Why “Stay Strong, Be Positive” Never Works for People Who are Depressed

This post was written in 26 January 2015, a few weeks after I came back from Singapore. I was having one of the worst days of my life, so naturally I turned to writing to break down my thoughts, and hopefully find a solution to all this madness.


 

The last three years have been the most challenging and difficult years of my adulthood. I left my fulltime online job to focus on graduate school without really thinking hard about the financial consequences of my actions. What happened in the succeeding months (and years) resulted in my life falling apart. I became an introvert and started avoiding my friends. My long-term girlfriend broke up with me because she couldn’t handle my depression anymore. And the worst part is that I began to lost sight of what used to be a structured direction of what my life should be in x number of years.

Last year was the peak of my depression – and I didn’t even know I was depressed then. All I knew was that I couldn’t find the motivation to get up anymore. The small things that used to motivate me or make me happy stopped working. When things weren’t as worse, I used to get up in the morning, excited to apply make-up on, and look pretty for myself. I went to work and looked forward to coming home to my five dogs, even though there were times I got stressed out because of their constant barking. That was fine.

However, the situation started to get really bad, I began waking up disappointed, frustrated that I was still alive. I wanted to die in my sleep. Every morning, it was such a struggle to get out of bed, go to work, and do what it takes to survive the day. I couldn’t even lie to myself and pretend everything was okay. How can I tell my thesis adviser that I was depressed, so I couldn’t write anything?

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My breakdowns became more and more frequent because I couldn’t even muster the courage to tell myself “I’m okay today,” and back then, being okay meant not crying for the day and actually surviving it. It meant not getting run over by a vehicle or held up by a random person on the street because I looked so distracted thinking about my life that it just called negative attention to myself. I wanted to die but I didn’t have the courage to kill myself, a thing called suicide ideation, so I envied those who did. I felt so empty, and eventually, I became numb. I stopped caring about other people because their problems were too much to handle, and I couldn’t even work out solutions to my own problems. It was the darkest of my days.

As a graduate student, seeing a psychiatrist was definitely out of the question. I cannot afford it, and I certainly won’t be able to sustain it. It added to my frustration because how else can mentally ill individuals afford treatment if it’s one of the most expensive diseases in the world? But I tried. I went to a counsellor, whom I thought was actually a psychiatrist. I only went because I thought that taking anti-depressants was the only solution to my depression. I forgot what happiness was, and I wasn’t sure it was a choice for me. I lost hope that I could feel happy again. I was in a rut.

What my counsellor told me during our first (and last) session really hit home. Yes, I was indeed depressed, but it didn’t mean I was weak. Rather, I just needed extra help from my friends. I needed additional support from people I trust. She wanted me to bring a friend if and when I come back, and that friend should be the one responsible for my medications. It’s as if my counsellor didn’t trust me to take my medications responsibly, probably because I told her I was suicidal, and she was right to do so. However, I never went back. She owed me thirty more minutes, but I never went back. I needed to figure things out for myself.

Soon after, I figured why what my then-girlfriend told me hurt me the most. She told me that I needed to be strong, that life has to go on because life is never unfair. I just have to face life and breeze through it.

No, no, no, no, no. To be strong means I am weak – and I’m not. Being weak is different from being tired. I was tired of constantly having to fight for what I want and work hard to achieve my goals. I was tired of doing the things I was so used to doing everyday. I was tired of studying. I was tired of working. I was tired of thinking. I was tired of life. I was tired of living. I stopped giving life a chance. The only light at the end of the tunnel was for me to end my own life – and that’s what I planned to do as soon as I finished my master’s degree. I couldn’t see my life going further than that.

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For someone, especially your partner, to imply that you are weak, hurts because he/she is the one person you expect to understand what you’re going through and if he/she doesn’t understand, the least he/she could do is be there to listen. But mine couldn’t. She was away for a job overseas, and she was busy all the time. I couldn’t rely on her to understand what I was going through, especially since her leaving was one of the major triggers of my depression.

In retrospect, I realised I couldn’t blame her for saying that because depression is not exactly a well-understood mental illness. It’s one of the diseases that people need to understand more. There are those who even deny its existence, making assumptions that it’s all in the mind. Yes, it is all in the mind, but what if your brain doesn’t function the way it’s supposed to be? Your brain, the centre of your entire being, screws you up – and when that happens, everything else follows. Depression begins to manifest in one’s physical health. Unfortunately, I wasn’t one who lost appetite during the peak of my depression period. I just slept longer than the usual – and I can sleep a lot, I tell you. There were days I slept for 13 hours and still woke up tired. I got angrier and angrier, even at the smallest things. I started hating people for being… people.

If you have a friend or a loved one who is depressed, never, ever advise he/she to “stay strong and be positive.” It just doesn’t work that way. What you need to do is simply listen because all we ever need sometimes is someone who will be there for us without judgments. You may not understand what we’re going through but by listening, eventually you will. Our brains fire neurons faster than we can handle and it makes us think we are crazy – I know there were times I did ask myself if I was losing it. We think so much that maybe all we ever need is someone who will walk us through the right decisions, you know? We probably know what to do anyway; we just want you to guide us through it. Ask questions, help us understand what we feel, what we think. Let’s work through it together.

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These days, what I need the most is a peaceful and quiet atmosphere, and that’s the best way to start getting better. For days, I haven’t thought of wanting to die, and that is such a huge accomplishment already. I still have difficulty getting up in the morning so I’m still working on that. When the mood to write hits me, I do work on my thesis proposal and other writing assignments. Who knows when I’ll be in the right state of mind to write again, so I might as well make the most of it, right? When I anticipate a stressful situation, I stay away from it so I won’t have problems handling my emotions. Every little thing is an achievement and I know that I have a long way to go but I’ll just take it day by day. There will be relapses (and they are the worst, I tell you), but if I stick to the small ways that help me achieve a clearer state of mind, eventually, I’ll get there. I just hope that it isn’t too late for me and the people around me.

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