I started this post quite a while ago, but things happened, and as it turns out I’ve recently needed depression medication again. As I said in earlier posts, I have experienced depression severe enough to merit medication a few times. There is a lot of debate over whether anti-depressants are over-prescribed, how effective they really are, and even whether they’re necessary at all. For those of you who have never gone through this, I must stress this: true clinical depression is far more than just feeling really sad. And it is not brought about by a lack of willpower, weakness of character, or inability to “suck it up”. Just as we can sometimes take on too much physically and hurt our bodies, there are times in our lives when circumstances might be more overwhelming than we are emotionally able to handle, or there are physiological reasons for an imbalance.
The first time was many years ago, for what I now know was a drug-induced depression (that medication is no longer on the market). In those days, I was the most complacent of patients. I did whatever the doctor told me to do, including adding multiple drugs to combat the terrible side effects of the drug I was on, instead of insisting that I eliminate the drug that was causing the problems. At that point in time, I was pretty much stuck between two moods: ticked off, and bawling. This was not at all my natural state, and certainly not the person I wanted to be.
The second time around, there was a hormonal imbalance that we later found out was because of undiagnosed/untreated thyroid problems. I was again often ticked off or bawling, but there was more of a feeling of hopelessness than I had ever experienced before. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, or why I didn’t really care to do things that I normally enjoyed. I didn’t really entertain serious thoughts of suicide, but I can’t say that I cared if something catastrophic happened to me either. That’s not a good place to live. And I imagine I wasn’t particularly enjoyable to be around.
This time, I’ve been having health issues that have made it nearly impossible to go about a normal day. It’s been going on for so long now, and it’s so frustrating that every test keeps coming back negative. I feel like my body has betrayed me, and the doctors are so hung up on lab values that they don’t even consider symptoms any more. I don’t mind getting older, but I don’t want to feel like 80 at 40. So even more hopelessness, fear that I will continue to go undiagnosed and never actually get better. It was really starting to get to me, and I couldn’t stay on top of it any more, in addition to fighting the physical aspects of whatever is going on. And added to the hopelessness was quite a bit of anxiety. It turns out that one of the newer mood-balancing drugs is also sometimes helpful for one of the conditions I have, so it seemed like a win-win. I haven’t been on it too long, but it seems like it might be helping on both points.
Why did I share all this? Because I think it is appalling that we have made discussion of emotional and mental struggles such a huge taboo, while most people have no qualms about talking about their physical problems. We always try to put on the mask that shows we have it all together, and so then we think that we’re the only ones who DON’T have it all together, since all we see are everyone else’s masks. But all of us are broken in some way. And it does a disservice to us all to wear those masks. Let me reiterate: WE ALL LOSE, because we don’t allow ourselves to share our struggles.
I’m not saying you have to bear your heart to strangers, and I don’t think it’s healthy to always dwell on how miserable you are. But there have been a lot of famous suicides recently, and the stories mirror those of regular everyday people: even those closest to them often had no idea that they were contemplating taking their own lives. We don’t even feel comfortable sharing with those who should be loving us unconditionally, because we don’t want to be seen as weak, or whiny, or whatever. I’ve been guilty of it myself. And while it’s definitely outside of my comfort zone to share on this level, I hope that it helps some of the people reading this. Depression is NOT your fault, any more than having some random genetic disease is your fault. Find someone you trust, someone you feel safe talking to. Let them know what’s going on. Maybe even ask THEM if they think it would be a good idea for you to see a doctor and/or a counselor. Chances are good that they’ve had the thought and didn’t know how to bring it up to you. Because no matter how bleak things seem right now, no matter how much you think everyone would be better off without you, that is not the case at all.
If you think a loved one is struggling with depression or any other mental battle, don’t wait to talk to them. Let them know you are there to encourage them, to help them however you can. Even if you’ve never dealt with it yourself and can’t fully comprehend what they’re going through, you can still be part of their support structure.
If you are struggling with depression, any other mental health issue, addiction, abuse, or self-harm, please seek out help. There are so many resources available. There’s a great non-profit called To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA) whose specific goal is to support those dealing with any of those issues in getting the help they need. Don’t put it off because you think you can’t afford it: there is assistance to be had. Don’t avoid it because you think you don’t deserve it, or that no one would miss you if you were gone. There are people going through some of the same things you’re going through, and some who have survived it and come out the other side and want to help you do the same. There are a lot more of us out there than you think. You are not alone.