Depression is a serious topic. It’s also a pretty taboo topic.
You see, we can sit here and talk about cancer and heart disease, raise money for diabetes and run races for awareness, but talking about mental health?
Oh, no, no, no. We simply can’t do that! It would be like admitting that a great number of people around the world suffer from some sort of mental illness, and we don’t want to do that, do we?
Only, we have to talk about it.
For me, depression hit when I was in middle school. It wasn’t your pretend, “no one kissed me at the party last night, so let me find the perfect Fall Out Boy lyric to put in my away message” depression. It was the real deal.
I was alone a lot and I started just thinking one night. And then I thought some more. And then I had my first panic attack.
I had never experienced one before, so I was pretty sure I was dying, which only made me freak out more. I tried to get a handle on it, but the longer it went on, the worse it got.
Eventually, it got to the point where I just didn’t even bother going to school. I stayed home in bed, too tired to get up and eat, too sad to even wash my hair.
It was hard.
I was convinced there was something wrong with me. I never told any of my friends, and it was pretty difficult to even tell my parents. The only person I trusted with my issues was an English teacher who helped me get out of the first slump. She told me to write everything down in a journal, and get it out of my head and onto paper.
So I did. Any time I was freaking out, I would write in my journal, and I would feel a little bit better. I managed to get back to school and my hair shined.
But depression never really goes away.
I tried pills, but they made me groggy and forgetful. I tried therapy, but it just wasn’t for me to tell a random stranger my problems. (No offense to those who have found therapy helpful. It just wasn’t for me, and that’s okay too.)
You can have a good few days, weeks, months or even years before it comes back.
Because that’s the thing about mental health: It’s always waiting in the wings, waiting to come back for another act in your life’s story.
You don’t always have control over it, either. You can be fine one day, and the next day, you can feel it start to settle back in. One leaf starts to fall, and then suddenly, your tree is bare and you feel cold.
You use what works for you: your breathing exercises, distractions, busy work. Anything to keep it from taking over your life again.
I spent a semester of high school in and out of doctors offices for colds I didn’t have, because it got bad again. I stopped doing what made me happy for a little while in college. And I’ve been good ever since.
I still have panic attacks and nights where I can’t sleep. I can’t stop the deluge of thoughts that try to drown my brain. But I’ve learned to deal with it.
It took me a long time to be comfortable discussing my battle with depression and anxiety, but I’ve been more open about it over the past few years.
I could sit here and tell you it’s a sign of maturity, but it’s not. It’s me being fed up with the fact that I have to feel bad about it in the first place.
It’s easy for someone who doesn’t suffer from depression to tell you to simply “cheer up” or “get over it,” but that’s because they haven’t experienced it. And sometimes, I really, truly envy those people. Sometimes I wish I had a normal brain.
But I don’t, so I deal with it as best I can.
However, that doesn’t mean everyone else does. There are kids and teens and 30-somethings and grandparents who are suffering. There are men and women from all different backgrounds and cultures suffering from depression and other forms of mental illness.
And the sad thing is, all these people feel unable to talk about it. They don’t get help at the risk of others shunning them or putting them down. They cite other issues about why they haven’t seen their friends or family. They say, “I’m just really worn out,” instead of, “I think I need to talk to someone.”
Having depression has made me much more empathetic and caring. I don’t discredit any problem that someone is having, and I’m always there if someone needs to talk.
I want everyone to understand that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes. It’s okay to understand that you’re not wrong or f*cked up because your brain chemistry is a little different. I appreciate when everything is great, and I work hard to remember that when I’m a little lost.
I think that the stigma surrounding mental health is bullsh*t and that we should be working harder to make good mental health as important as the awareness of other illnesses.
Cancer kills people, yes. Heart disease, diabetes and liver disease kill people.
But so does depression.
We need to rid ourselves of the shame surrounding it, and be more open. We must allow others to discuss what’s going on in the fight, to get those who need it as much help as possible.
I, and plenty of others like me, shouldn’t have to feel bad about what we can’t control. We deserve to know we’re going to be okay, just as much as anyone else.
And you will be. I promise.