(NOTE: This is an edit and update from a previous post I had done on depression.)
“You are one of the most un-depressed depressed people I know,” Kat said to me one morning on our usual Friday morning runs. When she said that to me, I had to smile. Thing is, she wasn’t the first person that has ever said that to me. She isn’t going to be the last one either.
That’s right. I’m coming out and admitting it in a public forum. I have severe clinical depression.
It used to be my “dirty little secret;” something I kept from people because I was afraid of what they would think of me if they knew that I was seriously screwed up in the head. The few people I tried to talk to about it, family included, used tell me that it was just a case of the blues or that I didn’t really have a reason to feel the way I did. I actually had someone close to me tell me that they didn’t understand why I was taking anti-depressants and that I was weak because of it. I had it pretty great, why did I feel like I did?
I don’t have an answer for you that you are going to understand other than “I just do.”
Depression is defined as a condition of general emotional dejection and withdrawal; sadness greater and more prolonged than that warranted by any objective reason. A bunch of fancy words for basically saying a deep sadness for no reason whatsoever. Sure, it can start because something happened to cause it, but more often than not, that can be considered a bout of depression, and not clinical depression. Sometimes depression happens just because it happens.
In my case, that’s exactly what happened.
My mom told me that when I was 4 years old and was in kindergarten, I was almost kicked out because I would sit by myself in the corner of the classroom. I’d put myself in time out, the teacher would say. My mom would be worried and come to the school and see me sitting there in the corner, all by myself. Sometimes I’d have a book in my hands, sometimes I’d be there just sitting there staring off into the distance.
She was worried, of course, but there really wasn’t anything wrong with me. Physically anyway. I was just her quiet and “weird” kid that didn’t act “normally.” We joke about it now because back then no one really knew anything about depression, but I can’t help but wonder if things would have been different now if we had known about it.
Flash forward to now. I think about my past, about how I grew up and the signs were there. Oh, how the signs were there. But again…it’s not like depression was such a widely known or even widely discussed thing. It’s not something that people talk about seriously, even now. It’s brushed under the rug, joked about, even shoved aside. Even Brian has rolled his eyes a few times when I mention that I’m just having a down day. And I really wish I could say with confidence that it’s okay for people to be like that, but the truth is I can’t because emotional disorders like this are just as serious as physical ones.
Depression is serious, and your reactions to someone who has depression can have lasting and seriously damaging effects. Telling someone to just ‘get over it’ does more damage than good. Blowing off their feelings, belittling their concerns and thoughts, even rolling your eyes just reaffirms the negative and self deprecating thoughts they are thinking in their head. It’s dangerous ground.
One does not simply just ‘get over’ depression. It’s not something that you start therapy for or take medications for and POOF! It’s gone. It doesn’t work that way, and people who believe that it does don’t truly understand the disease. Instead we learn how to live with it. We learn how to function without letting it run our lives, whether it’s with medication, therapy, techniques to stop the rampant thoughts or a combination of all three. Some days are better than others; some are fantastic and almost make you forget that you have some kind of darkness inside of you. Some days suck and make you want to sleep all day and wallow yourself in self pity and chocolate ice cream.
I know that I am one of the people who has to be on an antidepressant, to help counter the chemical imbalance in my brain. After spending a little over a week without my anti-depressants I’ve realized just how bad I still am. I slept way more than I should have, the self deprecating thoughts were so much worse than usual, and the feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness? It was overwhelming at times. But if you were to have seen me at work or at lunch, you would never know. You would have never known and it’s not because I am a good actress, it’s because I know how to control those thoughts and how to stop myself from sliding back into that place.
But the truth is, I was miserable. I was sad and I was heart broken, and I wanted nothing more than to have someone come up to me and say “I see it, and I want you to know that you ARE worth it and you ARE okay.”
I fell into a dark place, even while taking my medication. For well over a year, I was putting my job, my marriage, and my life in jeopardy because I was in so deep with my depression. Believe it or not, I didn’t even realize it was that bad until it was almost too late. It’s called persistent depressive disorder (also called dysthymia.) It’s a depressed mood that lasts for at least two years. A person diagnosed with persistent depressive disorder may have episodes of major depression along with periods of less severe symptoms, but symptoms must last for two years to be considered persistent depressive disorder.
I finally came to notice that it was a major problem at the beginning of 2015, but I was already so far deep into things that I didn’t know how to get out. I sought out help from my doctor, tried to talk to my loved ones, even considered finding a psychologist to figure out what was going on. What ended up happening is a complete change of lifestyle. I left my previous job at the television station, I had stopped running to work on my mental health, I started reach out to free support systems to help me find a balance. I took two months between jobs to just sleep and work on myself.
Almost two years later, I finally feel like I’m beginning to find myself again. Right now, I’m seeing a new doctor and he has me taking two different anti-depressants to help me. My marriage is doing much better because we starting to talk more about things, including my reactions that were happening because of my depression. I reached out to a few close friends who I know will listen to me fully before trying to help, knowing that sometimes all I need is an outlet to get the emotions. And I found a few support groups to help me, one on Facebook and one online with free chat groups that help. I find it easier to chat online like this instead of discussing it in person.
Sometimes it still isn’t enough. While I feel better and I have more good days than bad, I do still have bad days and the bad days are bad. My tells are pretty obvious too: my music changes, I suddenly become a hermit and stay quiet, I hide from the world. And I still have some dark thoughts when I’m at my worst that I am able to combat thanks to the support I have.
People fighting depression like this are not going to ask for help, because we think that we are somehow in the wrong. People fighting depression are not going to seek out comfort or validation. We think that it’s our fault, even if logic tells us that it’s not possible. We think that we somehow deserve this because we aren’t good enough, or because we aren’t smart enough, or because we just simply aren’t enough. It’s going to be up to you to notice it and make that first step.
I finally made the decision to step up and start talking about it publicly after Robin Williams died. His suicide hit me hard, and I was so hurt from it. But the most positive, funny and outgoing people are sometimes prisoner to this disease and if I can do anything to help another person by talking about my own experiences, then I have to try. Because I can tell you, it’s worth trying.
And if you have a chance to, support Jared Padalecki’s Always Keep Fighting campaigns. His shirts raise money for a plethora of different support groups for mental illness, self harm, and suicide prevention. (And it’s Sam from Supernatural. Hello?! He’s a hottie.)
Be Kind; Everyone You Meet is Fighting a Hard Battle.