If I asked you to pick the photo that shows me in a depressive state, you’d probably pick the second photo. Right?
Well, you’d be both right and wrong.
Those of us who carry this darkness around with us, are very good at showing the world what they want to see. Or better yet, shielding them from what they don’t want to see.
These photos were taken on the same day. One was posted to Facebook. One wasn’t.
Why is it that mental illness is so hard to talk about? In my experience, it’s just easier not to talk about it. In order to avoid questions that I either won’t be able to answer, or choose not to answer because the person asking won’t like or understand the answer.
Sadness is an emotion. Emotions can be easily understood, or accepted because we all feel them.
Depression, or Major Depressive Disorder is a state of being. It doesn’t run it’s course and then leave. It isn’t a reaction to something that happened or didn’t happen.
It lives inside of me all the time. Most of the time it stays hidden. But it’s not something I have control of. I can’t just choose to get over it.
So I’ve learned to smile for everyone who needs it.
Is there someone in your life who might be smiling on the outside, while struggling on the inside? Are you?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And if you aren’t comfortable talking face to face, you can text the Crisis Text Line (741-741). The most important thing to know is that you are not alone. You have never been alone.
Crisis Text Line: 741-741 to text with a trained Crisis Counselor. The service is free, confidential and available 24/7.
Today I’m depressed. I’m not just sad. I’m stay in bed, there’s no hope sad. Otherwise known as depression.
Sometimes you will say to me, “yeah, I know how it is to be sad”. I know you mean well. Of course you know sadness. We all do. But depression is so much more than just sadness. And I hope you never understand this completely.
Depression is like being in a beautiful yard with a big hole in the middle. You walk around the hole and are sad because your yard is temporarily ruined. It’s an inconvenience, an eyesore. But you will fill the hole and your yard will be beautiful again.
I, on the other hand, walk around the same hole, but I fall in. The hole is much deeper than it appears. And then it starts to rain and the hole fills quickly. I am barely able to hold my head above the muddy water.
When you are sad, you sometimes say you feel blue. When I’m depressed the world is void of all color. No rainbows exist for me. There is no gold.
But you have a two healthy boys who love you, a husband who would do anything for you, and a beautiful house, you say. What have you got to be depressed about?
Nothing and everything. Yes, my life is full of wonderful people, and I am blessed to have the comforts that I do. I know that. But my depression couldn’t care less.
Depression, while often triggered by life’s hardships, can just as easily be triggered by nothing. And, let me tell you, that is the worst kind. Because when people ask me what’s wrong and I answer, I don’t know. The look I get says it all. They just don’t get it.
You might want to fix it – help me. And that would be incredible if it was that easy. But it isn’t. Depression runs its course, no matter how much I am loved. It doesn’t care.
Then why are you smiling and going about your day? Good question. Those of us who are depressed, often have to learn how to exist in two worlds simultaneously – the world of normalcy and the world of darkness that we have learned to mask when necessary.
Believe me when I tell you, we can smile with the best of them. We can crack jokes, show up when needed and act the part of happy camper most of the time. What you don’t know is that inside, we are not there. We are on auto-pilot. Inside we are counting the minutes until we can be alone, until we can give in to the darkness, because we know that the only way out is through.
But aren’t you on anti-depressants? Yes, I am. I’m so good at being depressed that I’m on two different ones.
Then why are you still depressed? The medicine is not a cure. It’s a damper. It tends to make the episodes shorter. If I wasn’t on medication we’d be on season 49 of this show. Honestly, I’m not sure I’d be here. Yes, it’s gotten that bad before.
When I’m depressed, I feel lost. I drift aimlessly through the days without purpose or motivation.
When I’m depressed I am Atlas, the weight of the world making every movement a monumental effort.
When I’m depressed I just want it to be over. It’s exhausting. Depression sucks all of the life out of any given moment.
And it happens in a blink moment. This morning I was fine. Tonight as I write this the light is dimming and my dreams are too.
So next time I tell you I’m depressed, just know that all I need from you is compassion and understanding. I need to know that you know I’m not being dramatic or looking for attention. I need you to know that I have a mental illness, and I’m trying not to let it define me.
Mostly what I need you to know that I’m in here. Don’t forget that. I’m still me. And I will be back.
* I am writing this so that others can see one of the many faces of depression. I am not seeking pity or attention.
One thing I have always been in my writing is honest. So this is me being honest, unfiltered and raw. I am not editing this at all, so please forgive the James Joycian run-ons and stream of consciousness, it’s the most accurate representation of how my mind is working (or not working) right now.
Tonight, I feel broken. I feel like I can’t move. I can’t breathe. There is something inside of me that won’t work no matter how much I tinker with it. And, believe me, there is much tinkering going on.
