I have a mental illness. It is called Depression.
I’ve probably had it my entire life, according to my doctor, but one day 10 years ago my life detonated and lay in shreds all around my feet…and then those pesky brain chemicals just couldn’t keep up anymore.
Before then, I was a pretty decent ringmaster of the crazy circus that made up my emotional life. I could alternatively hide what I was ashamed of about myself and fake control and happiness in front of others.
But then the worst thing that could happen, did. And my old wine skins burst.
And ever since then I’ve been living with “The Big D”.
Maybe my depression is different than anyone else’s, but it has taken me 10 years to get to this place…where I’m ready to publicly acknowledge and write about my life with depression,
But more importantly, how I’m saving my own life right now.
I’ve always felt very ashamed of and embarrassed about having Depression. I’ve suffered from the stigma associated from it, of course. I’ve weathered well-meaning friends and family saying all the things that well-meaning (but not depressed) people tend to say.
(I liken it to taken divorce advice from someone who has never been divorced, parenting advice from someone who isn’t a parent, or weight loss advice from a skinny person. All the books and courses in the world will not teach you what it FEELS like to be depressed. And even how I feel with Depression may not be the same as how you feel.)
I take objection to even the definition of Depression. They call it a “mood disorder”. I don’t think of it as a mood that I’m in. To use the term mood denotes something changing with the whims of the day, or something fleeting, or something insignificant. Like I’m a hormonal teenager. Like I’m being immature or cowardly or manipulative.
Instead, I’d call it a “thinking disorder”. Instead of affecting my lungs or kidneys or another body part, it affects my thinking, which then directs my behavior and mood. Thinking irrational thoughts IS the disease. Thinking that you’re worthless, hopeless, replaceable, pointless, and better off dead IS IRRATIONAL and is part of the illness…and it is not the truth.
My depression is being so happy on the inside, but not able talk to people at my daughter’s engagement party, so that people imagine I’m upset.
My depression is having to give myself a pep talk before performing mundane household chores. And not having the will to give myself the pep talk a lot of days.
My depression is spending too much time on Facebook, watching TV or reading as a means of distracting myself so I do not have to think the thoughts in my own head.
My depression is…for some reason I can’t figure out…feeling like the only place to be is on the floor of my bedroom. On these particularly awful days, I feel a physical weight in my arms and legs and a palpable exhaustion that makes me prefer to sleep than have to battle through it. On the floor, I cry a lot and I cry hard and I wish that I could find a dark whole and crawl inside of and simply cease to be. I call these “Attacks of Depression” because that is what it feels like…an actual assault…and I don’t always know what triggers them. And sometimes I do.
My depression is good days and bad days…sometimes lots of each in a row.
How I’m saving my own life…
First, it’s this…deciding to be transparent and authentic about my depression. Yes, I’m still embarrassed. Yes, I’m still worried about how others will react or treat me. But I’m choosing courage over fear and today, at least, courage is winning.
Yesterday, for the first time ever, I texted a friend when I felt an attack coming on because I believed she would pray for me.
I was really terrified to text her. An email would have taken too long to craft and explain. But a text? Maybe?
“Pray for me, please. Depression is rearing its ugly head and I am feeling paralyzed.”
I was feeling so very vulnerable and afraid. I really didn’t want to talk at that moment and I was afraid that my phone would ring…
And the dots showed up as she was answering me. I could feel my heart quicken…
A wave of relief washed over me because I knew that somebody knew. And although I was alone, I didn’t feel alone in my pain just then.
And then I left my phone and my computer downstairs and I sat on the floor of my room and cried. Hard.
But then, a thought that I’d never had before came into my mind. It was, “You’re not worthless, you have a mental illness that makes you think that you are.”
And my tears slowed as I repeated that sentence over and over to myself. And soon I was able to pray. I said, “Dear Heavenly Father, please give me another perspective about myself than what I have about myself right now.”
And I starting thinking about my kids. I thought about how my kids love me.
And how my husband loves me.
And my mom and dad love me.
And my former students love me.
And my friends love me.
And I started feeling that maybe, even though I don’t always feel it inside myself, that I am lovable because some really fine and wonderful human beings love me.
Lastly, I got up off the floor and I made myself some chicken salad and added some avocado and almonds for some healthy fats, and then I went to sit outside in the sunshine.
And as I sat there, eating a healthy lunch that I made for myself, sitting in the sunshine on a warm afternoon, I felt a feeling of pride…
I just saved my own life today.
I cared for myself. Yes, I asked for help from a friend and from God, but it was my bravery and humility and action on my own behalf that did it. I do know how to care for myself, and I feel like I can trust myself to be good to my physical body and my mental health.
I have to be real here. I have a mental illness and that means I will have more sitting-on-the-floor-of-my-bedroom days in the future. They will be awful and they will feel like an assault.
But I’ve equipped myself with some new weapons with which to fight…
I can text a friend so that I’m not alone in my pain.
I can pray for a new perspective and courage.
I can remember that I have an illness, and I am a grown up and I can take care of myself. Just like if I was sick with pneumonia or anything else, there is a medical protocol. I need to visit my doctor, take my medicine, take vitamins, eat well, and move my body.
And just like I wouldn’t get mad at myself for having pneumonia or a kidney infection, I don’t need to beat myself up about having Depression. I can rest when I need to without feeling guilty or ashamed.
I have to remind myself that this illness is an illness of my thinking. It goads me to dwell on thoughts that are not true or rational. I’m not always able to control it, and I’m not always aware that my thoughts are irrational. The mantra, “You are not ____, you have a mental illness that makes you THINK that you are ___” was a helpful one. I must have read it somewhere on the Internet once, and it came back to me when I needed it.
I can live with The Big Angry D. And I can save my own life. I did it and I can do it again, and again, and again. And I will.