The Stigma of Depression…and Other Mental Health Conditions
In honor of Valentine’s Day, I am going to do something I struggle with: I am going to love myself. I am going to love myself enough to give myself permission to “come out” with my secret. I am going to discuss a topic few ever want to talk about, but something we desperately need to discuss: depression.
Outwardly, I have my “game face” on. People think I am really together…even the people who know about my depression. And, it’s hard to live up to that reputation, that persona. But, I remember a quote from a play I saw many years ago, called Dream on Monkey Mountain. The line was, “You can’t go mad on market day.” Meaning, I put pressure on myself to meet absolute obligations, no matter how I feel inside, but it creates a lot of stress. Inwardly, I doubt myself, I struggle with my self-esteem…all of it. I wear a mask because of the societal taboo associated with it, but the truth is that I have struggled with depression, ADD, and anxiety for almost as long as I can remember. I remember coming home from grade school and spending hours in my room crying and listening to music.
The problem is that there is a stigma associated with depression and other mental health conditions. Do we treat people with cancer or who are visually impaired like lepers? Culturally, we don’t talk openly about depression, or if we do, many who have never dealt with a true clinical depression give us platitudes and unwanted advice as though they are the experts. When it was everything I could do to crawl out of bed and just show up, I’ve heard, “What have you got to be depressed about?” (in my case, it’s a chemical imbalance of the brain…not situational, though situational depression is real, too); “Pick yourself up by the bootstraps;” (as though I choose to feel this way….now that would be “crazy!”); “If you just prayed more…” (so the deaf and the wheelchair-bound have a “lack of faith,” too? Trust me, if there is a silver cloud in this at all, it’s that I pray more because of my depression!)
So, not only am I saddled with this awful condition, I cannot talk about it with those who do not have it. Even though one may not have cancer, there is no stigma associated with talking to those who do. Not so with depression. Just bring it up and hear the led balloon go thump….We’ve got to reverse this and not let the discomfort of others hinder us from getting the help we need for fear of the “Crazy With a Capital ‘C'” label. How many lives have already been lost to suicide because the depressed person never felt comfortable reaching out? How many could have been prevented if they had and someone had recognized the situation for what it was? Though I have never been suicidal, I have been blessed to be the person a few who knew of my own struggles reached out to…and I know it can make the difference.
Depression is never the same two days in a row. If the chemicals in my brain are in proportion, I may have a good day. I may not “seem” like I am depressed, or just “using depression to get sympathy.” If I am able to sleep through the night (my “norm” is that I cannot), and can get enough sleep, I may have a decent day. But, depending on where I am in my cycle, or worse yet, descending into menopause with erratic cycles and hormones, it can throw that precious chemical imbalance way off. The meds restore that balance….and medication is yet another stigma, and yet another verboten topic. Yet, all they do is bring us back into balance. I have yet to find that elusive “happy pill” so many seem to think our medications are!
I may not look like Sylvia Plath, or a resident of Bellvue, the Snake Pit — or worse yet, Arkham — but this is real. This is my life. I am a person with depression. It doesn’t define me, but sometimes it confines me. So, on one of those days like today, where I have stupid crying fits for absolutely no reason; where it takes every ounce of oomph I have just to shower and brush my teeth; where I’m irritable and hate myself for it, just know I am hurting in here, give me a hug and tell me you care.
I’m going to create a category for these posts, because now that the “secret” is out, I plan to keep talking about it and give this condition a name and a face. I’m going to talk about parenting with this condition, misconceptions…and, yeah, more on stigma. Stay tuned.
For more about depression see:
App: T2 Mood Tracker (and there are others)
* These are resources only and nothing I’ve said in this post should be construed as medical advice. If you think you may be suffering from the symptoms of depression, contact your physician.