ActivismSkepticism

Red Dresses and Silver Ribbons

Last week, Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess, wrote a about her continued battle with depression. I have a few close friends who I have seen struggle with various forms of depression and I have always felt somewhat at a loss as to how to help or what to say.

I’ve seen a few discussions about depression recently: Jenny’s post, the response she received, Allie’s recent post at Hyperbole and a Half, the story from a few years ago about New Orleans reporter Chris Rose and JT Eberhart’s recent discussion of mental illness at Skepticon 4.

What struck me most about all these discussions was how much depression and mental illness is stigmatized and how much people who suffer from it have to battle the myth that it is somehow their own fault. That admitting to being depressed means that they are admitting to some sort of personal weakness.

There’s clear evidence that depression is a very real, extremely serious illness. But it seems that for many people, it remains a blind spot. It also seems that the more people speak out about depression, the more others are willing to speak out as well and stop hiding the problem. The response to Jenny’s post has been overwhelming. And that got me thinking. A single anecdote from a single person can help a lot of people. It seems that the problem of depression is one that benefits from anecdotes, from personal stories of individuals who have struggled with this. Yes, the plural of anecdote is not evidence. But in this case, perhaps the plural of anecdote is antidote.

So here is my story.

I’m generally a pretty happy person. Above and beyond the fact that I have a pretty good life, I tend to have a relatively optimistic outlook on the world. In the past few years, I have had a few minor issues with depression but nothing that I wasn’t able to attribute to things going on in my life or track back to nutritional deficiencies that I’ve been able to work around. But last year, I got a taste – a tiny glimpse into the world that so many people live in every day.

At the beginning of 2011, I was having a hard time. My marriage of 13 years was ending and I was dealing with the chaos and excitement of moving out on my own along with the regret and sadness of saying goodbye to someone I still deeply cared for but knew I could not be with. I was stressed and worried and sad, and I decided to go to therapy to help me deal with the issues I was having. I had a strong support structure of people who had my back and although things were tough, I was doing OK.

Then, in July, my mother passed away, unexpectedly. And everything. Just. Stopped.

My mother was a force of nature. I talked to her weekly, if not daily and having her gone just made no sense. I went to work every day because it was the bare minimum of what I had to do. But I couldn’t do anything else. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, I just couldn’t. I was exhausted all the time, I wasn’t sleeping, I couldn’t focus on anything and my grief constantly threatened to overwhelm me. Normally incredibly social, I didn’t want to go anywhere or do anything. Things like writing for Skepchick, that I thought were integral to my daily life, simply fell by the wayside.

Over time, my depression eased. I continued with therapy, which helped a lot. In the past month or so, I’ve found myself wanting to go out a little more, see more people, do new things. I’ve been writing again and venturing out into new projects. But I still struggle with the grief every day. And it’s starting to get embarrassing and difficult to explain away – how long can I keep using the ‘dead mom’ excuse?! There are people out there who have it far worse. People who have lost so much more. Why can’t I just be stronger?

And then I read about Jenny, or Allie or Chris and I realize that I am lucky. The fact that I can point to this incident as the REASON for my depression makes me lucky. It gives me an excuse. The great tragedy is that so many people have to deal with feeling the deep, endless sadness without having a reason. And for them, the shame and the self-hatred can be entirely overwhelming.

As a society, it seems many people struggle with understanding depression. We think we understand depression as just an emotion that can be controlled, can be handled rationally and logically. We don’t think of it as a disease – we think of it as a nuisance. It’s not like cancer! We think of it as being really super sad. And we’ve all been sad and gotten over it. It’s not like we’ve all had a lesser version of cancer and gotten over it. So, yeah, cancer must be way worse, right?

Photo courtesy Surly-Ramics

Hardly. Comparing sadness to depression is like comparing a paper cut to cutting your hand off. It’s all about scale. Maybe in skeptical terms, sadness is homeopathic depression. It really can’t compare.

The one thing we don’t do well, is talk about it. We don’t know how, I think. Jenny is seeing a huge influx of support and gratefulness for people who read what she said and identified with it, understood it, spoke out when they were too scared or embarrassed to speak out before.

