I’m humbly going to have to disagree with Matt Haig, the British author, and someone who has long been an open book about his battle with depression.
Before I explain why, I want to point out that I think Haig is wonderful, and if you’re not following him on Twitter, I highly encourage you to do so. His openness and insight about his mental health issues and the journey has taken has indubitably helped many people.
He’s also written a book I quite liked, 2013’s The Humans, which I also happily recommend. I still want to read some of his other books, too.
For the most part, I tend to agree with what he says about mental health. And the disagreement I’m about to dive into isn’t some deep, philosophical issue, but it’s something I wanted to explore in a blog post. Perhaps even framing it as a “disagreement” is an odd premise, as you’ll see, because I don’t think depression manifests itself the same for everyone necessarily. So it’s okay for people to conceptualize it differently.
On July 18, Haig Tweeted, “People who equate depression with sadness have never had depression.” This statement I absolutely endorse. A migraine is to a headache as depression is to sadness would be not be an accurate analogy, but I think that’s a good way of framing how people tend to think about depression: that it’s merely a worse form of sadness. Or a more prolonged form of sadness.
I think depression is more akin to a hopeless numbness. It’s hopeless in the sense that it’s overwhelming and commandeering of everything down to the basic day-to-day tasks of life, and it feels as if the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel isn’t coming. It distorts your thinking in that way. That’s probably why depression also gets likened to a dark/black cloud hanging over you because it blocks out the sunlight.
And it’s numbness, as opposed to a deepened/prolonged form of sadness, because it’s the absence of feelings. Sadness, in a way, would actually be a welcome feeling precisely because it would be a feeling. Depression takes your normal feelings and moods and strips it all away to a murky outlook. Nothing quite registers the same. If there’s an X activity that used to make you feel Y, it doesn’t hit the same when depression is playing its siren song.
That’s also why a lot of people’s reaction to depression is to sleep because unconsciousness is better than active numbness (if that makes sense). Also, contrary to popular belief, depression is weighty, it’s physically tangible, and as such, exhausting. So that’s also why depressed people tend to sleep at great lengths.
I agree with Haig on that statement. A Twitter user then followed up Haig’s tweet asking, “If you could describe depression in three words, what would it be?”
Haig replied, “A mental implosion.”
Again, the premise of disagreeing is off, but for lack of a better word, I disagree with that conceptualization of depression. The idea of an implosion makes sense in terms of what’s going on with one’s wellness, aka, an inward issue.
But, I don’t jive with implosion in terms of “sudden.” I don’t think of depression as “sudden.” To be sure, bouts of depression can come and go without rhyme or reason, and perhaps that’s where a conception of sudden can fit in.
However, I think of depression, that hopelessness numbness, more like a slow-moving train, and your reality, the more rational part of your brain, is fastened to the tracks, unable to stop the train or get out of the way of it. It’s coming, and it’s going to bulldoze (mixing metaphors!) right over that baseline, rational thinking.
It sure feels like that, at least. That you’re almost sitting there, passive, as it washes over you. And instead of an implosion, where it’s a sudden collapse of your mental infrastructure, it’s like a slow, withering decay.
Time doesn’t matter to depression. It doesn’t need to swoop in and out. It like its to make itself comfortable on the contours of your brain, like dust, camouflaged in there.
So I hate offering up a disagreement on how to describe depression in three words without offering my own answer.
How would I describe depression in three words, given everything I’ve just presented here?
An unending fog.
Sorry for another metaphor, but that’s what happens when trying to describe the indescribable. “An unending fog” encapsulates the hopeless numbness of it and also the idea of “brain fog,” and how tiring brain fog (depression) can be. Plus, fog is also distorting. You lose a sense of direction when you’re in thick fog. Losing your equilibrium is disorienting.
And once you’re deep in it, finding the contours of the exit are damn near impossible.
What three words would you use to describe depression?