ANTs: What makes depression the worst thing ever

Caution: The post below may be triggering to people currently suffering from depression

Wait, you could say. There are people dying left, right and centre. Surely depression isn’t as bad as that.

Thank you for reminding us about the fact we are (mostly) privileged. We (mostly) have health insurance, (mostly) are not refugees, in our countries there is (mostly) no war. We use this knowledge to make ourselves feel worse, or, more precisely, our depression does. Marian Keyes, a famous (and brilliant!) multi-million selling writer, wrote once:

It has been like being poisoned, it’s felt like my brain is squirting out terrible, black, toxic chemicals that poison any good thoughts. I’m well aware that I have an enviable life and there are bound to be people who think, “What the hell has she got to be depressed about?” But whatever has been wrong with me isn’t fixable by an attitude shift.

To me, the worst thing about depression is that it eats at the very core of our souls. In stable, “normal” state, we are certain of some things. My boyfriend loves me. I love photography. I’m writing a novel and I’m 2/3 through. I’m having friends coming to dinner on Friday. My parents love me. Those things are so obvious we don’t even bother actually thinking about them, they are a built-in spine of our existence.

But when depression comes, all those things suddenly begin to crumble. My boyfriend loves me? I’m a pathetic mess that spends the whole day in front of the computer and can’t even force himself to fold the laundry, much less do groceries or go to the gym. Why would anybody love me?

So I love photography. Well done. So does half of the planet, and all, but ALL of them take better pictures. Just take a look at Flickr. Or Facebook. Even people who own tools of the devil, I mean selfie sticks manage to take great photos. Why would I bother trying to outrun millions and millions of people? I’d better stay in bed.

Writing a novel! How original! Nobody thought about this before! Look at Amazon, how many people wrote novels! There is a book about having sex with a toaster (not kidding). What can I write that will be more original than twenty zillion books on Amazon? How many people actually make it as writers? I’m not going on with this. I can’t. It makes no sense. I’ll put on an onesie and lounge on the sofa feeling terrible instead.

There are friends coming to dinner on Friday. They will be disappointed in the food, and I know, because I will make it, and I suck at cooking, and I can’t even pull myself together enough to do groceries, not to mention following recipes, so there probably won’t be any food at all. Not that this matters, because all those people are only coming out of pity. Who would want to be friends with me? I am a friend-free man-shaped hole in the universe, repelling fellow human beings. I’m going to text them all and cancel, they will no doubt be overjoyed. As for myself, I’ll spend the evening with boxed wine.

My parents. Where do I even start? They sure say they love me. But when I was twelve, I was such a brat I got suspended at school. And at twenty-two I got fired. And right now I am on more medication than Granny. I’m sluggish and I can’t just stop being bipolar (which obviously means I am not trying enough). It’s nice of them to lie and pretend to care about me, but obviously when I’m not around they must refer to me as The Disappointing One.

All of the above is called Automatic Negative Thoughts (ANTs). They are one of the hardest depression symptoms to bear. Because they appear when we need love, security and stability the most – and wreck as much havoc as they can by telling us we don’t deserve love, making us insecure and removing the stability. And an awful lot of us are aware of the fact that somewhere in the world there are people who are worse off than we are, which makes us think we have no right to be depressed, which – go figure – makes us more depressed.

Depression is a deadly illness. Up to 15% people with major depression and 20% with bipolar disorder end their life prematurely due to the scale of suffering they are going through. The example ANTs I wrote above have been, on purpose, made somewhat funny (it is not my goal to depress all my readers). The real ones aren’t funny at all. And while they are often ridiculous, they make sense in a depressed brain.

Do you know a person currently suffering from depression? Give them a call. Send them a text message. Ask if they would like some hugs. Most of us crave human contact more than anything else, while simultaneously isolating ourselves because we don’t believe anybody cares about us. Hugs are my favourite antidepressant and bear no side effects. Don’t judge. Don’t bring us new scientific theories about how homeopathy can cure depression. Don’t try to convert us to Scientology (which believes there is no such thing as mental illness). Don’t tell us our doctor is a fool. Just bring us hugs, more hugs and some hugs with that. Remind us we matter, and there is someone who loves us.

Photo: Ant by Jason Bolonski (CC 2.0)

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