I have argued with myself about writing this post for a long time. I have worried that my friends would treat me different, look at me different. See it as a cry for help, rather than a stand against this lie. I worried that it wouldn’t be well received, proving it all true. I worried that people would judge me, laugh at me, or ignore me. I was worried it would be used as a reason to discriminate against me. But that’s what depression does.
We don’t like to talk about this subject; as individuals, as a nation, as a society. We blame upbringing or drugs. We blame guns or self-control or self-reliance. But the truth is, we need to talk about this subject. We need to bring it into the open and expose the lies it tells. We need to make it so no one feels alone because of mental illness.
We talk about how important it is to wash your hands to keep from getting the flu. We talk about cancer screenings and wellness checks. We talk about how crucial it is to wear seat belts, and look both ways, and eat right. We talk about brushing our teeth and checking for lumps and flossing. But we don’t talk about this. This gets buried and ignored and stigmatized. It has to stop. For all of us, it has to stop. Mental illness is scary; we can’t vaccinate against it, and it isn’t preventable. I know, I have Depression.
Globally, I have 350 million friends with the same problem. That’s the entire population of the United States, and Canada, combined. And about a third of us also suffer from an anxiety disorder of some flavour. Depression and anxiety can both be treated, but most people don’t seek help, including myself. Why? Because, I don’t want to bother anyone. I don’t want the stigma. I don’t want to be drugged into oblivion. I just want to try to be normal. Just my normal sometimes includes days that I don’t want to leave my room.
As far as cases go, I’m one of the luckier ones. Most people don’t realize I have this disease. Most don’t even realize when I’m going through an episode. My closest friends can usually tell that something is wrong, but I brush it off: a rough night with the toddler, I’m tired, just a headache. I can feel it creeping at the edges of my thoughts for days, lurking like a lion in the dark. I feel like I’m fighting my own mind, and mostly losing. My thoughts turn negative or self-defeatist. Sometimes that’s as bad as it gets. Other times though, it strikes; maybe I’m in the middle of doing something, maybe I’m just waking up for the day, maybe I’m getting ready for bed. But when it does, I feel…empty. I feel like curling up and crying, but not because I’m sad. I’m not sad, I’m depressed. It lasts for a while, a day or four if it is particularly bad. During this time, I try to put on a happy face when I have to, and just hide when I don’t. If I’m off, I will spend the entire time in bed, curled up with my dog preferably. I don’t really care what is happening around me, just that the thought of being awake, of getting out of bed, is terrible. Of having to be aware and talking and moving, is just more than I can handle. Sometimes I get migraines with it, sometimes I don’t. I always have muscle soreness, from clenching and being on edge.
When I am having an attack, or fighting it, I have a harder time focusing on what’s going on around me. I feel like I’m stumbling in a fog, trying to figure out what’s important and get past all the junk in the way. I have a hard time finding the words I want or maybe I stumble a little more in conversation or what I’m trying to do. I definitely question myself more during this time. The truth is though, if we were talking, you probably would not notice a thing. I’ve gotten really good at hiding it.
I get a lot of practice at hiding how I feel. You see, I am also a member of that lucky one third that also suffers from anxiety. Anxiety is a strange little beast; for some it makes them worry about the airplane that might fall from the sky, or the rattlesnake that could be hiding under the bed. For me, it isn’t public speaking, which I’ve done, or helping someone I don’t know. No, it is the social situations; like getting a haircut, talking to a waitress, it’s going to a party with more than 4 people. It is talking to someone that I think knows more than I do on a particular subject. Talking on the phone is an especially terrible thing. It is those times in which I think I would be judged. It is when i walk into a room and wonder, “Were they talking about me…?” It is the lies that the depression gets my anxiety to tell.
These two diseases work together, to make some days hell. I have to talk to people, when all I want to do is curl up with my dog and watch Top Gear. I crave social interaction, real connection, but I am terrified of getting too close. I hide it all under a mask of outgoingness, but on the inside, I am a screaming mass of quivering terror. I am broken inside.
I wish my friends knew, that when I cancel plans at the last minute, it isn’t the flimsy reason I give them, or whatever they think, it is because I just can’t be around people that day. I wish my friends knew, that sometimes the happy-go-lucky exterior, is covering a scared little boy, that wants his puppy to hold.
I wish my friends knew, that sometimes, I’m broken. And that’s ok.