So that’s what I am doing today. I struggle with depression daily but even as I write this, I am terrified of actually publishing that fact. I worry that by comparing my problems from the past few months with the full-blown, crippling illness that others have. Am I minimizing their situation? My depression is relatively mild and situational and really can’t compare. It somehow doesn’t seem right to use the same word, because it is so much worse for others.

But I suspect that, no matter how bad your situation is, everyone with depression somehow thinks the same thing. That admitting it makes me sound weak. That I really should be able to handle this and admitting how hard it is makes me somehow inadequate. I am writing this because if I feel this way, then it must be a hundredfold worse for people who have struggled with this for years.

Photo courtesy: Hyperbole and a Half

So I will simply say this: the key, as far as I can tell, is to talk about it. To bring it out into the open and to make it OK to talk about it. In the hopes that those who can’t talk about it may listen and hear and know that they are not alone and that help is out there.

And also, celebrate the survivors. I am amazed by Jenny, by Allie, by Chris and the thousands of others who fight to survive every day and find their way through the darkness, only to know that it could consume them again at any time.

I fought my depression by allowing myself to be sad, by refusing to allow the guilt of what I was doing to others consume me. I fought by forcing myself to focus on things that made me happy. By finding the best friends I had and leaning on them as hard as I needed to. Everyone seems to have to find a slightly different way in this battle.

I have an unending supply of respect for anyone who has to go through this. I am amazed at their ability to talk about it, their ability to fight it in any way they can – with medicine, with horror movies and Skittles, with a parasol wielded like a ninja, with red dresses or silver ribbons.

This post is for all of you who are still in the dark and feel that it’s hopeless. It’s not. Don’t give up. You’re not alone.

And if you want to share your story, here’s a place you can do it: Silver Ribbon Stories. It’s just a tumblr I set up – it’s small and simple but it’s a place where you can submit your story about your personal struggles and little victories – anonymously or not. I don’t know if it will be used or will help. But if you have a story and you want to tell it, submit it there and maybe others will hear and hopefully, it will help.

Depression & Grief resources:

Masala Skeptic

Maria Walters (a.k.a. Masala Skeptic) has spent a lot of time in ‘furrin parts,’ including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Pittsburgh. Although her passport is from India, she’s spent most of her adult life in the United States. She currently lives in Atlanta and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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47 Comments

  1. Thank you for this. I have had a couple of really bad bouts (on the scale of the Hyperbole and a Half bad). I had to take time off work. The thing that sticks with me is that it’s not the sadness. It’s the NUMBNESS. Months and months of numb. Talking about it doesn’t help. The medication doesn’t help. The months of fucking bruxism because of the medication doesn’t help. And then one day, you get angry. You start to feel SOMETHING other than that horrible emptiness. And then before you know it, you’re back, raging at the world, raging at the internet. When you reach that hump? You reach that moment? That’s when you know things are getting better.

  2. Yeah. I have struggled with dysthymia since I was a kid and since my late 20’s I have cycled through one bout of major clinical depression after another. I am in therapy and am on meds (Laughter is not actually the best medicine. Medicine is the best medicine.)

    I am currently in a really good place. I get up every day, I generally do not go home and get into bed at 3 p.m. anymore. It’s hard to tell people and even harder to get them to actually understand, and so, unfortunately, people just fall out of my life because I can’t manage to return a phone call or an email or answer a text when I am in the throes of it. It’s like trying to get through quicksand. When I am depressed, there is no struggle in me.

    Currently I have a great deal of relief. When I start coming home from work to curl up in bed, I know it’s time to ask for help. Again.

  3. I have a pretty strong presence of addiction/alcoholism in my family, and I suspect that they are self-medicating for undiagnosed depression. I realized that something was terribly wrong and that I was in danger when my older sister committed suicide. So I vowed to treat myself like a recovering addict, just in case. I don’t drink at all, I’ve never tried any drugs (including weed), and I’ve never tried smoking cigarettes. I do have trouble with food and that lovely “hate myself, eat, hate myself more, eat more” cycle, but I try to avoid it by just not buying unhealthy things and planning my meals out in advance.

    As a teenager, I became very self-destructive. I was a cutter (or, rather, a burner) and I did stupid things as my stupid teenager way of crying for help. I was diagnosed with depression and put on meds that gave me nosebleeds, made me fall asleep in class, and gave me headaches. After trying a bunch of brands and dosages, I gave up for a while.

