There is an important distinction that I personally like to make between being DEPRESSED and having DEPRESSION.
Due to its many ways of being undetectable, depression is a funny topic for people to understand and thus it makes it even harder for them to talk about. A disease that makes you think irrationally sounds irrational to a rational person. A lot of people just don't really even comprehend what it is, how severe their problems are or even recognise that they (or someone else) have even got it.
All this naturally led to me thinking up this distinction. It is my personal way of understanding it all, both for myself and for others.
For me, being depressed is when you exhibit some of the signs of depression, the odd emotional feelings and negative thinking patterns that go with it. However, this is all in a temporary way, for a few days or even for a few hours. It's usually situational – once you're away from the stressful scenario, you feel okay again. I feel like most people, at one point or another in their lives, will experience this. There are those few who will be immune to it but they really are a tiny minority.
With regards to this idea of having depression, I feel it is when you are suffering from many (maybe even most) of the symptoms and negative thinking patterns. You've also not just been feeling this way for a few hours or days but instead for weeks, at least two. The main difference is that it is not temporary or episodic, it is with you all the time. Yes, it may have been initially caused by something stressful in your life but even once you're away from that something, you still feel terrible. Though still alarmingly common, it is rare in comparison to the above.
To explain it better, I'll use an example from my life: university. Those who know me know that I did not enjoy my time at university and that this was when I first developed depression. However, I did not always hate university and as such, my university story is broken up into two distinct chapters: my first year and then the rest.
During the beginning of my first year, it took me quite a while to settle into university. It's a big life-change, there were lots of new people and I had never really been away from home before. Weekends were dull and lonesome too. Once lessons started though, I began to enjoy most of them (there was a difficult subject with a rubbish teacher in my first semester). So what happened is that during most/certain lessons I was good, my occasional visits home were great, vacation periods were brilliant and I found pleasure doing things I liked: watching TV, playing games and practicing voice acting. Occasionally I would get a bit down, on certain days or at certain times for short bursts, but there were still times where I was happy and energetic. After the first 10 weeks, I decided to go home every weekend and this small change, as well as getting into a routine in other ways and getting used to the place, meant that soon after (at some point during my second semester) I was completely fine, not depressed at all. Funnily enough, I actually began to really enjoy university and looked forward to going back!!!
Right from day one of my second year though, I developed a serious depression and severe anxiety. Thus the second chapter began. A lot of little things all happened at once. Maybe one at a time I could have coped with them all but instead I was crushed under a tonne of rocks and left with a mental illness. Where before I sometimes felt kind of bad, now I was always feeling terrible. Fear, dread, despair, hopelessness, lethargy, uselessness, misery – I didn't feel some of these a little bit, I felt all of them with a white-hot intensity. I lost all passion for life, all of my energy; I stopped doing the things I enjoyed and the few I resumed doing did nothing to lift my mood. All those little problems in time went away. It didn't matter. Regardless of whether I was in a lesson, in my room, at home for the weekend, if I was home for the Christmas break or even at home for the three month Summer break – I always felt abysmal. I felt numb. I felt hollow. I felt like I had lost my soul.
Remember the classic "Bart Sells His Soul" episode of The Simpsons? Having literally sold his soul to Milhouse, there's a moment after an episode of Itchy & Scratchy finishes where Lisa is in hysterics and Bart is just sitting there. He then says, "I know it's funny but I'm just not laughing."
It is when I was getting close to the end of university and feeling no excitement at the prospect of finally being rid of this nightmare... that I began to realise that I may have a serious problem (not fully realised, BEGAN to realise and not did have but MAY have). I began to look into what might be happening with me and took some steps to start fighting it. It was only 6 months after university had ended and where I felt only marginally better (I upgraded from abysmal to terrible) that I KNEW I had a very serious problem. This was when I really went full throttle and aggressively combated my depression.
So that is a very elaborate example to explain the distinction between these two ideas. Both are bad but one is something you merely need to keep an eye on and the other is incredibly dangerous. If you truly think that a problem is just temporary or caused by something you are removing from your life soon, fine, like I said, just be cautious. But you have to be completely honest with yourself. People with depression can easily be in denial and have a remarkable ability to make sense of things actually make no sense at all. They're stubborn and insistent that they are right about things that are totally untrue. If you have been feeling this way for a few weeks, if you have lost your enjoyment for life, if something feels out of place and you don't know what – then please get help from a doctor.
So in short: one is less severe and temporary and the other is more severe and permanent. But how permanent? Is depression something you have for life? It depends on who you are and how you look at it. Yes, after you've had it once, you're likely to have it again. Or at the very least, it never feels that far away from you, like it's lurking behind a corner ready to creep up on you. In that sense, maybe one could consider themselves to suffer from depression forever. Perhaps it's not dissimilar to how a person with alcohol problems might always think of themselves as an alcoholic, regardless of how long it's been since their last drink.
On the flip side, if you've been feeling normal, happy or just like yourself for several weeks, then you may feel that you don't have depression anymore. Personally, I don't really consider myself to suffer from depression anymore. Yes, having it has changed me forever but on a day-to-day basis I am really, really good and I have been for a long time. Periodically I suffer from small waves of being depressed and anxious but these waves are getting smaller and smaller and also less and less frequent. I would not label myself as suffering from depression anymore because it really does feel a part of my past and it is certainly not a part of my daily life now.
Thanks for reading and I wish you all the very best.