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Depression

When You're Kidnapped by Depression

Depression doesn't have an ethnicity.

Key points

  • Depression can kidnap you when you're most vulnerable.
  • Multiple factors may be barriers to treatment.
  • Not having access to treatment doesn't mean you don't have options.

My mom is not an expert on any one thing, but she certainly knows a whole bunch about a variety of topics: how to get a red wine stain out of a blouse without bleach, how to ward off nightmares, how to get rid of the hiccups. As a child, she was my ultimate problem solver, my give it to me and I will fix it person, and most importantly, my personal Flu Detective.

No sooner had I coughed a few times would she begin to panic, her anxiety through the roof until she was able to determine that I had not contracted influenza. This she did by watching me closely over a few days, her eyebrows creased in worry as she waited for signs of a fever, a phlegmy cough, sore throat, muscle aches, chills, a runny nose, and in my case, a weird craving for pizza.

After a few days, when I did not have any combination of these symptoms, she would breathe a sigh of relief and put the gigantic jar of Vicks Vapor Rub back into the medicine cabinet, it being the Latino cure for everything from the flu to a broken leg.

My mom is the reason I know how to recognize the signs of the flu, or to question any symptoms beyond the common cold. Maladies like the flu are easy to spot because the symptoms normally take me down long before I reach for over-the-counter medication or make an appointment with my primary care physician. However, when it comes to a mental health disorder or illness, they are not as simple to identify because some of the symptoms may not be very obvious.

Depression is a prime example of a mental health disorder that is too often undetected and unfortunately untreated.

pixelheadphoto/iStock
pixelheadphoto/iStock

Depression knows no racism, no bias, no discrimination. It cares not at all about the size of your bank account and even less about your level of education. This disorder is more like a kidnapper who sneaks up on you when you are distracted by any number of things: financial worries, loss of employment, relationship issues, family conflicts, workplace stress, abrupt changes in the home environment, or the loss of a loved one.

Depression does not grab hold of you when you are feeling empowered or confident or strong; rather, it strikes when you are at your most vulnerable, and if you’re not aware of what’s happening, you may miss all the opportunities to escape.

Depression does not necessarily manifest as a toothache or knee pain; rather, the symptoms impact your mind, body, and spirit in ways that you might assume are temporary. You may toss and turn all night, lost in a vortex of negative thoughts, or feel as though you can’t seem to sleep enough, the many hours you spend in bed or on the couch chalked up to regular fatigue.

Your healthy appetite may vanish, or you may find yourself overeating, resulting in either significant weight loss or weight gain, which you attribute to just being a little stressed. You may stop wanting to do all the things you used to love, like spending time with friends or playing with your children, and you chalk it up to burnout.

The people in your life who’ve always made you laugh may now annoy you, their comments or behavior grinding on your nerves, making you irritable and cranky. You may struggle to concentrate or focus on simple tasks; you may cry excessively and isolate yourself from the world, your sad mood and feelings of guilt and worthlessness so overwhelming that you eventually lose all hope that things will change and you may even start to have dark thoughts about ending it all.

All of these things combined impact work, school, your relationships with friends and family, and even your physical health, but you don’t pay any of it much attention, because you assume everyone feels this way once in a while. To some extent that may be true, but it doesn’t make it okay.

Everyone has a bad day once in a while, sure, and some of us even have a string of bad days. But when most of these symptoms persist for longer than a couple of weeks, it is no longer just a bad day. It is likely to be depression.

So now what?

Coming to the conclusion that you may be suffering from depression doesn’t mean you will automatically seek treatment or even know what to do. Multiple factors may get in the way of you being able to ask for and receive help.

For example, you may be experiencing many of these symptoms, but you’re surrounded by people who don’t think depression is real, or who don’t ‘believe’ in mental health. Clearly, they haven't gotten the memo that mental health is not a religion.

Pheelings Media/iStock
Pheelings Media/iStock

Perhaps you were taught that talking to a complete stranger about your problems is offensive to your culture and family, and that only people who are “crazy” go to therapy.

Maybe your reality right now is that you don’t have good health insurance and/or expendable income, which means your options for treatment are very limited. You may also find yourself working in an environment in which taking time off is difficult and complicated.

Perhaps in your family, you’ve always been seen as “the strong one”, the one everyone turns to with their challenges, and you’re worried about what they’ll think of you if they find out you’re actually a whole human with vulnerabilities and emotions.

Any of these can make it difficult for you to get treatment, and in many cases, even reaching out to a therapist does not guarantee that you’ll find one, because in this post-COVID world, most therapists are currently on a waitlist.

But none of these barriers mean that you can’t do something about it. Here are a few ways that you can address this disorder on your own.

Fight your kidnapper.

A kidnapper feels empowered and in control when you submit to their will and don’t threaten them in any way; when nobody knows where you are or what you’re going through. It’s no different with depression, so here are a few ways you can strip this kidnapper of their power:

  1. As uncomfortable as it may feel, tell someone what you’re going through. You don’t have to broadcast it to the world but identify at least one person in your life who should know what’s going on.
  2. Establish a realistic plan for yourself. For example, if you stopped doing the one thing that always brought you joy because you lost interest, do it anyway, even and especially if you don’t feel like it. Exercise. Spend time with a friend. Go outside. By doing this, the kidnapper loses power, and you get stronger.
  3. Focus on your physical body. Eat when you’re not hungry and try to get back to a healthy sleep routine. Neither of these things will be easy, but then again, getting away from a real kidnapper is no walk in the park. It takes work and determination.
  4. Don’t judge yourself for feeling the way you feel because it only prolongs suffering. It’s like judging yourself for not seeing the kidnapper behind you when they snatched you—that’s not helpful.
  5. Celebrate big and small wins, all the time. A win might be that you didn’t judge yourself for a whole day, or that you got dressed and went for a walk.
  6. Be patient with the process and remain hopeful. With depression, there’s no overnight fix, no “snapping out of it” in a few hours.

If none of these things seem to be working, and you’re having thoughts of harming yourself, please call or text 988, or chat 988lifeline.org.

Depression will kidnap anyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, culture, socio-economic status, or level of education, and not having access to treatment doesn’t mean you can’t make yourself feel better. You just have to be determined to create your own escape routes.

After all, if ever you were kidnapped in real life, wouldn’t you jump at an opportunity to escape?

To find a therapist near you, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

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More from Yvonne Castañeda, MSW, LICSW
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