“You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald.
My words are a call to action for you, and all of us to change the conversation about mental health. I’m not even talking about changing what kind of treatments are needed like medicine vs. psychotherapy. I’m talking about acknowledging that it is real, it is an issue, and letting those that reach out know that they are not alone. There is hope.
It’s not a big deal if you deal with it.
Being that March is women’s history month and also rounds out my quarter of a century being around, I thought now was as appropriate a time as ever to post on this topic.
My story is personal but not uncommon. I grew up with my Dad having Schizophrenia (diagnosed around 2003), which meant I was acutely aware of mental illness and its effects from an early age.
When I was 16 I was diagnosed with depression. At first, I thought it was something I would grow out of, like a pair of shoes, or a pair of pants. I started taking Zoloft at 18 and until I decided to take myself off of it at 20 while a sophomore in college.
I had some depressive episodes while on the medication but felt pretty stable and “in-control”. About three years later though, I had to get back on medication and it wasn’t easy. Through therapy and medication I realized that my depression wasn’t a phase from my teenage years. It was something I would have to live with and deal with for the rest of my adult life.
Beyond my Control
That realization felt debilitating and crushing. I was eating healthy, exercising, drinking lots of water, and making sure I had a solid sleep schedule but that still wasn’t enough. I didn’t understand how despite my efforts, it was something beyond my control.
Despite knowing that my Dad couldn’t help having a mental illness, somehow I thought I was different and I was more powerful than any chemical in my mind. I was ok with others having something they couldn’t control alone, but I didn’t apply the same understanding for myself.
Lack of Awareness
Mental health is indicative of many other issues. Because of the stigma and lack of awareness surrounding many disorders, those with the disease suffer and turn to self-medication like alcohol or drugs. They aren’t bad people, they are just people trying to find a way to stop the pain, who also don’t have a full understanding of what is happening to them.
We need to make talking about our mental health ok and not a sign of weakness or defeat. It’s empowering and brave, it shows self-awareness and emotional intelligence to say “Hey something doesn’t feel right and I want to do something about it. I want to get help.”
A Secret We Share
Andrew Solomon is one of my favorite writers on the topic of psychology and depression. He gave a compelling TEDTalk about how depression is a secret we share. His outlook and perspective offer some comfort and a different voice than any other I’ve heard.
“Valuing one’s depression does not prevent a relapse, but it may make the prospect of relapse and even relapse itself easier to tolerate. The question is not so much of finding great meaning and deciding your depression has been very meaningful. It’s of seeking that meaning and thinking, when it comes again,”This will be hellish, but I will learn something from it.”
Seeking out others with depression and learning more about what our culture is doing has been a great asset for me. I am open about my depression because I own that is a part of my identity but not my entire identity. People are complex and multi-faceted.
We spend so much time in our society trying to isolate one trait, one ingredient, and one behavior to get the fix-all.
Synchronicity of Life
What we need to understand is that life works in synchronicity with everything else. My depression, along with my happiness, curiosity for life, and my adventurous spirit all make up who I am. Just like one meal won’t make you fat or skinny, one depressive episode or down day does not define my life.
Most days are good, actually great! When the days are bad I have learned not to fight them or resent them. I sit with the downs and let them have their moment because that’s all I can do. Granted, I don’t do things to make them worse.
I haven’t quite figured out what exactly makes me feel better in the immediate but I do know what exacerbates my lows. Drinking, poor eating, not getting enough sleep, getting over stimulated (trying to do too much in a short period of time).
Thats an import piece to my puzzle. We can’t always have the answers for what works but figuring out what doesn’t is equally important.
Value and Perspective
The world isn’t as lost as depression makes it seem. There is hope. There are bad times but the good in the world and it’s beauty are much brighter than any darkness out there. You just have to hang around long enough to see the sunrise.
My depression adds value to my life and spirit because it is a part of me. I have different perspectives about the world because of it.
Call to Action
My call to action for anyone reading this is to understand that people with mental health issues and illnesses are not less important, no less capable, and no less of person because of it. The judgement and stigma needs to end. Once we move past that, we can move towards helping those in need and strengthening our society.