The Line Between Unhappiness and Depression
My parents got divorced when I was two. I never remember them together. I look at the photos, but it doesn’t even look right to me. Because I never saw them together.
When I was ten, my mom took me to see a therapist for the first time. He had me finish drawings that were started. It wasn’t terrible. I don’t remember what we talked about. I never went back. I guess I was fine.
When I was fifteen, my mom asked me if I was depressed. I immediately said no. I think she was concerned because I spent so much time in my room. And didn’t smile much. But I was always like that. It wasn’t new.
We had moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles to start eighth grade so I was still adjusting. I didn’t even really know what depressed meant. Or maybe I didn’t know how it was supposed to feel. And I was embarrassed to be asked.
Maybe because of teenage male bravado. Maybe because I just didn’t know what it all meant. And I felt the same as I always had. Or maybe, just maybe — I was unhappy.
Maybe I missed my friends. Maybe I wanted more attention from girls. Maybe I was still angry at my basketball coach for leaving me off varsity. Maybe being a teenager is just not that easy. And it made me sad sometimes.
Unhappiness vs. Depression
I am not trained in the differences between unhappiness and depression. Sure, I have done research over the years about depression. But the most important information I have learned about depression has been from people who truly suffer from it.
Depression is prolonged agony. A constant state of despair. And not something you can just “snap out of” like everyone likes to tell you growing up. It won’t just go away. It won’t leave you alone.
Sadness is temporary. It’s not an illness. Or a condition. It’s a state of mind. A rush of feelings. Based on something that happened. Something you saw. Something you read. Something that someone told you.
Sadness can be mildly remedied with a tub of ice cream and a rom-com. Self-made fixes for depression often can lead you into an even darker hole.
These are my perceptions from my life. My friends. My family. They aren’t intended to minimize either unhappiness or depression. But to acknowledge that there is a big difference.
And for someone like me, I’ve been unhappy a lot. With my life. With myself. With things that happened. With people. But to say I am or was depressed takes away from others who truly can not get out of bed or who wrestle with suicidal thoughts.
I have never felt like that. Because I have just been unhappy. And for that I feel lucky because I understand, from the outside, what the depths of depression can look like.
The Road To Diagnosed Depression
My marriage didn’t work out. It was hard to accept. I never wanted to get a divorce. My dad had two on his record and it would have been three if he had it his way. My mom had two as well. But they were both gone by the time someone “diagnosed” me as depressed.
I don’t think either of them would have been shocked to find out that someone “diagnosed” me with depression. But I also don’t think they would have been agreeable to it as a fact.
When you are going through the rough times in a marriage, a separation, or a divorce, you aren’t going to be happy. This may continue for many days, many months, even years. But it doesn’t mean you are clinically depressed. Because this type of “depression” isn’t coming from your internal makeup, it’s coming from life.
This is where I see a big difference as it relates to me. I do believe that sadness can turn into depression, but clinical depression to me, is something that we are born with and is part of us. And not something that would go away if things work out.
When I Was Told I Was Depressed
I started seeing a therapist for the first time in my adult life. She was also our marriage counselor. I was extremely uncomfortable with it all. But I kept trying for the sake of my kids, our marriage and my own mental health.
When she told me she thought I was depressed and she wanted to refer me to a pharmacologist for medication, I was not happy. I was embarrassed. I was scared. I don’t take medication of any kind. For anything. Unless absolutely necessary.
But I did it. Because maybe I was depressed. I certainly didn’t ever feel happy except when I was with my kids. So I wanted to open myself up to the possibility. I didn’t like the label, but had grown enough to understand that I might need this to live a better life.
I was giving over what I knew about myself to someone and something that I didn’t trust. That was my mistake.
The question I asked though, was:
Is there any test you can do to determine which depression medication will be best suited for my internal makeup?
When she said no, that it was pretty much trial and error, this scared the sh*t out of me. I felt like a guinea pig. A trial participant. Try this, one of the side effects is suicidal thoughts if it doesn’t work. What?
So I tried Wellbutrin, I think. Then Lexapro. Then, since it wasn’t “working” (i.e. I wasn’t happier), she suggested a combination of two different medications. F*ck that.
That’s when I was out. And that’s when I started to realize something about unhappiness versus depression. They were different. And I didn’t need medication for sadness.
The hardest lesson I learned about taking medication for something I wasn’t even convinced I “had” was learned when I stopped taking it. They tell you to wean yourself off. But when I was about to be double dosed, I stopped cold turkey.
This doesn’t work, try this. That didn’t work? Try this. No? Try these two together. No. Not for me. Unhappiness didn’t require it. I knew I wasn’t clinically depressed. I felt bad. There was and is a difference. At least to me.
When I stopped, it was bad. Really bad.
I had vivid nightmares where I sweat through my sheets. I was falling asleep in the middle of the day for hours. I could feel my body being active while I was sleeping. I started sleepwalking.
Whatever this was, I didn’t want it in my system. I didn’t need it in my system. Because I was not depressed. I was just unhappy.
What Unhappiness Felt Like
I left. I moved into a house I was going to flip. It wasn’t ready for half the time with a 4-year-old and a 2-year-old, but I made it work. This is what unhappiness felt like.
Because when I was alone with my kids in this temporary house, I felt amazing. Going through the bad times in a marriage had taken its toll on my mental state. And it still would, for many years.
But not in these quiet pockets. When it was just me and these beautiful little people that I helped create, I felt nothing but happy. Until they went back for their half with their mother.
What I felt then was beyond depression, but it wasn’t clinical depression. It was beyond sadness. I was emotionally trampled by something that was happening in my life, not by something that lives inside of me all the time and weighs down even the good times.
That’s how I knew, even at my worst times, I was unhappy and not depressed.
I Am Not An Expert
This is based on my experiences. As I said before, I don’t mean to take away from anyone who believes unhappiness and depression are more similar than I do.
I’ve read so much about depression on Medium and that made it even more clear to me that I have never been depressed. Not like that. And to say that I had been is an affront to those that battle this demon every day.
I was fortunate. I am fortunate that the things that ail me, mentally, are self-inflicted. Or have a direct causation that I can point to. But it doesn’t mean I didn’t feel very, very depressed at times. I did.
But I didn’t need medication. And the medication didn’t do anything for me except cause adverse side effects and delusional behavior when I went cold turkey.
I am not an expert on depression, but I know a fair amount about unhappiness. I allowed it to muddy the waters of my life for many years, but not anymore.
Because the more realistic I get about my emotional makeup, the more I am able to accept it. It’s not perfect. It does not need a label. But it also can’t be termed something that it isn’t.
It’s just me. I am just me. If that means I am unhappy sometimes, that’s alright with me. Because now I know how to adjust to it and thrive with it.