Do I deserve to be depressed?
I found myself asking this question after talking to my mom on the phone after a particularly bad depressive episode. I had just started college and the depression I had dealt with during my final year of high school was coming back in full swing.
After listening to me rant for half an hour, my mom calmly suggested that I seek out counseling services at the university. And while this was nothing new, I had seen psychologists in the past, something felt different.
I felt guilty. There I was, at a top ranked university, obtaining a world class education, talking to a mother who loved me dearly on the phone, and I all I felt was sadness. And with this realization came a cyclical series of events, whereby I would feel depressed, then feel guilty about feeling depressed, and so feel even more depressed.
It is worth stating outright that my life has come with a tremendous amount of privilege. I am blessed to be a part of a family that is still together, that values education and that had enough money to send me to college.
This, however, created a great big question in my head. How could I have all of this, and still feel the way that I did. And with this came the worry that, in being depressed, I was somehow being unappreciative of what I already had. As Anna Akana put in a video appropriately titled, Do I Deserve To Feel Depressed: “I felt like, by being depressed, I was somehow being ungrateful for what I had."
This impression has been mirrored by Stephen Fry, who in 2013 opened up about his battle with depression. In Fry’s account, which I strongly recommend you read, he explains his worry about coming clean about his depression to the public, for fear of the response, “But how can someone so well off have depression?”
And these worries, in a way, have been warranted by the reaction society has had to the "coming out" stories by celebrities with mental illnesses. When Stan Collymore, a former English footballer, came out about his struggles with depression, he was met with Tweets such as, “Show me a millionaire footballer with depression and I’ll show him my last wage slip and then see who has more to worry about”and “Depression is a disease and people get affected but surely seeing an extra 50k a week drop into your back pocket is a bit of a relief."
If I am unfairly advantaged in my capacity to deal with my mental illness, am I less deserving of support than someone who is less privileged?
For a long time, I was too scared to label myself as depressed, because I was afraid that, given my background, I didn’t "qualify" for the condition. Even talking about how I felt out loud made me feel like a fraud. Not only that, the belief that I was somehow undeserving of my feelings prevented me from seeking help. I was too afraid to ask my doctor about my condition for fear they would take one look at my life and determine it was impossible for me to feel depressed. I was too scared to tell my friends about my depression because, on the outside, my life looked pretty good.
So, does my background make me more or less deserving of my depression? Honestly, I don’t know. What I do know, however, is that I didn’t choose to feel this way.
Depression isn’t a choice, it's a mental condition. I didn’t choose to feel depressed just as someone doesn’t choose to break their leg. So, to ask someone with depression “How could you possibly feel depressed with everything you have,” is as absurd as to ask someone with a broken bone, “How could you possibly have been so clumsy to fall over with everything you have?”
Depression is a disease of the mind. Just as wealth and a privileged life cannot fully prevent you from getting physically sick, wealth and privilege does not inhibit you from getting mentally sick.
But even saying that makes me feel uncomfortable, because it makes me feel like I am discounting the life and experiences of those who have been through so much more than me, and yet haven’t succumb to depression.
But even to say that is to perhaps invalidate our own feelings and experiences, which may be some way a part of the problem. How we react to our own experiences varies from person to person, and as a result our individual capacity to feel upset by a certain situation may be different.
So whether or not someone should or shouldn’t be depressed shouldn’t really be the question we keep asking. Instead, we should be asking, what it is we can do to help, and what it is we can do to prevent these feelings in the future.
We shouldn’t need to validate the way we feel for the benefit of others. Because sometimes, we just feel things, and there isn’t always a clear explanation as for why. And that’s OK.
Lead Image Credit: Benjamin Combs via Unsplash