If you’re close to me, you know that I don’t believe in “bad” words or “good” words. I believe that some words are definitely “adult” words, but all words are useful — and I believe in using them to their fullest, as appropriate.
That said, you might be wondering which “d” word I have in mind. Because I’m mostly a birds-of-a-feather type when it comes to friends, you might even have an idea or two. Or eleven.
Get your minds out of the collective gutter, you salty sailors. The “d” word I’ve got in mind today is depression. While we know that on any given day, at least one in ten people is living with depression, nobody ever really talks about it.
I mean, sure, many of us get happy pills from our medical doctors, and some of us even go to therapy with a counselor, but we still don’t really talk about it. Part of the reason I started blogging was to bring some of these topics to our collective attention.
Clearly, large groups of people have been, and continue to be, marginalized and stigmatized by the Powers that Be. I’m not under the mistaken assumption that me writing about such things is going to Change the World. But we have to start talking about things that are Important to us.
It has to be okay to talk about being not okay.
This Ted Ed video has a great explanation of what depression sometimes feels like to me (subtitles are available in multiple languages). In my opinion, this is a good video to share with people who are unfamiliar or unsure about what depression might look like for someone.
As the video notes, mental illnesses are usually the result of complex interactions between genes and the environment. And no matter how much you might want to, you can’t will yourself out of depression (or other mental illnesses).
My first episode of clinical depression happened when I was in middle school. The first time I was treated for depression was when I was in college, and I sought therapy and medication at the student counseling services center, which treated me on a sliding scale (one reason why it’s vital that such services continued to be offered). At the time, I didn’t find the therapy particularly helpful, but after trying a couple of medications, I did find an anti-depressant that worked better for me than the rest.
That’s a difficult part about anti-depressant medication: people typically wait a very long time to begin medication to help combat depression — like, until they can hardly stand it anymore. And then, if they’ve never been on anti-depressants, they find out the hard way that they have to wait a couple of weeks to a couple of months for the medication to reach its full therapeutic level in their system.
I encourage anyone who might be experiencing a negative mental health episode to talk to a practitioner you trust and who you feel listens to you. If you don’t know a practitioner like that, ask your friends. We love you and want you to feel better.
Know your risk. On my maternal side, several of my close relatives had or have mental health conditions that they had to face. Some of them manage/d their illnesses more successfully than others. Knowing them and knowing what they deal/t with is just as important to my future health as knowing if anyone had high cholesterol, cancer, or coronary disease.
The video was absolutely right: a lot of people out there are functioning with their depression. For me, it was work. I could always keep it together for work. Or, almost always. Someone might have noticed that I seemed a little down. But because my temperament is not overly effusive in either direction, even that clue could easily be overlooked. But I wasn’t enjoying the things in life that had always brought me pleasure. I wasn’t paying my bills on time. I wasn’t initiating even limited social interactions. I was sleeping more than the average person needs to sleep. These are the signs that I am not handling my depression, but that my depression is handling me.
Last month, in the midst of the memoir-writing class I was taking, I decided it was finally time to tell one of the stories that I almost never share — my infertility experiences. I had shied away from talking about it because it’s painful. It’s painful for me to talk about. It’s painful for people to hear about, to think about, to consider. It makes me uncomfortable to make other people uncomfortable by talking about something that none of us is at fault for and none of us can really do anything about. But I need to be able to talk about it. Because denying a major part of your experience erases pieces of you that matter. It matters.
So, last month, I started taking the anti-depressants again. The medication does help me to function better, and to have less anxiety (anxiety and depression often go hand in hand, like horrid BFFs). The medication helps me to be able to write about all of these things. The medication helps me be me.
Take care of yourselves, friends.
As always, I invite your thoughtful comments or questions.