I’ve been trying to write this for years. To share a piece of myself in the hope that it might help others. Here goes.
I’m sure many people I know casually would still describe me that way.
But, the truth is that I’ve always been good at “putting it on”. Smiling can quickly convince people of much– that you are friendly and that you are keeping it together. It’s convenient. Smile and move on with your life.
And, a smile can be deceiving. It can be the bare minimum to get people to leave you alone, to convince them that you do have it all together, that you don’t need their help, thankyouverymuch.
I’ve mastered that use. The quiet deception. Of course, I’m okay– I’m smiling!
In reality, I’ve lived with depression for most of my life. I first remember having the realization that I was depressed when I was about 12. By the time, I hit high school, I was profoundly depressed. At 16, you can pass off barely crawling out of bed as a grumpy teenager.
On the outside, I was a success. I had a job, a boyfriend, and many friends. Honor Roll, Odyssey of the Mind, Key Club, choir, student government, newspaper. . . that well-rounded, well-involved, well-liked student. And, I was living with depression. Intense, very real, very dangerous depression.
As much as I like to keep it hidden, I’ve lived with depression ever since. There are seasons where it goes away entirely, where I can feel everything fully and happily, but there are many seasons where I live in the shadows of depression. Much of college. The fall after I met Aaron. After we adopted Reed and Lena, those hard months while we waited to bring Gus home, and again after we adopted Gus.
I’ve learned that many people do not understand depression. “I was depressed after I failed an exam.” “I was depressed when my boyfriend broke up with me.” It’s possible that a difficult life event can trigger depression, but more often, that feeling is just prolonged, deep sadness. Sadness is an emotion. It’s fleeting. When you are sad, the feeling is real in that moment, but you can still keep perspective on your life. And perhaps most importantly, you have a reason to be sad.
Depression is a disease. It’s a dark filter over your life. It makes the sadness sadder, the happiness less joyful, the anger more intense. It’s an unshakable weight, pulling all of your emotions down a notch, making them murkier. Or, sometimes, it makes everything duller. Where you would feel sad, where you would feel angry, where you would feel happy, all you can feel is apathy. “I don’t care.” “May I please go back to bed now?”
I chose this season to share a piece of my story with depression because this season is when so many people feel that dark cloud creeping in. It’s the season when I always fight the darkness off as long as I can, but it always finds me, at least a little. I know I’m not alone and that’s really want I want you to know, too: you are not alone. While I am not an expert and my experiences are only my own, there are a few things that I want to share, for those walking through this and those supporting them.
- Depression will wreck you. One day, you will find yourself different. Angry, ungrateful, apathetic to the world. Not yourself. This is the first thing that I want you to know about depression, whether it is you or your loved one dealing with it. You have NOT changed. You are sick. There is nothing wrong with your attitude that can be fixed with a change of perspective. Depression is burying you. This is not your fault.
- There may be no why. Well, there is a biological why, but there may not be a why in your life circumstances. Rich people get depressed, poor people get depressed. Both Christians and atheists get depressed. Anyone can get depressed, regardless of how perfectly everything in their life is going. Please, please do not ask “why” someone is depressed.
- It’s okay to be depressed. Do everything you can to fight your way out of it. Seek out people who can help you. Call your doctor and a counselor. But, also, know it’s okay to be depressed. Recognize your feelings and let yourself feel them.
- A depressed person is not an easy person to be with. No matter how much your friends and family in your life love you, depression is hard to take. Remember how I said it changes you? It’s not pleasant to have a new, miserable version of your loved one. But, they still love you and care about you. They want to see you get better.
- You are important. To quote one of my favorite T.V. shows, Doctor Who, “Nine hundred years of time and space and I’ve never met anybody who wasn’t important”. The line is fiction, but the sentiment is true. Your experiences, especially these hard ones, they make you important. Your tenacity, your survival, the depth of your feeling, that can be a gift to others. You can do great things. Many amazing people have lived with depression– Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, J.K. Rowling, Mozart, to name a few. It’s a miserable experience, but you are sharing it with some of the most intelligent, compassionate, creative people who have ever lived.
- Lastly, remember, this is not the real you; this is the disease. Hang on to the real you as tightly as you can.
While this is my story and I’ve wanted to write it for many years, this was partly inspired by Kevin Breel’s Ted Talk. And, I’ve also been inspired by Glennon Melton’s blog Momastery, her call for truth-telling. Ann Voskamp has also written some great stuff on her experience with depression, my favorite being What Christians Need to Know About Mental Health.
“Life is brutal. But it’s also beautiful. Brutiful, I call it. Life’s brutal and beautiful are woven together so tightly that they can’t be separated. Reject the brutal, reject the beauty. So now I embrace both, and I live well and hard and real.” -Glennon Melton
[Photo Credit: First photo was taken by a family member, likely my mother. Photos 2&3 were taken by my friend Ashleigh Millman. And, the last one was taken by me with the help of self timer.]