    I still struggle with depression and that inability to do even the most basic tasks of taking care of myself, like getting up, feeding myself, NOT feeding myself when I’m full, or showering. But I’ve developed a mantra that helps me get through the day. When I feel like I lack the energy or will to do something, I say “fuck it” and that helps. Also, having people who love and depend on me helps a lot. I have a friend who calls this the “art of getting up in the morning.” We’re social animals and we need to love and be loved, to have people who need us to care for.

  4. I don’t think I know anyone who *hasn’t* had some sort of issue with depression and/or other mental illnesses. My response when someone is reluctant to take a personal day because of their condition is:

    If you broke your leg yesterday and getting to work would be seriously problematic though not impossible, would you feel guilty about taking a day off? Of course not. Mental issues are just as real as physical ones.

    1. When I was bad and hating the idea of medication (in retrospect, incredibly mild medication; but then everything seems far worse than it is when you’re depressed) my father who has similar levels of (mild, usually situational) depression gave me the following analogy:

      “If you were diabetic and needed regular insulin to stay healthy, would you refuse that? Its the same thing. You need regular pills for a year or so to stay mentally healthy.”

      Just have to keep reminding myself that mental illness is rooted in physical illness, and the physical side can be treated.

    2. Unfortunately, if you break your leg and blame your self (because you did something stupid or risky or even if you were just at the wrong place at the wrong time and not really at fault at all), it is easy to feel guilty about it and taking a day off.

      To ramble on a bit, I don’t know if telling someone they are suffering from cognitive biases, such as confirmation bias (seeing proof of their own inadequacy in events beyond their control) or other traps that we as skeptics should know not to fall into, but as humans are all so prone to, really does any good. Is doing that any better than just telling them to snap out of it?

      As a friend, not a therapist, especially a long-distance friend, just being there for them and letting them know we still love them may be the most we can do. Does anyone know if there is more we could do? (Or is this all covered in the links I haven’t gotten around to read yet?)

      BTW, Maria – at TAM last summer, I was discussing your absence with a friend and we had just found out about how sick your mother was, and I said I had just met you once, but you seemed like a wonderful person, and my friend said “Yes, everybody loves Maria.” So we don’t want anything from you except for you to feel better, and there are lots of us on your side. Too bad vast outpourings of positive psychic energy have absolutely no effect. :-(

  5. It was really great to read this. My family’s got a history of mental illness (my mom’s got depression and PTSD, my grandmother is mildly schizophrenic and depressive, I’m schizophrenic and autistic) and I’ve got several friends who are depressive or have bipolar disorder. It’s great that there’s more supportive, more positive perceptions and understandings of mental health appearing now.

    Heck, JT’s speech at Skepticon moved me to tears the first time I read it and, were it not for the subtle feeling of strength and integrity at the end of this post I might crying in this Starbucks.

  6. Thank you so much for speaking out about depression. While it is incredibly common, it is so misunderstood. My freshman year of college I decided to try taking medication for my depression and extreme anxiety that made going to class or riding the bus difficult. Unfortunately I reacted poorly to the medication and I thought that I was going to die. I literally could not think about anything except suicide. I was afraid to drive my car because I worried that I would purposely wreck. I cannot describe how terrifying it is to not feel in control of your own thoughts. After meeting with a crisis counselor she sent me back to student health suspecting that my suicidal thoughts were the result of the anti-depressant. At the clinic I was told by a physician that I wasn’t depressed because I was very articulate. Apparently one’s ability to communicate ceases to exist if they are truly depressed and not just a whiny college student. I felt so confused and shamed, as if I had made a mistake in saying how terrible I felt.

  7. But I suspect that, no matter how bad your situation is, everyone with depression somehow thinks the same thing. That admitting it makes me sound weak. That I really should be able to handle this and admitting how hard it is makes me somehow inadequate. I am writing this because if I feel this way, then it must be a hundredfold worse for people who have struggled with this for years.

    Admitting it doesn’t make you sound weak. Admitting it tells so many other people who are feeling weak that maybe, if someone as strong as you struggles with this, that they are not quite as weak as they think they are.

    Thank you for that.

    1. The problem is admitting it to a bully tells the bully that you are weak and the bully can (and will) escalate the bullying. If you are suicidal, you need to be in a place where other people can keep you safe. If someone is suicidal, people with professional experience in dealing with suicidality have to be involved ASAP. If you are not such a person, then you need to personally deliver the suicidal person into the custody of such persons.

