May 16, 2017
This content contains explicit and sensitive information that may not be suitable for all ages.
Are you sick to death of hearing about depression? How sad we all are? It’s an epidemic apparently… I know I’m sick to death of hearing about it – not because I lack compassion for those with depression, but because I AM one of those people with depression. Apparently. How depressing is that?!
I could quote statistics about the impact of depression on individuals, families, workplaces and the economy – but why bother? There are websites full of this information and as fast as I put stats here, they’ll change. I’ll offer one (vague) statistic here though – almost half the population will have a mental health issue (depression, anxiety, substance abuse – to name a few) at some point. Fifty per cent of us. Do you know another human? Statistically speaking, one of you is it.
I have no doubt everyone’s experience of depression is as individual as they are, but for me, this is how a major depressive episode manifested. I look back on my 50 years and realize – due to circumstances, both nature and nurture in origin – I’ve had low level of depression and anxiety (hidden behind joy and strength) my entire life. Over a small number of years, significant stressful events occurred – too many to name but let’s say a lot of people died, a lot of people needed hands-on care, my marriage suffered, my identity fractured, and eventually I snapped.
The past felt like a string of bad decisions and broken dreams.
What does “eventually I snapped” look like? My energy levels plummeted –I was no longer bouncy and hyperactive. I stopped sleeping. I was exhausted. My eating disorder escalated. I started to self-harm. I cried and shook a lot. My heart raced and I had panic attacks. I couldn’t cope with the littlest amount of stress (out of cat food? disaster…) I couldn’t get to work or communicate and couldn’t articulate my feelings. Yes, I was sad. But in the same way an asthmatic is short of breath – without intervention it was going to kill me. Suicidal ideation was a daily struggle. The future felt like a black hole – I could only picture death, destruction and disaster. The present felt like I was drowning in mud. The past felt like a string of bad decisions and broken dreams. I couldn’t put on a happy face – I couldn’t remember where I’d put it. I lost the ability to adequately care for myself – let alone my husband, my children, my father, grandmother, friends, students and colleagues. A lifetime of looking out for everyone, and now I couldn’t gather the energy to send a text message. All I could manage was to get out of bed and lie on the couch. I stopped eating. I hoped I would die.
Of the many depressed people I’ve met, I’m one of the luckiest ones. I have fantastic, supportive friends and family – people who asked how I was with genuine concern and all the time in the world to listen. People who visited without forcing me to discuss anything – just stayed and made sure I was safe. As someone with an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, I wouldn’t burden anyone with my problems and stresses. Over time I divulged a little to a lot of different people – without divulging everything to any one person. I found a great doctor and psychologist and later came under the care of a good psychiatrist. I found a great team.
I eventually spent three weeks in a mental health unit– admitted with major depression and anxiety, eating disorder and self-harm. I started anti-depressants and attended therapy. I slept, slept, slept, finally releasing four years of unresolved, pent up grief after my sister’s traumatic death. I cried a lot, slept more and talked with other patients. I started to eat – not willingly… but refused to be admitted involuntarily to a psychiatric ward.
In the clinic, I was privileged to meet the most incredibly kind, compassionate and caring people I’ve ever come across. While everyone’s story was different – and reasons for admission covered a gamut of mental health issues (addiction, bi-polar, anorexia – to name a few), there were two common themes – depression and anxiety. And there were a depressing number of people experiencing judgment and ignorance regarding their diagnosis. Here’s a few tips on what NOT to say to someone experiencing a psychological crisis:
I know how you feel
No you don’t. Just like I don’t know how someone feels if their spouse just died! I can imagine (guess…) it would be horrendous, and imagine (guess) how I might personally feel – but we never really know how someone else is feeling.
You’ll be right in the morning
Are you serious?! Depression is not a 24-hour stomach bug. If I’ve slowly deteriorated over the past 12 months, statistically speaking it is unlikely I’ll feel better tomorrow.
Just think positively
Do you consider me so stupid and self-absorbed, I’d wallow around in misery for a year and try to get worse? However inconvenient my depression is, it’s way more miserable for me…
I’m emotionally strong
I’m not depressed because I’m emotionally weak. In fact, that’s just insulting. My depression is the culmination of circumstances – personality, upbringing, life messages, stresses, and maladaptive coping strategies I (foolishly) thought would work.
You’re up, dressed and smiling
The inability to get out of bed, get dressed, or move the corners of my lips into an upward trajectory, is the final stage of debilitating depression. Nobody morphs from happy, to depressed overnight – it’s a gradual process. If things don’t change before the end stage, I may be dead before I get better…
You have so much going for you
I know! All those positives are the only thing keeping me alive. They might be an overwhelming burden – or smoke and mirrors. Those kids I adore – have they grown up and left? My awesome husband – have we drifted apart? Our fantastic home – is it a shattered dream or financial pit? My career – has it become shattered dreams and disappointments? You haven’t walked in my shoes, so don’t EVER judge me.
I need you to hear me. We all need to be heard.
I’m sure there are tons more – every clinically depressed person hears them all… Want to know why these statements suck? Because you didn’t listen! If I say I can’t cope, what I mean is, I can’t cope. If I say my life lost meaning, to me it lost meaning – don’t argue, I’ll feel worse! And don’t you dare tell me I’m looking better if I said I’m feeling worse. I need you to hear me. We all need to be heard. Instead of judging, here’s what people might want to hear: How are you? Do you want to hang out? Do you need to talk? Is there anything I can do? I can chat any time. Here’s a nice flower.
Better still, say nothing and give me a hug…
It’s nearly six months since I left the clinic – and I hope never to return. I’m still learning to deal with the stresses that landed me in such a dark place. I’m in a much better place than I was, but not as good a place as I could be. I still struggle with purpose and hope. I struggle with my eating disorder and self-harm. I haven’t found my identity or repaired faulty relationships. I’m learning to prioritize my own health and remain eternally grateful for the awesome people who loved and cared for me, when I couldn’t do it for myself. I can’t remember the last time I felt joy – I really can’t… Some days I fear I’ll never experience it again. I remember contentment and laughter, satisfaction and pride. But joy? I can’t remember. Perhaps one day? It took a long time to fall down the rabbit hole – it will take time to crawl back out.