Over the course of my life, I have had these questions directed at me:
Why are you so open, honest and willing to share your battle with depression?
Shouldn’t you be keeping that to yourself? It should be a private thing.
Are you sure you’re depressed? Maybe you’re just ‘sad’.
Let’s face it. There are nay-sayers out there.
There are the people who don’t believe in Mental Illness.
There are people who don’t understand it and don’t care to.
There are people who think it is funny and to be used as an insult or a reason to mock.
There are people without medical degrees or experience on the topic who are always so willing to share their opinions, cures and advice when they literally have no idea what it is like- but feel they can try to impose their beliefs etc.. upon you like they’re privy to some sort of miracle cure and everything you have personally experienced is ‘Just something made up in your head’ or you just being over-dramatic.
To these people I say:
Honestly, it makes me so happy that days like Bell Let’s Talk Day exist, so we can work to erase the stigma surrounding Mental Illness.
I am not one to shy away from who I am, or what I experience in life. I am not the type of person who feels the need to hide who I am or what I am about. That is what makes me ‘ME’ and while some may see it as a flaw, I don’t.
Unfortunately, one of the things that also makes me ‘ME’ is the fact that I suffer from depression.
I was diagnosed at a young age. My parents recognized the signs, mainly in part because my father suffers from severe depression. I remember sitting in the doctors office, after having gone through all kinds of tests (including blood tests) and told that I was suffering from a chemical imbalance in my brain. I was in my early teens.
The teenage years are already a difficult age to begin with. When you add Mental Illness into the mix, it goes from ‘hard’ to ‘unpleasant’ very quickly. Oh and I was unpleasant. I was a very angry girl. I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder and felt very misunderstood by everyone (Just take a cruise through my old diary) Even back then I was willing to admit that part of the reason I was so angry (and even mean) was this: If I was going to be miserable, why couldn’t everyone else be? It’s completely wrong, but it seemed logical at the time.
Looking back as an adult, I can tell you now that was such a ridiculous thing to ever think, but as a young girl that was truly my ignorant philosophy on life; no matter how much my parents or other adults around me tried to tell me otherwise.
My parents and doctor eventually found me counseling and anger management. I was still considered ‘a minor’ so I was not to be given any medication until I was sixteen years old. When I turned sixteen, I went from being in the care of social workers who worked with me on my issues, to that of a psychiatrist and a therapist who could not only help me work through my emotions with therapy, but I was finally put on medication to help me control my imbalance.
Unfortunately there was a side effect to the medication that I didn’t see coming. Long story short, it caused me to throw up when I ate. This quickly developed into a larger problem and at seventeen, not only was I being treated for depression, anxiety and anger; I had been diagnosed with Bulimia Nervosa and needed to undergo counseling for that as well. (And to think-these are the only things I am only comfortable sharing right now)
Needless to say my teenage years were not at all my finest hour for so many reasons.
Clearly I had hit rock bottom hard in my late teens, but when I finally felt comfortable with who I was and started making progress in therapy-I slowly started to realize that all the anger, hurt and everything else in between wasn’t just me nor was it all completely my fault. I genuinely had something that wasn’t wired right and that was just part of my chemical make up. I started to change my attitude and wanted people not only to understand me but to get help themselves if they needed it.
My first big opportunity to do so was for a project in High School. We had to pick a topic, research it, create a presentation and take over the class for an entire period ‘teaching’ the class. My sister was my partner and together she and I put together a large and somewhat interactive and dramatic presentation. Not only did we get a great grade, but thanks to the information we had provided- we ended up helping a fellow classmate seek the help SHE needed. I will never forget her finding me in the hallways of the school and thanking me for sharing my story and that she had sought help from her doctor and they were setting her on the right path.
I had actually helped someone through my own suffering and by putting my story out there.
So to those people who don’t understand WHY I am so free and passionate about discussing this topic; Why I am so forward and willing to share my story. It’s because I would rather help one person fight and survive this lonely illness, then keep to myself and let others suffer in silence.
I know what its like.
Mental Illness exists in so many different forms. I know from my experience how lonely it is. How exhausting it is. How misunderstood you feel. It’s like there is always this extra devil on your shoulder, not telling you what to do-but whispering awful things in your ear about yourself and it uses your voice. It slowly breaks down your self esteem. You lose interest in the things you previously loved. It zaps you of your energy. You lose trust in those around you. You would rather stare off into space or sleep then interact with people. It magnifies the simplest of emotions and events. It breaks you in ways you can’t even fathom.
