Depression is hard to describe, partly because it is hard to visualise or understand, even for the person suffering it, and harder still for someone who has never experienced it. Conversations about it become difficult, like people talking in a language that neither of them is fully comfortable in, but about something that people can feel passionately, desperately about. Friends sometimes ask me why I don’t just ignore bad thoughts and choose to be happy.

Let’s make a metaphor of what it is actually like. We are all on boats at sea. I steer my mind-boat as well as I can, but sometimes a great storm comes and knocks the shit out of my boat, so all I can do is cling onto anything within reach, leaving no-one steering the ship. I can only wait for the storm to pass before I can regain control. The sea is full of circling sharks – reminders of my every failure in life, reminders of every time someone angrily accused me of being lazy, selfish, or emotionally retarded, or anything else that I’m not sure was entirely my fault. Also in the water waits the kraken of suicide, of how much I want to do it, of how much time I spend thinking about it, of the possibility that soon I might just give up. It’s terrifying.

But the person asking me about my situation is sitting in his boat, right next to mine, and his waters are still and calm. He sees no storm or sharks, so he suggests that it’s all in my head. And so it is, but that doesn’t stop it from being real. And that kraken is real enough to have taken a few friends of mine and to be the biggest killer of men aged 20-34 in England and Wales. Why can’t I just choose not to be depressed? Because I’m not in complete control of my thoughts and feelings, and this suffering is very real. Please trust me on that.

But people don’t want to listen. They interrupt me with more well intended platitudes. The main reason that I have to endure these humiliating conversations is that people really want to help their friends out, which is a good thing. I listen and try to tell them why they aren’t helping, because I know they would benefit from listening, but soon neither of us is listening. I put an end to the conversation and they take this as proof that I’m not even trying to help myself.

Often people ‘know’ they are right because they have been depressed before. Maybe they have. But I wouldn’t assume that my depression is the same as anyone else’s, so the language becomes inept at conveying meaning. If you have been depressed, don’t count depression as now solved and cured. We have heard the advice you’re giving us before. Thanks for trying though. Is that what you want to hear?

One girlfriend said that she felt like I was a burden, that she felt my depression as a burden on her. I couldn’t convince her that she didn’t need to feel that way. I’d actually felt happy when I was with her. The best reaction is from people who just accept it without trying to take it on. One friend laughs at me in the same way that he’d take the piss out of a friend who had just fallen over, although I wonder if he took it too far one time when he told me to fuck off and kill myself.

Wider society generally vilifies us as cheats, lazy and weak, and we take this on the chin because depression is a very humbling thing. By humbling, I mean it beats the shit out of your self-esteem. The services available to us are massively underfunded, so if they are as helpful as doctors claim, then the figures speak for themselves about how society fails to make help available. In the meantime, some forgiveness from our peers wouldn’t go amiss.

Allan Amos