forget about everything. The next morning maybe I’ll just be too focused on my hangover to remember that the real reason I can’t get out of bed is because of extreme and paralyzing exhaustion.
Everyone blacks out at college, it’s definitely not just me. It’s UVA! Work hard, play hard. My roommate throws up all the time after a night out. Besides, I finally don’t feel like my whole world is falling apart for no reason. Keep the shots coming.
‘You’ll feel better if you come out’
It would seem like I would feel better if I came out and immersed myself in friends who care about me, and people who are having fun.
The truth is: Instead, I feel guilty about being negative and sad when everyone around me is trying to have a good time. I end up walking behind everyone when we’re going down Rugby, and while everyone giggles and gossips ahead of me, I fight back irrational tears at not being able to be happy the way that everyone around me is.
But if I go home, I will feel like I am missing out, and everyone is bonding and having fun without me while I lay around hoping that someone remembers I’m not there.
‘I’m here if you need to talk about it’
Thank you – that’s incredible. I really need to talk about it. I really just need you to sit, listen, and say, “that really sucks, and I’m sorry you have to go through it.”
You’re still depressed?
The truth is: I need you to probably listen not just once, but a few times. Or a number of times. I need you to understand that if I could change how I feel, if I could change my outlook or my view, or be okay without medication, I would. If I could just be happy and think on the bright side, I would do it in a heart beat.
If you feel as though you might suffer from depression, anxiety, or another detriment to your mental health, get support for free on February 18th & 19th at Mental Wellness Screening Day hosted by CAPS.