I don’t like this. I don’t want this. But this is me. I have clinical depression. At any given moment it visits me. It doesn’t care if I have everything I need, everything I want. It comes without warning and stays for as long as it wants. The sun may be shining. The clouds cleared, but inside of me the storm rages despite the current forecast. I try to fight it, but it’s like fighting the undertow. It. Just. Doesn’t. Work.
But think of all the good things you have. You have so much to be thankful for. No shit. I know that. But my depression doesn’t care. Those of you who say this, I don’t fault you. I don’t hate you for thinking it’s as simple as that. In fact, I think you know it isn’t, you just don’t really know what else to say. It’s okay. I don’t know what to say either.
It’s like someone asking you how you are. They are being polite. It’s what you do. It’s not like I’m going to answer by saying, you know what, I’m not good. In fact, I feel like I’m disintegrating. You just don’t say that. It makes people uncomfortable. I get it. It makes me uncomfortable too. 24 hour kind of uncomfortable. Unless there is wine. And then it’s only mildly annoying. Until there’s a sad song. And there’s always a sad song, isn’t there?
But I’m a mom. I can’t “self-medicate” like my mind tells me I want to. I can’t keep a travel mug full of “peace” with me at all times. And, honestly, I don’t want to. It scares me that the wine helps as much as it does. I don’t want to be that person. But a part of me is that person whether I like it or not.
Then there’s the most awesome part of all. My oldest son also has anxiety and depression. And every time I look at my youngest I wonder if I have passed the curse on to him as well. Do I think I shouldn’t have had kids? Absolutely not! This world needs my kids because they are incredible. But it doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty, which fuels my depression…vicious circle.
Did I mention I’m tired, but I can’t sleep? I feel like I’m losing it most nights as I try to drift off with all of the what ifs shooting off like firecrackers in my mind. Problems that aren’t even my problems. Sadness that doesn’t even belong to me. I am too connected. So connected that I disconnect in order to survive.
I just want to rest. I just want to feel like everything will be okay. I want to trust the words I feed my children every day. It will get better. You just have to believe. There are plenty of days where I feel like I’m just setting them up for the firing squad.
I’ll find my way out. I always have. But every time I surface, I can’t help but wonder when the next wave will hit.
*This post is honest. It is painful to write, but I feel that it needs to be said for those who can’t say it.
My son bears the weight of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) daily, but this post is not for him. This post is for the parents and loved ones who must learn how to live with OCD as well. I do not wish to take away from the burden he carries; believe me, I have seen him crippled by this intrusive, invisible bully and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
But I am here to acknowledge the others who are involved in this journey alongside them. I am here to remind you that we, too, face a bully. However, our bully is easily recognizable every time we pass a mirror.
How often have you retreated behind the safety of a closed, locked door and screamed into a pillow? How many times have you been blinded by the hot tears of frustration as you drive anywhere just to get away? And how familiar is the feeling of guilt that gnaws at you for all the times that you lost it, yelling at your son out of anger? The emotional turmoil is unrelenting.
I have slammed doors and punched pillows.
I have felt so much pent up rage that I’ve resorted to hitting my thighs with fists clenched so tightly that my nails have drawn blood, just so the bruises on my legs hurt more than the ache in my heart.
I have escaped the tension with a few too many glasses of wine. And then slept through my sadness.
I have sat outside my son’s door listening to the quiet of him sleeping, pretending that he’s just like everyone else. Enjoying the silence maybe a bit too much.
I have driven to an abandoned lot, turned the music up as loud as I can and screamed until my throat was raw and I was out of breath.
And each time I’ve berated myself with ugly, angry words.
The same kind of sharp words I have heard my son use on himself on his worst days as he curls up in his chair, the chair that is off limits to the rest of the family because we aren’t clean enough, and cries until he has nothing but shadows left inside him.
The same words I save for the days when I hate myself most. You are worthless. You are a burden. You can’t even help him. Loser. I can’t do this anymore.
There are times that I think if only I had done this instead of that. Said these words instead of those. Maybe things wouldn’t be so bad for him. Maybe he would be better. Maybe I’ve made it worse.
I make myself physically ill worrying over the things that I think I did wrong. But the truth is that on any given day, I’m doing the best I can. My best may not be perfect, but I. Am. Trying.
There is a song in the Sondheim musical Sunday in the Park with George that really resonated with me one day when I was out trying to walk off the voices in my head that were telling me how wrong I was.
Stop worrying where you’re going – Move on.
If you can know where you’re going, you’ve gone.
Just keep on moving.
I chose and my world was shaken- So what?
The choice may have been mistaken,
The choosing was not.
You have to move on.
As parents and caregivers of kids with special needs, it’s easy for us to forget that the best thing we can do is to keep moving.
Some days we will move backwards, tripping over yesterday’s mistakes. Other days we will move forward full of a hope we can barely see. But the only thing that matters is that we are moving. We may not know where we are going, or how we are going to get there, but we will get there.
