For those of you unfamiliar with me or my journey, let me state up front that I am not a doctor. The truth of the matter is, I’m relatively new to the community of depression and anxiety sufferers. This blog is an outlet for me to process the emotions and thoughts I experience as I walk down this relatively foreign path. I’m open to continuing dialogue if you care to comment, but I will not address things outside the realm of my current knowledge base, nor will I engage with hate or negativity. Apologies in advance if that seems harsh, but I’m quickly learning that boundaries are a key factor in my own growth and healing.
Depression and anxiety are difficult to understand if you’ve never experienced them. I had my own false notions about them before the conditions landed firmly in my lap. The uninitiated often see it as merely being down or in a bad mood. While it is a mood disorder, it is far from being a mood. A mood can often easily be changed by a moment of joy or doing something you love. Outwardly, I am a very positive person who is quick to laugh or make a joke. I’ll offer a kind smile to a stranger and I often wonder if the first thought that comes to mind is, “There goes a happy person.” They wouldn’t be wrong on most days. I’m always looking for the good, be it in people, or life in general. My husband often jokes that I’m a the-glass-is-never-empty type person because I still hold onto the hope that with air inside the right conditions can turn the air into water and refill it.
Depression doesn’t care if you’re a happy person though, because it doesn’t work the way a mood does. The best way I’ve been able to describe it to those who haven’t experienced it is that it’s like a heavy veil of gray weighing down what you would like to feel or do. Some days I have the strength to haul the burden of the weight and put on a false front and continue about my day. Other days, the weight is more than I can lift. One shouldn’t confuse that with weakness though. You wouldn’t expect someone to be able to lift a tree on their own, and sometimes your brain has you convinced the veil is as heavy as a redwood. Your brain also knows how to protect you and let you know when you need to rest and rebuild your strength.
I’m going to discuss a hard truth right now, and my intent is not to hurt or offend, but to enlighten. You may have said what I’m about to share in a well-meaning way to a friend and knowing your heart, they let it slide without rebuttal. I’ve actually done the same in my own life, but now it’s time to be frank. One of the worst things you can say to someone in the midst of depression is “Go out and do something fun.” I probably can’t even count the number of times I’ve heard or read this while in the fetal position in my bed with salty tears staining my face. What a wonderful and easy illness this would be to conquer if it were that simple. Again, we know you love us and you’re trying to help, so don’t take this as condemnation or a sign that you shouldn’t reach out to your friends. Support is everything during our lows, but again…it’s not a mood. It’s not shed by a fun activity. On the contrary it’s often amplified by the fact that something that normally gives you so much joy now feels flat and empty.
Instead, might I suggest, that you tell them you love them and remind them that the lows are temporary and that you will be with them if they want as they ride it out. Don’t be offended though if they choose to ride it out alone. We often don’t want to burden our loved ones who we know have their own life stresses to deal with. And still others of us need the solitude in order to refuel and recuperate. Having open-hearted and honest discussions with your friends about what they need is another great way to navigate through their difficult times.
I’m also learning as I go along that not everyone is willing or able to share that they even have these conditions. Part of that stems from the stigma attached to mental health issues. I can’t control the chemicals my brain produces any more than a diabetic can control how much insulin his or her pancreas secretes. Nutrition, exercise, and medication all help keep the balance, but they don’t stop incidents from occurring. It’s not a choice to have depression, as some of the uneducated would have you believe. A day in the body of a sufferer would teach them that, but Freaky Friday moments don’t happen in real life.
Because of the stigma, many will suffer silently for fear their employers or even future employers will find out and pass over their résumé in favor of someone who doesn’t come with the so-called “baggage” of mental health issues. Some won’t even reach out to doctors for fear a record being kept or having to face a potentially lifelong relationship with prescriptions. Their silence is completely understandable if you take a look at how people who are open with their issues are treated in real life and on social media.
For those of you who are forced into silence, I hope my voice helps rather than hinders. And for those of you who are blessed to be able to use your voices, I hope you will do so. I will join you in that chorus until we are understood and accepted as is. In the meantime, be good to yourself. Give yourself the same grace that you so readily bestow on others and keep fighting the good fight.
Much love to you all,
If you need to find resources for help there are several on the NIMH website or you can talk to your primary care physician.