It’s a word that’s tossed around a lot these days, yet it isn’t fully understood. What most people don’t understand about being depressed is that there are different kinds of depression and different stages of it.

We all get depressed. Our moods fluctuate. We’re only human.

Some of us, however, can’t as easily control how little or how often we get depressed. Some people, such as myself, have a chemical imbalance in which our brains do not produce enough serotonin. This helps to regulate our moods, anxieties and so forth.

Therefore, we must put forth more effort to be happy with ourselves, with (and for) the people around us and with the current circumstances in our lives.

That can be hard for someone who produces the normal amount of serotonin in their brain. Imagine how difficult that must be for someone with depression to juggle all of that?

We have made our way back to that word: “depression.”

My depression developed throughout the years. It’s not something that happens overnight. You don’t snap your fingers one day and say, “I’m depressed.”

For the most part, I had a normal childhood. I played outside with the other kids in my neighborhood. I had wonderful parents and some close friends. This doesn’t seem like the life of someone who would become depressed, does it?

A part of me always knew I was different. Some of the kids would treat me differently because of the way I acted. The way I spoke. The television shows I watched or the music I listened to. The fact that I didn’t like sports or hunting as much as the other boys did.

I’m not going to say girls don’t have it rough in this world, because they struggle in a way that I will never be able to understand. Men, on the other hand, have different standards to live up to in society.

Men are expected to behave a certain way. They’re expected to be masculine and not show their emotions, or they come off as inferior. If they don’t live up to these standards, then something is wrong with them. They’re different. They’re targets to make fun of. They’re a joke.

For more than half my life, this was me. This was who I saw myself as: a joke.

My depression started in middle school. As I got older and verbal and physical attacks became about deeper meanings and social issues, all of it began to affect me on a more psychological level.

After a while, you start to believe everything people say about you:

“You’re worthless.”

“You’re a ‘poser.’”

“You’re gay.” — Which, I was, for the record. For years, I was too afraid to admit it to myself. In my hometown, being gay was something else to be targeted for. It was something people didn’t understand and they didn’t want to understand it.

I remember my freshman year of high school, when I cried in front of my mom for at least fifteen minutes. I couldn’t keep it inside of me anymore. I told her [almost] everything. The bullying. Having suicidal thoughts but always being too afraid to go through with it.

Now that I look back on it, I wonder what that must be like. To hear your own child say that they have considered killing themselves. To feel like you are at fault for bringing them into this world. That must be one of the worst feelings in the world.

After that, I began seeing various therapists and was prescribed on medication. Everyone is different and maybe I just never had the right doctors, but therapy never worked for me. I felt odd, sitting in a stranger’s office and telling them everything. It felt like a waste of my time and a waste of my parents’ money.

They would nod or ask me questions that felt like verbal attacks. My favorite was a doctor that literally spoke to me as if she had just taken some drug. She spoke in a rehearsed voice like she was talking to a child.

I quit therapy for a while and graduated high school. You should receive a shirt with your diploma that says, “I Survived Four Years of Hell and All I Got Was This Stupid T-Shirt.”

I thought that graduating high school would change everything for me. I thought that going off to college and meeting new people would be everything that I needed to finally stop feeling empty inside.

The only problem was that I was still hiding a part of myself.

From the start, college wasn’t the answer I was hoping for. I was half an hour from home, in a town that I absolutely hated and that was no different from my hometown.

Worst of all, I continued to live my life like I was supposed to impress people. I tried to be cool and smoke and drink and party and do all these things in a way that, was quite simply, not who I was. I was living this lifestyle and wasn’t even doing it for myself. I was doing it for other people, who weren’t even really my friends.

This caused my depression to worsen and reach its peak that it hadn’t reached since my early high school years. Towards the end of my freshman year in college, I would lie in bed all day and sleep. I wouldn’t leave my bedroom until the late afternoon, and that would be to go to the bathroom and shower so I still felt like a human being.

Personally, the first two years of college were rough. I found solace in exercising and running, which helped a lot. I met some great people and overall, it was better. It still wasn’t the answer I was looking for, unfortunately.

It wasn’t until I entered a program I enjoyed and met like-minded people that I eventually felt comfortable enough to explore the side of me that I had been repressing for so long. I came out to my friends and eventually, my immediate family, who, to my surprise, understood far easier than I thought they would.

I have been incredibly fortunate in life. I have been blessed with loving parents who have provided me with most of my opportunities, such as traveling around the world and attending college and meeting most of the friends I currently have in my life.

Despite this, I still feel empty. I suppose we all feel a bit lost and empty. We all want to know which direction we should take. We want to feel like we are doing something right.

For someone who is depressed, this feeling and the unknown fear heightens. This is where I think we run into issues in our society. Instead of the person trying to get themselves help, they continue to go on with those thoughts, which ultimately begin to consume them in a cloak of darkness and hopelessness.

I read that J.K. Rowling created the dementors in the Harry Potter series based off the years in the early ‘90’s when she was severely depressed. I believe this is a perfect explanation of how someone dealing with depression feels. It’s like you have this despicable entity, sucking away the last bit of energy and life you have within you. Once all that energy you have to keep fighting and smiling for your loved ones is gone, where does that leave you?

I don’t believe that people who commit suicide are cowards. If you think that, you clearly have never been severely depressed and on the verge of losing your mind. I think it’s ironic, actually, how the public figures we look up to as if they are gods, such as Kurt Cobain or Chester Bennington, both committed suicide. Were they cowards? Or, were they just suffering?

If someone decides that they no longer want to keep battling their dementors, that is their choice. The consequences are traumatic — always. In the end, however, it’s their life. Some of us are simply not strong enough, or possibly made biologically, to survive in this world.

I believe that our role here is to fill in the missing step in between these thoughts forming and the path that led to Kurt and Chester taking their own lives. There needs to be a better understanding and sense of compassion for people suffering from mental illness in our society. It all starts with you checking in on someone and showing that you care.

So, please don’t call someone who is depressed a coward. Or selfish. Or pathetic. That person, whoever they are, is suffering from something like you are. The only difference is a chemical imbalance.

Perhaps, one day, people suffering from mental illness, including myself, will learn to fill whatever is empty within us. Until then, we will continue to keep fighting with each passing day, or we will choose the alternative. Those are our only options, as bleak as it may be.

Adam Letavish was born in Pennsylvania and attended Penn State University. He graduated with a degree in film and video production. He now resides in Oregon and continues to use his writing to influence others and to form a better understanding of mental illness.

Adam can be found on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.