      Depression is a leading cause of death, #11 in 2007.

      My hypothesis of depression (and I have had depression my whole life), is that it is the aversive state between “normal” and the necessarily euphoric state of near death metabolic stress.

      The state of near death metabolic stress has to be euphoric so you can run yourself to death while running from a bear, but if you could enter that state easily, organisms would and die needlessly, so there has to be an aversive state that blocks that from happening. That is what depression is. That blocking can’t be absolute, because you need to be able to enter the euphoric state when you need to.

      What evolution has minimized is the sum of deaths from being caught by the bear, from running yourself to death, and from suicide. There have to be deaths from all three cases for the sum to be minimized. Depression has to be so severe that you want to kill yourself because it is “protecting” you from entering a state where you would gladly kill yourself by running yourself to death.

      Being able to enter a depressive state is a universal property of all humans. If someone hasn’t experienced it, it is simply because of the grace of god, i.e. luck.

      Being lucky is good, but being unlucky is not something to be ashamed of, or to be beat upon for.

  8. Near the end of class last semester one of my students expressed the idea that depression was “bogus.” “You’re just sad. Get over it,” she said, and a couple others concurred. So I shared my story of dealing with depressing and described the impossibility of getting out of bed, of getting dressed, of going to work, the need to sleep all the time, the absence of color in the world, the non-stop crying–you all know the drill. Then I described how I–lucky me!–managed to get out of it: three years of hard work in therapy. I don’t know if it changed anybody’s mind, but like you, I think it’s deadly serious that we talk about it, for the sake of those who aren’t lucky enough to get out of it, like so many of my friends. Thank you for posting this. Let’s not be silent anymore.

    1. It’s brave of you to speak up at all, don’t feel guilty for not wanting to share details. Your work to promote vaccination is amazing, probably the most important tangible outreach issue for the skeptical movement today.

    2. Elyse: I don’t think it’s about being brave by speaking about it. It’s about being OK with where you are, regardless of whether you can talk about it or not. And, specifically, the tumblr and comments are there for the people who aren’t ready to talk about it to see that regardless, others are around and going through similar things.

  9. I remember the first time I realized I was depressed. I was about fifteen and I had just come home from school. I went to my room and immediately went to bed*. As is the habit of many a young nerdling, and was, for me, the closest I came to being happy for a long time, I fantasized about having a girlfriend. Not masturbatorial fantasies mind you; I could never muster the energy to jerk off, but just sitting and thinking “wouldn’t that be nice.”

    Anyway, the person I had crafted in my head just wouldn’t materialize. I couldn’t imagine any plausible way anybody could possibly like me. When I realized that even imaginary people didn’t want to spend time with me I realized I was depressed. Unfortunately, I didn’t actually seek help for another eight years.

    The thing that made me realize I needed to actually do something about it was on New Years 2010. My mom had gotten a photo album from my grandma for Christmas and we were looking through it together. When we got to my baby pictured she said “You were always such a happy baby. You never complained or cried.” Then she kind of sighed and told me she was going to bed. That sigh was the most painful thing I’ve ever heard in my life. It made me realize that my depression wasn’t just hurting me, it was hurting my mom.

  10. Yep. Living with it, too. My sister gave me this advice when I was very young: wear pretty underwear and find something that makes you laugh every day. To this I would now add: sleep on a regular schedule, go for a walk each day, and keep a little money in the bank when possible.

  11. Some forms of depression wouldn’t even be recognized by most people as a form of sadness, anyway. I’ve had several different “types” of depression in the past 10 years and the one that I hated most was the one where I felt nothing. Just nothing. I did have bouts of suicidality but for the rest of the time I just did not give a shit and I was really NOT sad. Things didn’t touch me at all.

  12. Thanks. I had the impulse to quibble about the distinction between grief and depression but of course the one can lead to the other and pedantry doesn’t seem appropriate at the moment. It’s not like you’re a toddler in a youtube video or anything.

    And yeah, the biggest misconception is that s depressed person is sad, even crying all the time. Really you just feel nothing most of the time, until for a moment the misery comes sharply into focus.

