Today’s a good day for me. I have spent many months dealing with depressed feelings. Life’s challenges have thrown a lot at me and I have struggled as I have worked to deal with these things. It has been a little over two months since my doctor and I recognized that my anxieties were depression. While I mentioned on few occasions that I was dealing with new challenges, I never mentioned the depression because I was not sure how I felt about being open about it.
Today I am making a choice to be open and honest about how life challenges have affected me. This is not a “pity party” post. This is a post where I am honest about my feelings and where I show that it is normal for chronic illness and life’s challenges to add up.
Like the rest of you, I have had my share of what chronic illness does. I was diagnosed in my early 30s, as someone trying to be a good mother and a successful professional. When we are young, we take our health for granted. Chronic illness means we are sick and we will be sick forever and that really stinks. Our bodies have suddenly freaked out on us and we have lost control of the one thing we had control of. Not only that, it affects every aspect of our lives.
Accepting what chronic illness does and how it affects our lives is a major loss. It is grief and it takes time to process and it something we revisit often. Add life’s challenges in the mix and we are mourning, angry and sad – all at once. All this part of our reality. Even life’s challenges alone or chronic illness alone make life hard.
A Recipe for Depression
The chronic illness part of depressed feelings has to do with the situation itself and changes in our appearance, mobility and independence. The illness itself may cause depression. Add pain, fatigue, and the effects of medication into that mix. Last, and most importantly, the social pressure to be okay. Walla! A great recipe for depression.
For me, it was bigger than that. I had a lot of obstacles thrust upon me of late and as I tried to deal with those pressures, I found myself struggling with my emotions. I didn’t realize I was depressed until my doctor pointed it out. I thought my feelings and emotions were normal. I was crying at the drop of a hat, not sleeping at night, my mind was constantly working, and I hate to admit this, but I actually thought about death. Not about suicide or dying but the whole notion that death was better than life. Now, with medication and therapy, I am dealing with things better than I ever have. Life is such much clearer and I am not thrown down by obstacles or by life stresses. I am handling things better than I have in a long time and I am grateful for my doctor for recognizing what I was going with me.
I hesitated to write this post. I guess, in a way, it meant admitting I was weak and I was not as strong as I thought people perceived me. However, I am learning everyday that there is no requirement for me to be strong all the time. I am human and I am allowed to feel weakness. The fact is I am getting stronger everyday and I am seeing myself in a whole new light. I still have days where I feel sad but for the most part, I am okay. I am sleeping better at night and my moods are not all over the place and I am definitely a lot calmer.
If anything, I wrote this post because I wanted others to see that feeling depressed wasn’t something to be ashamed of. We associate such a stigma with depression that it forces people to hold their emotions and feelings in. It is such a stigma that 75% of those who are depressed do not seek treatment. The whole idea that family or society reacting to depression paralyzes people from getting the help they need. Unless someone is going through divorce, death or other trauma, people cannot begin to understand depression. Emotional pain in our society is seen as personal weakness and not a symptom of physical disorders, chemical imbalances or nutrient deficiency. In my case, it was a combination of life’s challenges, chronic illness and vitamin D deficiency.
Our society still has this notion that when someone is depressed they can just snap out of it, decide to stop, will it away and they try to cheer us up, thinking that it is simple to feel better. Further, many have this notion that we all feel depressed sometimes, that we should grin and bear it (most depressed persons already do this), and that we should smile even when our hearts are breaking. They make light of it by saying this like “life is hard for all of us – what makes you so special?” or they will say that the person is just trying to get attention. It is no wonder that people do not talk about depression or seek help. It took me a long time to understand what was happening to me and admitting weakness meant that I had to acknowledge what was happening.
Pent up emotions are difficult for anyone to talk about even to someone you are very close to. When we tell people how we feel, even those closest to us, we feel vulnerable to rejection and humiliation. We wonder if they will believe us or take us seriously. Will they make us feel weak, foolish or embarrassed and in the end, will we still feel alone? No wonder it is so hard to seek help for depression. Some people would rather die than admit they need help and so they make a choice to suffer alone.
What is even more tragic is that a lot of people suffering from depression don’t even know they are depressed. They blame others for their suffering and they complicate other people’s lives in the process. The handle this through general unhappiness, low self-esteem, being overly sensitive and with difficulty getting along with others. If they only knew that depression makes life and getting along with others hard. The fact is, it is hard to come to terms with these horrible feelings.
At first, we don’t really know what is happening to us and what is really going on. We don’t recognize what we are feeling and we try to push these feelings aside. We hope that if we ignore these feelings that they will somehow go away. Unfortunately, despite all the ignoring, we break down. We ask ourselves whether we are going crazy but it takes time to realize what is happening. Some people take to drinking, smoking, and/or drugs or even have an affair to cover up what they are feeling. Nobody wants to be depressed so they find ways to cover what they are feeling.
The fact is depression comes with guilt, shame and embarrassment. We blame ourselves or we feel weak for having these feelings. I would ask myself how come a strong person like me wasn’t strong enough to fight these feelings. I also wondered if it was some kind of punishment or whether I just didn’t deserve to be happy.
It’s not Personal
All I wanted was to be the mother my children deserved. In the end, I understood that depression was a part of biology and it wasn’t personal or it wasn’t my fault. I knew that seeking help was the intelligent and informed choice. Making that decision meant I was strong, smart and capable. So, I am working on making me better and I don’t care if anymore if anyone sees me as weak, crazy, or incapable. I am not. I am stronger and better for doing what I need to do to be a better mother and a better person. And, I am getting stronger with each passing day.
Depression is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a medical disorder, like RA or fibromyalgia and it needs treatment. There are plenty of influential people who have suffered from depression including actors, Harrison Ford and Hugh Laurie. Football player, Terry Bradshaw has suffered and now is an advocate for removing the stigma of depression.
If you are feeling depressed or are experiencing the symptoms of depression, don’t be embarrassed or try to convince yourself that you can just will it away. Please talk your doctor and believe that you can get the help that you need and deserve. Trust me, you are worth it.