I’ve been wanting to talk about something, without alarming people. And I’m angry. Because we live in an “I’m Fine” culture. How are you? I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, even if on the inside you’re fucked.
I’ve been wanting to say to my friends “hey guys, I’m depressed” but anticipating the awkward position that puts people in, anticipating the courteous, well intentioned but generally placating response, if any, gives me the fear.
And too, I feel like the word depression has lost meaning; in terms of how we think about someone outside of ourselves experiencing depression. I feel, by saying I’m depressed, I’m downplaying the realities of how I actually feel. When one is depressed don’t assume that they’re “just” depressed. When I’m depressed, I’m not just sad, and sulky. I’m drowning, I’m suffocating, I’m torturing myself. A ghost whispers reasons for why everyone would be better off without me, haunting my thoughts, overshadowing rationality.
I can’t even say in public how I really feel at times, because sometimes I’m not ready to put my freedom in jeopardy. Why do people suffer in silence? Because we can’t be honest. And when we can it’s for one hour twice a week at max with a therapist, who we get showered and dressed up for and smile and say I’m fine. We might say we’re depressed, but we know the keywords to avoid the therapist from being legally obligated to institutionalize us.
I have a secret though. I do have someone I talk openly about my depression with, when it’s taken me over. I can say whatever I want, and instead of being whisked away with a shot if Thorazine in my ass, this person reminds me of all the reasons my thoughts are not logical or truthful. It’s an ongoing open discussion on equal terms. I’m respected enough for this person not to placate me with pats on the head and compliments, or vague hopeful expressions “you’ll be fine.” I’m respected enough that this person trusts that I’m being wholly honest, allowing me to say even the hot button keywords, trusting that I will answer the question “do you need to go to the hospital” honestly. Because I would.
I wonder how many people didn’t have that person who are now gone, and if they had, would they still be around. You have to understand, that while therapy is helpful, a therapist is not available at your beck and call. Sometimes depression can’t wait for a week until your next appointment. Having that next appointment can feel like a lifeboat, and be something to hold onto, but in the meantime, no one should have to hesitate voicing their emotional state. Why is therapy useful? Because it provides professional guidance. Why should everyday people listen to a friend gush about feeling hopeless? Because to be genuine is to accept all facets of our being. It enriches relationships, garners honesty, trust, and when it comes down to it, it punches holes into the wall that may be crushing your friend.
I may be depressed at times, and yes, it is like part of my mind is Clockwork Orange, forced to stare at unsettling images on repeat. But I’m also still here, I’m still able to listen, and think, and grasp that logical hand reaching under the pile of my emotional rubble. (fuck this, I just said emotional rubble. WTF.)
I know if I didn’t have that hand to grasp, I’d be a fading memory.
I’m angry because no one should have to sink in silence. I’m angry because our society is built on “pulling up your big girl panties” “be a man” “suck it up” “How are you? – I’m fine, how are you? – I’m fine” I’m angry because people don’t realize that when you’re drowning, you don’t want someone to tell you your pretty, or offer a hug. You want to be able to yell out “THIS IS HOW I FEEL” without fear of judgement. And for someone to respectfully acknowledge that feeling and give us reasons, not superficial, for why how we feel is temporary, or doesn’t add up. Offer real advice, not go have some chocolate, or take a bubble bath. We want you to talk openly about any experience you’ve had with depression, showing us a) you’re capably empathetic b) how you got through it c) why you’re glad you did d) proving to us that you can handle our honesty in return.
And absolutely, yes. Sometimes, we are too far down the spiral, and we need help now. And I think the majority of us would be willing to admit it, if, we have that logical reasoner reminding us that a few days, weeks, in hospital is worth it.
If someone trusts you enough to tell you they’re depressed, trust them enough to understand that they are reaching out for that logical hand. Ask where they are, on scale from sad to suicide. Why is that scary? Unless they have proved otherwise, trust them no matter their response. Give them meaningful reasons for why they need to hold on… loved ones, pets. Realize they may be feeling like their doing a service by removing themselves from life, and tell them that it’s natural to feel overwhelmed while in a depressive state. Remind them of the times they were contented, and promise that if they keep talking and holding on it will eventually go. Ask them to promise their honesty. Tell them how much it would affect you if they did something undoable. Do encourage therapy, and having an honest talk with a doctor. Tell them why they shouldn’t feel ashamed, tell them they are not alone, tell them there is help. But most of all really listen.
