I want to give an analogy of depression to help those fortunate enough to not have deeply suffered its grasp. I hope this helps others gain an understanding of how it works. Most people want to be helpful, but often don’t know how or what to do.

Noise.

We all go through life day to day with some ambient noise constantly in the background. Most of the time it goes unnoticed. You don’t think about it. We can still function perfectly fine even with fluctuations. Maybe for a brief moment you pass by a construction site and things seem loud and chaotic in that exact instant, but just for a moment. Once you pass it, you move on quickly and go back to your daily routine. You may even forget about the noisy construction site as soon as you get passed it. Not a big deal.

Depression starts by approaching a construction site thinking the noise won’t last long. But it does. The noise stays there, and no matter what you do you don’t seem to have the ability to get out of it. People suggest ear plugs, so you get some. They help for a bit, but now there’s another issue. The nuanced small things that used to bring you joy in life are much more difficult to notice. You’ve effectively blocked off the small quiet things in an effort to muffle the loud obnoxious noises. And the loud noises are muffled and more tolerable, but you can’t completely cut them out.

This is tolerable for a while — again you think it’s only temporary — but you start to miss the things you used to enjoy or are simply incapable of enjoying them at all anymore.

Some days, the construction site suddenly goes silent. You have a brief break from all the noise, but your ears are ringing. That ringing serves as a constant reminder of the burden that noise had on you. That ringing is yet something else that is hard to ignore, causing anxiety and worry that you know you can get stuck right back in that construction site again. And sometimes, you do.

Some people notice this and are willing to speak a little louder so you can hear them. They may even try and surround you to help isolate you from the noise, but ultimately the issue is the noise to begin with — something outside of everyone’s control.

That is how depression works. It’s a slow, steady, and persistent fucker that instantly finds a vulnerability and takes over. Occasionally you get a brief rest from it, but you’re left with a very sensitive open wound that can bring you right back at the smallest agitation.

How do you get out of it? I’m not sure you ever do. You can learn to cope, and over time you can heal, but even if you heal the scars will always remain.

How can others help? Just be there. Listen to the people in a bad place and understand their perspective will not be the same as yours. It’s much better to say, “I hear you, that sucks.” than to say, “It won’t last forever, think about how happy you’ll be when it’s over.” The truth is, we don’t know when it will be over. Hope is no longer something we fully believe in when we are depressed because we feel like it has constantly failed up to this point. Like breaking an arm or leg, the injury will take months of healing and therapy to fully recover back to normal. It takes as much time as it needs, and there’s no way to know the exact amount.

-Jake

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