  13. I’ve suffered from depression for years, and thought a lot about suicide – even attempted it a few times. In my clearer moments, the whole thing scared me. That I could, in a moment of weakness, remove the rest of my future in the blink of an eye. Decades gone with a glass of pills, and it was incredibly scary. The scariest thing I knew.

    No longer. I could still kill myself, but the thought no longer scares me. It’s been a part of my life for so long, it’s like an old friend.

    What keeps me up at night is the fear that, some day, I’ll kill someone ELSE. I’ll hurt my friends or family in some serious way, and do something that can’t be undone. I used to lie awake and wonder what could be scarier than killing yourself. I found out, and wish I didn’t.

    To this day, the only nightmare that made me shake in fear was the one where I was the monster.

  14. This isn’t exactly about depression, but I’ve been dysthymic and probably bipolar for as long as I can remember. (I’ve never been diagnosed as bipolar, but when I described my symptoms to a friend with a bipolar child, she said that it fits.)

    A little while ago, I went to a sushi place for the first time. (Sushi is great food, incidentally, for those who don’t know. I recommend it!) Apart from feeling like a fifth wheel to begin with, when I got to the restaurant it was like walking into another world. We sat down at the bar, and I didn’t know what to do. In front of me, there was a small bowl topped with a napkin and some chopsticks, and a parade of boats passing by on a river at eye-level. Some of the boats floated by with plates of sushi rolls on them. What do I do? How do I eat? Did these plates on the boats belong to someone else? What the hell is what? It all looked the same to me.

    Panic mode! I had no idea what the hell I was supposed to do. The fact that the place was completely packed didn’t help one little bit. I’m panicking, and everyone in the restaurant is going to know I’m panicking, and that makes me panic even more. Lather, rinse, repeat. I think that my friend, who brought me along, could see the confusion and anxiety in my eyes, because he showed me that the food was for anyone who wanted it, the bowl was for soy sauce, the chopsticks were not for drumming the table with. After that, it wasn’t so bad, as I said, the food was great!

    But this, I’m afraid, isn’t a happy story. This is just a small example of what I have to live with every day. Bouts of fear permeate all I see.
    Everything: Even something as small as going to the store to get deodorant, for fuck sakes! Yes. Really.
    Everywhere: Going to Starbucks is like writing a freaking mid-term exam.
    Everyone: Especially if I like you and have wanted to ask you out for weeks. I’m not (necessarily) afraid that you’ll say no, but terrified that you’ll say yes. Thankfully, though, to my knowledge you don’t read this blog, so you probably won’t see this.

    I have made myself oblivious to the things around me. I deliberately do not pay attention to my surroundings, and I blame it on ADHD (inattentive sub-type), a non-existent condition for me. I do this because I know that if I know what’s going on, I’m going to be
    frightened of it. It’s a defense mechanism, I suppose, as is avoidance. Avoidance, even more than obliviousness.

    What I don’t really understand, though, is why it’s so hard for me to ask for the help that I so desperately need. Let me rephrase that. It’s not that it’s terribly difficult to ask, it’s the follow thorough. I recently contacted a therapist whom I thought could really help me, but I bailed on our first appointment. Realistically, I couldn’t afford to pay her at the time, but at least I could have shown up and told her that. I didn’t.

    That falls under the everyone category. And everything.
    First, the therapist is a woman. That means that by her very gender, she is an a position to do me harm, because she would have gained intimate knowledge of my thoughts. In my experience, that’s what women do. They twist my words, they manipulate me, they make me think and do things that I would have found absolutely reprehensible only weeks before. And I can blame no one but myself for allowing them to do that to me, because over and above it all is the fear that there will never be another.
    Second, the kind of therapy that she is offering is called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. It’s all about accepting that you have feelings and that you are entitled to them, whatever they are. But that’s the scary part. That means that I will have to embrace all the fear that I have bottled up inside me, that I have spent literally decades learning how to crush it down and not have to feel it. I don’t want to face that.
    And so I avoided her.

    That isn’t all that I avoid, either. I have spent my entire adult life (and much of my childhood, for that matter) avoiding things because I am fearful of them. Bill collectors, teachers, my family, my friends, the list is nearly endless. When I was in school, homework would not get done. At work, I do the bare minimum that I need to do to continue getting paid. It is easier to know that I am going to fail than it is to feel the fear that I might fail. It is the reason for all of my failed relationships: I get to the point where I actually feel love for someone, and I get scared, and whatever machine in my head churns out those emotions shuts itself off. When I allow myself to feel anything, even “good” emotions like joy or love, that’s when the floodgates open and all the crappy emotions come out as well.