If that is too much to ask, find someone you trust that can help, and if there is no one, urge them to call a doctor or therapist, or both. And in extreme case, go with them and hold there fucking hand while they admit themselves into inpatient.
For me mental illness is something I have to live with for the rest of my life, and I may not always be one step ahead, but actively, openly, having the freedom to express brutal honesty is a huge part of managing myself. For me, having bipolar means I need an active support network. And to honestly, actively check in on my mental whereabouts.
But even if temporary depression, or seasonal depression, postpartum depression, please don’t sink in silence. Someone out there understands. Internet support groups, real life support groups. Find someone to talk to, a friend, a doctor, or therapist. It’s not your fault. It’s no different than having a physical illness, but in your mind. You know how you feel like you’re going to die when you have the flu? Well you’ve got the brain’s version of the flu. It’s unbearable at times, and feels never ending while it’s there, but it does go away. Sometimes medication is necessary, like insulin is necessary to a diabetic. Being depressed has nothing to do with strength or weakness, it’s a condition that millions of people live with. And there are lifesavers everywhere waiting for you to reach out for that logical hand. But in order to find it, you have to shatter the isolation of silence by being open and honest until you get whatever kind of help sufficient enough to save you from yourself, until you don’t need saving.
I’m tired of hiding. I’m tired of this uptight cupcake, ironed pants social indoctrination that allows us to suffer in silence. People don’t want to hear I’m depressed because, somewhere along the line we were taught that depression is personal. Don’t mistake me, I love things about life too, social niceties can be exactly that, I’m not always depressed, typically I am in good spirits. But how refreshing would it be to say “Hey guys, I’m feeling really low tonight” without scaring people, or awkwardness, or regret, and to get real feedback and understanding.
It would be awesome to live in a time where I could sit beside a stranger on the bus and when asked how I was, casually say “I’m down” without it putting a damper on the mood. The honest truth is that I’ve never met anyone who hasn’t suffered from depression, whether it be circumstantial, or chemical. Depression might be dampening the mood of the depressed person, but if someone tells you they have a headache, you don’t get a headache too. And you automatically know to say, do you have any ibuprofen? When people can talk about depression out loud, openly, and honestly it takes it from an emotional place that is unstable, and puts it into a reality that is like looking at it in third person. Verbalizing emotions enables logic to enter the paradigm. In a society that welcomes honesty, we could speak candidly about our real emotions, and in return feel less isolated, we shouldn’t have our realities swept under the rug because they don’t fit into a unicorns asshole.
In a culture where depression was accepted into open, everyday conversation, we would know to say; what are your symptoms and be able to determine how to proceed from that, just as we do with a headache, or a sinus infection.
If you’re sinking in silence, be assured there are many, many people out there who understand, even people who don’t know you are capable of caring, so many it may surprise you. Tell someone you trust, or announce it to the world. If you don’t have insurance and think you can’t afford a therapist, let me tell you I paid my last guy $15 per session, a professional. Often times therapists will work with you on a sliding fee scale based on your income. All you have to do is ask. And if that feels overwhelming there are suicide hotlines that you can call while curled up in bed, still not showered at 2pm. The important thing is to take those streaming negative thoughts and emotions and put them into words, push them out, realize that allowing yourself to drown is scarier than admitting you need help. The longer you go without speaking out, the deeper you go, and you are putting yourself in danger by letting that happen. Believe me, someone out there cares. As Mr. Rogers said, When he was a boy and saw scary things on the news, his mom would always tell him to look for the helpers. Yes, there might be people who may run away, but there are also people who will come running. But they won’t know to, unless you tell them.
Suicide takes the lives of nearly 30,000 Americans every year.
Please don’t sink in silence.