To anyone reading this who can relate, please understand:
You can’t go through this alone.
You don’t have to go through this alone.
You need to talk about it.
You need help.
You need to be able to recognize and identify the signs and symptoms within yourself.
There IS an incredibly large difference between someone who is ‘just sad’ and someone who is ‘depressed’:
Sadness goes away.
Depression never truly does.
Depression will sit on your shoulder, biding it’s time until something triggers it and slowly but surely you will start listening more and more to it. It’s like losing your footing on a steep incline and you keep sliding further and further down until it feels like there is absolutely no hope in reaching the edge-where you can find safety and comfort again.
The good news is there ARE ways to help you work through it. Therapy, medication, physical activity just to name a few and speaking as someone who has been there, done that and STILL goes through it… they do help!
If there is one thing that actually drives me up the wall is when someone says to me: I was depressed once, but I got over it. It’s simply mind over matter-your negative thoughts make you negative and once you get rid of them you are cured. It’s SO easy.
(I’m not kidding-I have actually had more then one person try telling me this)
Don’t you just want to respond: “Well my darlings, dears, my little moppets- That is NOT how depression and mental illness work-but thanks for coming out!” (Okay that is the nicer-less profane version of what I really want to say….)
It’s truly a nice thought that we can just ‘happily think away’ these things, but I say this with all the love in my heart:
ARE YOU @#$%^ FOR REAL?
Honestly. There are people out there who actually THINK we try to be and/or live negatively ON PURPOSE?! Really?! That rhetoric is so ridiculously naive and incredibly dangerous if said to the wrong person. SO STOP SAYING THAT CRAP TO PEOPLE WHO ARE GENUINELY HURTING!
This is why we must listen to those who truly understand, those who encourage talking to doctors, therapists etc….and listen less to those people who try to brush it under the rug and pretend it’s not there.
There is no shame in any of this.
There is absolutely no shame in suffering from a Mental Illness.
I’m a lot older now.
I’m wiser and clearly a hell of a lot more experienced in life then I was when I was that angry, lonely kid. I am one of the lucky ones. Teenage suicide rates are high. Much to high. We need to rectify this. We need to do our part to save lives. When we ignore the signs and chalk everything up to ‘just being a teenager’ there exists that potential for that girl who is always sad and bullied or that boy who likes to pick fights- to harm themselves (or others)
Depression is treatable.
Suicide is irreversible.
To the teenagers and others suffering in silence:
Life can get better. It takes you holding the hands of those willing to help. It takes courage to admit there is a problem that isn’t so easily fixed. You can do it. You do have the power within you and trust me when I say you are NOT alone. If you are feeling abnormally sad, angry, bullied, tired, or just missing that spark: Please talk to someone, whether it’s a friend, a family member, a teacher, a pastor, a doctor, a co-worker- if one doesn’t work, try someone else….because someone out there cares.
I know from experience that life is hard. It can be so difficult-and that is not just limited to those of us who suffer from some form of Mental Illness- Your life mattes and you matter-whether you choose to believe that or not. What you are going through right now really is temporary. Things can improve and things can be put into place to help you not slide down that hill as hard or as fast. The low points will come-that is inevitable, but for just as many low points there are so many more high ones. There are multiple ways to learn to cope and function so you can control your illness and not let it control you.
Life has so much to offer, if you just let it.
As an adult, I have a husband who loves me, children who adore me and a dog who sticks by my side 24/7. I have friends who love and embrace me for who I am and family who got stuck with me and have just learned to love it. I can’t imagine not being here for any of them and I know they feel the same about me. I may have anxiety and my depression may act up from time to time- but ultimately, even at my lowest points I have to admit that things have turned out pretty nice for me, a lot of that is not just because of those who support me, but also because I talk, I share, I recognize when I need help and I seek help when I need it… and ultimately: I flat out refuse to give up!
TALKING ABOUT MENTAL ILLNESS and SHARING YOUR STORY SAVES LIVES.
Let’s keep fighting to erase the stigma!
All of the above is just a part of my story.
I am not affiliated with them in any way (except that I love this cause) but remember to use the hashtag: #BellLetsTalk today on social media. Let’s keep this conversation going!
**You can read more of my personal journey here on my blog by searching under the “Depression” Category.
**Here is a link to one of my posts that resonated with a lot of people on my social media. I wrote it just a couple of months ago while suffering from a bad episode so people could understand my frame of mind at the time: Click Here To Read