    Fear is so entrenched into my psyche, that I don’t know if I can ever overcome it. One thing’s for sure, though, overcoming it won’t be easy. To release it, I first have to embrace it. I don’t know how to do that, and I certainly don’t want to, but I know that my life needs to change. I can’t continue not-living in this shell of mine. It’s killing me, and I am unhappy. I moved here from the other side of the country in search of a better life, and to get away from a bad relationship. It just goes to show that I can’t run away from myself, I will find me wherever I am.

    But I’m afraid.

    1. A few years ago, my mom (who is now 85) said the only good thing about growing old was not being afraid any more. This is just an anecdote with a sample size of one, but I hope if nothing else works (meds or therapy or life-style changes like diet and exercise or joining a local skeptics group and becoming socially active or whatever), that this growing old business will help.

      I found it interesting that you said “… if I know what’s going on, I’m going to be
      frightened of it.” Is this common among people who are fearful? I ask because my nephew has Asperger’s (maybe, he was diagnosed when he was 4 by his school psychologist, but my sister-in-law, one of his aunts, who is a special ed teacher, isn’t sure.) One of his symptoms is he is very fearful, especially in noisy, crowded, novel social situations, is very easily startled and is subject to occasional panic attacks. We try to explain what is going on whenever we encounter such a situation with him, which seems to help, but from what you say, that might just make it worse. Or is this different from what you experience?

      P.S. Hope you find something that helps.

      1. I can’t really say if it’s common or not, as my circle is rather limited, and I don’t really have a comparison.

        For me, though, it works both ways. When I was 4(ish), I was, as you can well imagine, deathly afraid of the monsters that lived under my bed. No amount of proof to the contrary would assuage that fear. It didn’t matter, though: I knew, rationally, that there were no monsters under my bed, but didn’t matter.

        Until my uncle came along, and he told me a secret. If I swished my foot on the sheets at night, Monsters really hated that sound. Like in Ghostbusters, when Venkman tickles piano keys in Dana’s apartment… “That’s right, boys! It’s Dr. Venkman!” To this day, almost 40 years later, I still swish my feet when I go to sleep.

        Thinking about it, perhaps I misspoke about knowing == being fearful. It’s not so much that I’m necessarily fearful of things that I find out, but it’s more about things that I’m afraid to do. Like a social gathering, or a new activity, or, horror of horrors, a date! Sometimes it’s the understanding of how things work that gets me through it. It’s the unpredictability that I have a problem with.

        In fact, on my first long plane ride, not long ago, I was scared as shit, the poor flight attendant didn’t know what to do with me, but what got me through it was my understanding of how airfoils work. I forced myself to think about how the fast-moving air creates a low pressure under the wing, and keeps the plane in the air. (Yes, I know that’s simplified, by the way)

        Unpredictability is what keeps me from playing MMORPGs, for instance. I love the games, and although I tend to play the single-player versions to death, I can’t bring myself to play with other people. I get a horrible case of the what-if’s. I’m working on that though; next payday, I’m buying SWTOR, and I’m going to play. and, eventually, I’m going to figure out that there is nothing to worry about.

        [disclaimer type=”not_a_doctor”]
        I guess what I’m saying with regards to your nephew, is that I think you’re doing it right. Especially if he calms down when you explain things to him. If he’s anything like me at all, I would side with your sister-in-law on the “not sure” side of things, and lean more toward Social Phobia, or hypersensitivity, which is not a bad thing. [/disclaimer]

        I hope I answered your question, I realize that it only raises more, but if my limited insight can help, I’m happy to give it.

        1. Thanks, Anthony.

          There are so many different ways people’s minds work, it’s hard to be sure. I guess if explaining things and preparing him for what’s about to happen helps my nephew cope, then it’s the right thing for him.