Yes, we are exhausted. We are overwhelmed. We are heartbroken. We are afraid. We are angry.
There is a place I know that feels a little too much like home. It’s a house of mine I rent from time to time, but it isn’t home. I’ve visited it so many times that I know it well.
It could easily become my home – if I let it.
But that is something I won’t do.
Each time I visit I struggle to leave; there is a familiarity that is comfortable, like a warm hug. But that hug quickly becomes a smothering embrace, threatening to dissolve me.
I go to this place kicking and screaming, fighting against it, and yet, I continue to show up.
I don’t like this part of me – the part that visits this place. But the older I get the more I realize that it’s just who I am. I am a person who lives in two separate places at any given time. I am a person who puts on a smile while I am at my home (as much as I can), but who wears no masks at my other house.
The other house is a house of darkness where no masks are needed because there is no one else there to be bothered by my countenance.
The other house is desolate, lonely, and dark. Hardly a place that a person would choose to visit. Instead, it seems to choose me. In some kind of Amityville-esque way, it haunts me and consumes me.
Thankfully I have a home – a real home – filled with those I love who wait for me. I worry that one day they will choose to close the door and leave me stranded in the echoing hallways of my other house, having grown tired of my extended, and frequent vacant-tions.
Here’s what I want them to know.
I see you trying to figure me out and help me and “fix” me. And I am grateful that I mean that much to you, but there is nothing you can do. The darkness is in me, and I am the only one who can fix the broken switch.
And I. Am. Trying. This is not a place I want to be. Know that. Above all else, know that.
Being who I am I feel too much. I think too much. I bruise too much.
Sometimes life is just too much, and I feel like I’m suffocating.
That doesn’t mean I want to die.
In fact, it’s just the opposite. I want to live. God how I want to live.
I want to be the free spirit I am. To explore and dream and create and shine.
But there are moments in my life that break me. And these are the moments that send me to my house to be still. To retreat. To repair.
In the midst of my own personal revelations, I’m still struggling to deal with the pain of someone very close to me. My oldest son was diagnosed with Tourette’s at age six and OCD, anxiety, and depression at the age of eight. Over the years he has faced many challenges, all of which he has overcome. But when he is in the middle of a particularly bad one it seems that there is no light, only tunnel. And that’s where he is today.
My heart breaks for him because, although I know I can encourage him, I can’t “fix” his issues, only he can. As a parent, this is the worst feeling. I’ve always been able to fix the outside hurts, or find someone who can. It’s the inside hurts that prove to be the true problems.
Lately, it’s the social anxiety that is slowly killing his spirit. Warner and I were sitting on the deck talking the other day, amidst the wisdom of the whispering Georgia pines, and something he said stuck with me.
The night before, he and Jake had done some serious talking it out. Mostly Jake listening while Warner talked. I thank God that we are a close family, that at least Jake has that. So as they talked Warner told him he needed to “be where the people are”.
Of course, there is no way we could understand Jake’s social anxiety, but what we do know as adults who have been in the world a bit longer, is that most things are temporary. So we continue to encourage him, to suggest things that seem impossible to him right now. Things that he wants so badly.
So when Warner told me what he said, “be where the people are”, all I could hear was Ariel, The Little Mermaid, singing so sadly about her desire to, yep, you guessed it “be where the people are”, and I nearly lost it.
I wanna be where the people are
I wanna see, wanna see them dancin’
Walking around on those – what do you call ’em?
Oh – feet!
Up where they walk, up where they run
Up where they stay all day in the sun
Wanderin’ free – wish I could be
Part of that world
When’s it my turn?
Wouldn’t I love, love to explore that shore up above?
Out of the sea
Wish I could be
Part of that world
Because, for my Jake, he wants so much to be a part of a world that you and I live in every day without giving it much of a second thought. We go to the store, interact with the cashier, walk among a crowd, and we hardly even notice.
But it’s a struggle for Jake. He feels like he is being watched, and judged. Even going through a drive-thru is difficult because it requires interaction. Think about all of the little interactions you have experience on a daily basis. Now, imagine doing those things and feeling like you are being evaluated on each and every move you make, every word you say, all the while knowing you are inadequate – so really, what’s the point?
Imagine wanting to meet people, to have friends, to socialize, but being too afraid to talk because you don’t want to be criticized, so you remain alone…and miserable. It’s not a choice. It’s a prison.
And watching a person that you love, that you respect, and that you see so much awesomeness in go through this is heartbreaking.
All I can do is love him. All I can do is be there for him, and believe in him. The rest is in his hands. But I will be holding those hands, and helping him every step of the way no matter how long it takes. Even though he may feel lonely, I can promise him this, he will never be alone as long as I’m around.