“What do you have to be depressed over?”

Ugh. Stop. Seriously, stop. I don’t get why people keep asking why I’m depressed, or what I have to be depressed over. Really, it’s a dumb question. Ok, though, in fairness, maybe it’s not actually their fault – society is probably to blame here. People say that something is depressing, or they’re depressed, and what they really mean is that something happened, and it sucks, it’s a bummer, they’d prefer it didn’t happen.

You get dumped – “That’s depressing.”

A movie has a sad ending – “What a depressing movie.”

Your dog dies – “I’m so depressed.”

Sure, it’s possible for these things to actually TRIGGER depression, but what a lot of people don’t realize is that depression is entirely internal. At best, an external event may trigger a depressive episode, but none of these things actually cause depression. It’s a chemical imbalance, or a symptom of another mental health issue, or even a result of brain damage – the actual causes are many-fold, but they aren’t what you think of when you think of something “depressing.”

I was depressed for years when I had a lot to be happy about, and even more to be thankful for. For five years, I had a girlfriend who wanted nothing more in the world than to make me happy, if only I could’ve shown it to her. When I was unemployed, she struggled to keep me afloat, helped me find and apply for new jobs, networked for me, and supported me. Then I let her down – I went ahead and began my transition to living as a woman. She said she felt like a widow.

All I could do when that happened was to go back to my Dad’s basement and live there. Rent free. Hassle free. All I had to do was keep working to get a job, but otherwise mope around and do what I wanted to.

Depression kept me from sincerely enjoying much, or from doing just about anything. My room at my Dad’s house looked remarkably like a scene from Hoarders, though I wasn’t actually collecting trash, just not getting rid of it. Only now can I really see how far gone I was, and how deeply depressed and rutted I was. When I visit that old room and see the disaster that still sits there, I am horrified and disgusted, and I really cannot understand what allowed me to get to that state.

Recently, through therapy, medication, and some intense life events, including meeting and saying goodbye to a woman I came to love very deeply who I genuinely thought might be the end of my search for a partner, I’ve begun to leave my depression behind. Events that would, in the past, trigger an episode of depression, up to and including serious suicidal contemplation, result in sadness – even deep sorrow and pain, but not depression. With the right combination of thought, friendship, and a positive event, I am brought back up. No longer do I dive down into the depths of my pain and stay there.

The reality is that I will likely continue to battle depression and depressive episodes in my life. It’s quite possible that though I have been feeling good for a few months now, I could end up right back where I started. But that’s not a worry for today, it doesn’t bother me. I survived before, and I’ll survive again, and now I know that there will come times again where I’ll feel fine, normal, alive.

So, the next time someone says they’re depressed, stop and think. Don’t ask why, don’t discount their pain or brush them off. Ask yourself, and even them, what do they mean. Are they feeling down, or are they really clinically depressed? They’re very different things, and while you might not be able to help them directly, it helps just having people understand. Even depressed, you can have happiness, and if you can make someone like that happy, you’re doing the best thing that can be done.

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