          Have you read Harry Potter? There are monsters called Boggarts that take on the form of whatever you fear most. They hide under beds or in closets or other dark dusty places and pop out when you’re most vulnerable. Their one and only weapon is fear. They don’t actually do anything physical to you, just scare the bejesus out of you. The only way to defeat them is to manipulate them into a situation where they look ridiculous and then laugh at them. Sounds just like you swishing your feet! Are you sure your uncle isn’t really J K Rowling? ;-)

  15. Thankyou so much for this post. Depression and mental illness in general are so poorly understood that it’s just so nice to see it truly understood.

    Everything in this post is just remarkably spot on, but I really want to mention this part:

    “I am amazed by Jenny, by Allie, by Chris and the thousands of others who fight to survive every day and find their way through the darkness, only to know that it could consume them again at any time.”

    Thankyou, thankyou so much for saying that.

    I’m tired of hearing about how one person took a pill for a year and never had problems again, or how they were sad for a month and got over it, and then they expect everyone else to be the same.

    But the way you described it is how depression is. You fight through it with anything you can- hopefully proper medical help if you’re lucky- and even with that, sometimes it comes back and crushes you and you’re just as deep as you were when you started. So many people can’t understand that reality.

  16. Thank you so much for this post. I spent a lot of my life being called “moody” and “mopey” and being told to smile. Then I finally got a good doctor who realized I was depressed. Getting on the right meds makes such a huge difference. Like Foggerty said, why would a diabetic not take insulin? I’ve used that analogy before, when someone close to me was having problems and was freaking out about going on meds.

    We definitely need to work on moving mental illness out of the closet. I’ve lost too many friends to suicide who probably could have been saved with the right mental health care.

  17. I’ve had horrible depression since puberty, about 15 years now. A couple years ago, after a failed suicide attempt, I put so goddamn much effort into trying to overcome the depression. I worked out every day, I meditated constantly, and devoted all of my mental energies to getting well. I also got my meds increased as much as I could without the side effects doing horrible things.

    And I escaped depression, for about six months. I was absolutely shocked how different a world it is to somebody who isn’t depressed. It’s like a parallel universe where everything isn’t horrible, you can do things like get out of bed, and when you trip over your shoelace or burn your toast, your first reaction isn’t “why can’t I just die?”

    I eventually hurt my knee and got a little lazy about the meditating, and slipped back into the foggy world of depression. But those six months of living in the same world as everybody else were really eye-opening. It’s so completely removed from the world of depression that it’s hardly surprising that people who haven’t been depressed have trouble understanding what it’s like.

  18. Between this post and reading the link from the Bloggess, I made an appt to go back to therapy. Depression shouldn’t be something that makes you hide, that you … or is it I, should talk about it and heal and by talking help others!

  19. Thank you for writing this. I found myself sitting by a river now about half a year ago. I know why I am depressed, but nevertheless taking the steps to get thru this takes so much energy. Small things feel like I was trying move a mountain. But luckily I have gotten help.

  20. I don’t really want to say this, but I’ll put my story out there in case it might help.

    I probably have suffered from depression since forever. I don’t remember when it started. I was mentally and emotionally abused as a child, so it probably comes from that.

    One of the drugs I tried to help me actually damaged me. I had never ever ever had a panic attack before. But the very first night I had ever taken Lexapro, I had a really fucking scary panic attack. It’s like the drug somehow “awoke” it within me, and now that I know that I can have them, I do. I’m on Prozac, and it controls them, and I’m afraid to go off in case it comes back. I told my doctor, and he didn’t believe me. That’s the worst part. No one believes that the drugs fucked up my brain. And now I don’t know what to do about it.

    That’s my story.

    1. I told my doctor, and he didn’t believe me.

      Awww, that sucks, I’m so sorry. It actually put a tear in my eye when I read that.

      For what it’s worth, I believe you. I’ve always been afraid, but my first true panic attack was not that long ago. For me it wasn’t drugs, it was a change of lifestyle and diet, which still messes with your chemistry, just not as quickly.

      I’d consider looking for another doc, were I in your shoes.

  21. I’m a slow-cycling bipolar. I’ve been pretty good for the last few years with the reduction in stress (got divorced, got a less stressful job, got on top of finances), though recently I’ve been having bouts of depression. Until August, I could usually take an afternoon off if I got in a bad way… my boss was fairly lenient about it, and I stacked my work schedule to emphasize the morning (taking care of most of the desk minding, making sure the morning deposit was done correctly), because I can generally force myself through that, no matter how shitty I’m feeling. If I got rocky in the afternoon (usually manifesting as a low boiling point on my temper), I’d just take the afternoon off.

