September 15, 2012

Depression: The Elephant In The Room

I’ve dealt with depression for years.  Actually, since I was 12, although I wasn’t diagnosed till I was 27.  When I worked for this little company where everyone thought of everyone else as family, and I came in every day and cried at my desk from 8am to 5pm, then went home and tried to be normal for my daughter, my “family” made me go to the doctor.  Thank you guys!  They give you this little quiz to see if you are depressed, and if you score a 7 or higher you are.  I scored a 27.  HA!  I’ve always been an overachiever.

Some days, it’s a struggle to get out of bed.  It’s a struggle to remember to feed myself, or do laundry, or to give a flying sh*t that cat litter needs changing.  Some days, it’s a struggle to not open a pocket knife and open a vein and watch the pain flow out.

Don’t totally freak out.  I haven’t actively tried suicide since I was a teenager.  But that doesn’t mean I can’t hear the siren song of peace, that I don’t struggle with suicidal ideation or that I don’t know exactly how wonderful it would be to give up.  Luckily for me, I’m genetically incapable of giving up.  I am stubborn personified.

Living with depression is like watching all the colors bleed out of the world.  You remember them, you can name them.. you even know where they go.  But you can’t see them, or smell them, or hear them (yes, colors have sounds, silly non artistic person).

I have chronic depression, so that means I’m going to struggle with this the rest of my life.  I’ve done years of anti-depressant drugs, and therapy.  You know what those drugs do for you? They take the edge off, they let you see glimpses of color.  Technically, they balance the chemicals in your brain so that the lows are not quite so low and the highs are not quite so high.  They also stifled the creativity.   Most fun I ever had was telling my therapist that I couldn’t hear the voices when I took the meds.  I MEANT my muse, the voice that writes my poetry or helps me draw or sculpt.  She thought I meant actual auditory hallucinations.  That was a fun day in therapy.

Therapy does something entirely different for a person with depression.  Therapy gives you a safe place to talk about the events that triggered the depression, a compassionate place to talk about the feelings of worthlessness and anger and bleakness, someone to watch out for your suicidal days, and most importantly, therapy teaches you coping skills.

Coping skills are things that help you to know a depression cycle is coming on.  You learn your triggers, or the things that should signal to someone outside watching that you are in trouble.  Coping skills can be little things, like when the colors start leaching out, reach out to someone and let them know.  I say little, but honestly, reaching out is one of the hardest things to do.

Some people are blessed by the heavens because they never feel depression.  Some people are lucky, because they have one bout of depression and get over it.  Some of us are challenged because we will fight this demon in our own minds every day of our lives.

But the biggest challenge for a person suffering from depression doesn’t come from inside.  It comes from outside.  It comes from “the rest of you.”

Depression is an invisible disease.  Unless you are a cutter, it doesn’t leave marks anyone can see.  Now, anyone living with a person with depression can tell you it leaves scars, deep permanent scars.  But you can’t see them. And unless I’m sitting around crying or screaming (yeah, sometimes depression isn’t sad, it’s FURIOUS), or refusing to get out of bed, other people forget I’m struggling.  They think “it’s over,” or “she’s well,” or “she’s normal.”

Well meaning friends say things like “get over it” or “life isn’t fair” or “you know, you never seem happy.”  My personal favorite lately has been, “aren’t you always depressed? What’s new?”

Here’s a clue for the rest of you.  We know what a burden it is to deal with our depression, and we HATE putting that on you.  So we hide it.  And we pretend we are fine.  And we pretend we are strong until we break.  Just to make it more comfortable for those around us.

No one likes to talk about depression, not even the person going through it.  Do you really think telling someone I care about that I want to fade away until I can’t see myself is fun for me?  But not talking about it creates that elephant in the room.  It’s a big, heavy, unmovable “secret” we all know about but we are trying to pretend doesn’t exist.  Because pretending is more comfortable.

My therapist used to kid me that it was awfully hard to know that I was depressed because I smiled all the time.  I laughed at everything.  I told her it was more acceptable to laugh than cry, and I was afraid if I started crying, I wouldn’t stop.

Why, as a society, do we do this to each other?  We don’t ask people with schizophrenia not to see their visions.  We don’t ask people with OCD to get over being germaphobes.  You wouldn’t tell a man with a compound fracture to his leg to just “walk it off.”

Why do we demand that people with depression make us all more comfortable – especially when we know that putting that kind of pressure on someone makes them more fragile?

Image Credit: Lovingyou2911 / Shutterstock

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