A Helpful Depression Analogy And What Can Help Ease The Pain

I have discussions a lot with people regarding mental health, depression, etc... I also am a big proponent about talking about how medication has been helpful for me and made a huge difference in my life.

One of the concerns I hear from people about medication is that it will change someone's personality and make them not them anymore. That their depression is just who they are, and you can't change someone's essence. And if you do manage to take away their depression you will take away all their feelings and they won't be a "real person" anymore.

The other day I was having a discussion with a person who had this concern, and I came up with an analogy that I think works really well to explain how depression works, how medication works, and other things related to depression.

Ok, so you have a person, let's call them Amy. Amy is a full, complete person, with a full developed personality with likes and dislikes, everything that would make a "real person". Amy is carrying a backpack filled with heavy rocks. These rocks are her depression. Sometimes it is a chemical imbalance that causes her depression, sometimes it is bad things she's been through in life, sometimes its a combination of both. But either way, she walks through life with a heavy backpack filled with rocks on her back.

When someone is depressed, when they are carrying their heavy burden everywhere, they sometimes can function, sometimes not (depending on how heavy their backpack is) but if they can function it makes everything harder. Everything is more exhausting to them than it would be to someone not carrying that backpack full of rocks. They may be able to jump but they can't jump as high or as long. They may be able to run but run slower and get out of breath quicker. I said that happiness and good moods are like that running or jumping. Sometimes you can't if the bag is too heavy, and sometimes you can but the jump or happiness isn't as "high", its only a mild happiness not overwhelming joy, and sometimes you can be happy but it passes quickly. 

Life gives you rocks to carry in your hands as well and each rock is a different size depending on how much it depletes you. Rocks can include housework you need to do, errands you need to run, your job, schoolwork, social interactions that don't always go swimmingly, marriage or relationship challenges, dealing with an ex, dealing with beaurocracy. 

Sometimes even if you don't have this burden of rocks in your backpack just the rocks in your hands can be so overwhelming and hard to carry so it is difficult to function. 

But imagine if you are already carrying a heavy backpack on your back and then your arms are getting piled with heavy rocks- it would take a lot fewer rocks before you feel like giving up, that you can't anymore.

However, if you don't have that heavy backpack filled with depression rocks, you might be able to handle the rocks you would have been unable to handle with the rocks on your back. Like if you weren't already dealing with depression you might be able to handle a school that you don't love so much or an annoying boss in a way that you would definitely wouldn't be able to handle with that bag of rocks on your back.

And if your backpack is so full of heavy rocks and you have heavy rocks in your hands, the tiniest rock might just be the final straw that breaks your back and might make you totally overwhelmed and lose it, and that can be as tiny a thing as "the wrong color lollypop"

Now what can help?

Psychiatric medication doesn't change your personality or stop you from feeling. It just takes out heavy rocks from your backpack. Sometimes it only manages to take out a little bit, but in an ideal scenario, and assuming the depression is just chemical, it can completely empty the backpack from rocks. If the depression is a combination of things, such as situational things or from a painful background it can help take out some of the rocks as well, even if not completely get rid of the rocks from your backpack. 

So with these meds, yes, you still will have to juggle the heavy rocks of life in your hands, but at least you won't be weighed down as much (or at all) by heavy rocks on your back. You can jump and run more easily and with more energy, jumping higher, running faster, and be happier more easily and lasting longer than you could with the depression weighing you down.

Of course, medication isn't the only thing that can help remove some of the rocks from your backpack. Therapy is also a good way to help remove some of the rocks, either temporarily or permanently, depending on the cause. If it is just a chemical imbalance therapy might not get rid of all the rocks (or even at all), but it can give one tools as to how to juggle the rocks in their hands more easily.

Other things that help with the rock burden with people suffering from depression is someone listening to them and sharing in their pain. This is essentially like someone carrying their backpack together with them so that the full load isn't just on one person.

Things like getting enough sleep or eating good healthy meals on a regular basis or exercising cardio types of activities also are ways to lessen the burden of the rocks, for as long as you do it regularly. Not sure in this analogy if it is taking rocks off, giving the rocks some 'lift' (maybe via a helium balloon) or making the body stronger to be able to hold more rocks but doesn't really matter.

Once I explained this analogy about the rocks and how depression works and what helps I found that the person I was explaining to about it really understood that they are not their depression and there are ways to improve things. And with this terminology understood and discussed it makes it easier in the moment, when the 'little' things are making someone fall apart, to empathize and help and problem solve. "Oh wow! Your rocks are really too heavy for you to handle right now. What can we/you do to help you lighten up the load?

I had a full plan to right this post and had already started when I came across this comic that represents part of what I said. But I thought it really apt and wanted to share it with you.

Do you or any of your loved ones suffer from depression? What are your thoughts on my analogy? What lightens your rock load?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. Excellent analogy. And it steers the sufferer away from feeling inadequate.

    I wonder how much of the worry about "won't it change me?" comes from a partner, not the depressed person. The partner is used to the depression, is used to being in charge, and has evolved all kinds of behaviors that allow them to carry on. The partner will have to change too, and that is scary.

  2. omg this is so me right now. I was in a accident about 6 weeks ago and it was minor. Someone rear ended me. This is my 2nd accident being rear ended in a 2 year period. I could not understand why I was so depressed and full of anxiety with it only being a minor accident. However I can see now it was a combination of both. Not to mention every accident I have ever been in. Have been on turns. Now I have a full on anxiety attack just before a turn. When a car comes near I brace myself. I have full on depression with it also. I think my body is finally saying enough already. I am in pain physically too so that is not helping. Thank you for this it totally makes sense.

  3. Great analogy. I am on medication myself.

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