    Then work switched things around. My old boss got sent elsewhere, we have a new boss who doesn’t take mental health needs as seriously, and Central Library has made a number of changes that really increase stress. Add in that most of my groups of friends haven’t been able to get together due to scheduling and I’m pretty much in the wake-work-sleep pattern. I’ve been single since I separated from my now-ex-wife four years ago, and it’s getting to me. I’ve tried going out, but it seems that everyone is married, about to get married, or in a similar committed relationship, and it doesn’t help that part of how I got on top of my finances is moving back home.

    I try to combat it, usually with distraction. If I have the luxury to sit and think about it, I get more depressed. If I’m watching shows, or playing a game, or something like that, I can ignore it. If I’m at work, I can usually manage a mask of normalcy for a while, and a number of my teammates are helpful in that regard.

    One part of my depression I’ve noticed is not really believing it when people say positive things about me. I was honestly surprised when a co-worker told me that if I’d been transferred in the shuffling, she’d considered retiring at that point. My ex (who, after a couple years, I could talk to again) tells me that people in the Germanic heathen community ask after me. But it never really connects… I don’t see why people would react to me, because I don’t see anything worth such a reaction in myself. I’ve learned to fake being manic well enough to pretend but…

    Truth to tell, I’m just tired. I’m having to stop myself from erasing this, because I know it will sound whiny. I’ve already deleted an anecdote because I don’t feel like explaining myself. I just don’t feel I have anyone to talk to. I’m doing my best to help support friends, but I don’t think I can lean on them for these things… and even if I did, I don’t want to unload on them when so many are starting to get themselves straight after some hard times. Hell, being leaned on was NICE. It meant I had something to do. It meant I had to be strong for someone else, so I could fake it well enough to get through things. Now… the only one who needs me is my cat.

    Fuck it. I’m going to bed.

  22. I’ve always had transient times where I’ve felt really down and hopeless for no reason but I’ve always been able to wait it out and come out my usual happy (if not a bit manic self) a few weeks later.
    A little over a year ago, I had a miscarriage and I swear I haven’t been okay since. I’m still functional (going to work, fulfilling my roles, smiling at the right times) but I’m down, numb, irritable, demotivated, and just wanting to withdraw most days. I tried to talk to a counselor a few months ago but I have a paralyzing fear of judgement (why can’t I handle this??) and so I never went for followups. I’m still trying to decide what (if anything) I’m going to do.
    These stories have been really helpful, I feel less alone :) Thank you all.

  23. I’m newly diagnosed. For me, it’s been…confusing. Mostly I felt tired. All the time. And it just got worse and worse. I wasn’t especially sad or anything, usually.

    Now that I’m on Wellbutrin, I see I wasn’t really there, and I didn’t fully understand. It can sneak up on you, slowly, and it can seem like it’s always been this way.

    Sometimes for a couple of days I drop, and it’s bad. I’m not too suicidal, but I’ll start to have thoughts about how I’d rather not exist. And yes, I’ll do minor self-harm to relieve things.

    But at least I now know that the bad feelings are a trick, and if I can hold on it will get better again.

  24. Maria,

    Thank for your candid sharing on this topic. While it is not nice that others are suffering, it is I must admit, comforting to know that I am not alone. I could fill pages on this subject. Growing up with depression and anxiety raised by parents who were also severely stricken was nothing short of a total train wreck. Between my two parents and three other siblings, only two of us are left. My mother and younger brother both committed suicide and my father drank himself to death by age 49. My other brother (the youngest of my siblings) actually died of natural causes, but he was only 26. He was born with Down Syndrome and had a heart defect that is associated with the condition.

    My sister and I both continue to struggle with depression and anxiety. Fortunately, I am doing reasonably well. I have a good job, medication that works fairly well, and a good support system, but it is still not easy. Anyone who thinks depression is some sort of character weakness has probably never had to face it themselves.

    \BCT

  25. Thank you for this. All these posts by all these people make me feel less alone in the world. I don’t even know how many times I’ve written down my story…and chickened out before pressing submit. So thank you, because I know it takes courage. Maybe some day I’ll have it too.

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