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According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States ages 18 and older, or 18 percent of the population. Included in this statistic is the one-third who actually get treated, which is an extremely small group. It left me thinking about the people who aren’t diagnosed or treated. It also left me thinking about my own situation. I often think about what depression looks like, it’s many faces, and it always brings me back to that Zoloft commercial where the white bouncy blob struggles to function and do simple tasks. A storm cloud settles over it. I can relate.

Sometimes I go through short periods where I’m questioning what my life means. Some days, like the bouncing ball in the Zoloft commercial, I’m disinterested when it comes to doing anything. There are some days where I feel like a lazy bum, and I’m ashamed of it, but I’m too lethargic to get up from my bed and be productive. Sometimes I get extremely overwhelmed, stressed, and I worry about everything. Some days I feel trapped in my own skin and just stuck in life.

There are times when I’m dealing with these sporadic bouts of despair. However, I haven’t been clinically diagnosed with depression. I am, for the most part, a happy person. But when things are bad, it feels as though they are on a downward spiral and I sink into it. Sometimes it’s the big stuff that triggers it—like being overwhelmed with work, weight gain, feeling unmotivated to write, or family issues—but often enough, feeling low is also triggered by other things as simple as crappy weather, being in stuck in a dismal city, a rough night’s sleep or too much sleep. I don’t know how to define what I feel as anything but depression, but there are times when I feel that because I haven’t been clinically diagnosed, my phases of sadness aren’t as valid, as strong or as clearly defined as depression as they are for those who have been clinically diagnosed and who are medically battling for their mental health. So, often times, I ignore it and wait until I get over it. I felt I was being politically incorrect by saying things like “I’m depressed,” so I sought out a deeper understanding of what it really means to be just that, even when there is no clinical diagnosis. I had to ask myself, am I just extremely bummed out or am I really depressed? And what is the difference?

I’ve found my own form of therapy in being able to have open discussions with friends whenever these dark feelings arise, and I’ve learned that there are levels to mental health that go way beyond a clinical diagnosis. I’ve learned that whether I’m bummed out for weeks on end without reason, or I’m temporarily feeling helpless because nothing seems to be looking up in my life, these aren’t issues that need validation in order for me to seek whatever help or counsel I deem necessary for them. So does not being clinically diagnosed invalidate my depression? Nope, not at all.

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