Monday, November 9, 2015

When "Happy" People Battle Depression

Someone this disgustingly happy can't be depressed...
Or, can she?

Photo by Mary Brownlee
This is, I know, not going to be an easy post to write. For many, it won't be an easy post to read. However, it needs to be written, because it's going to force all of us to look deeper into the issue of depression, and change our ideas of how it "looks."

At least, I hope.

Most people in my world view me as a relatively happy, if not over-zealous at times, fierce mama who kicks ass, takes names, and works hard on making an impact on the world around me. I mean, just check out my Facebook feed! All sorts of rah-rah advocacy, sunny posts, occasional outrage, and "you can do it!" encouragement lives there, on a regular basis.

What you don't see is how I've battled depression since adolescence. You don't see how, after a tumultuous series of medication changes several years ago, I had a psychotic break. You don't see how, at times, I feel hopeless, ineffective, and like maybe -- just maybe -- life is too hard to live.

To many people out there, I'm among the least likely to be battling depression, either publicly or privately.

 In spite of that assumption, I told my husband this week, "I don't want to live anymore." What I meant was, I don't want to live like THIS anymore.

I told him, "Our children deserve a better mother than I can be." What I meant was, My children may not be getting the best care and advocacy I can provide, because an invisible illness is stealing me away from my family, and myself.

I told him, "I feel like I am falling apart, and I don't know how to put myself back together." What I meant was exactly that.

And then, I yelled at him for saying he felt "neglected." What I imagine he meant was, I miss you... Where are you? I need you, and I don't know how to help.

Really, I can't blame him for not knowing what's going on in my head, especially when I struggle to understand it, myself.

We might think depression looks like someone who suddenly isn't interested in their usual activities; who withdraws from the people she cares about (I know men suffer depression, as well, but women are more likely than men to do so); who maybe spends her days in bed, lethargic, and unable to accomplish the most simple self-care or other tasks; or perhaps is overly emotional, and commits a great deal of her time to crying.

Here's what depression looks like for me:

  • Ensuring my kids get to (currently) six therapy appointments per week, but dropping the ball on at-home therapy supplements
  • Having my home and office look like a demilitarized zone, but not having the energy to care
  • Dragging myself out of bed most days to do a lot of nothing, because the things which are most necessary, and bring the greatest return, seem unmanageable 
  • Neglecting my business, clients, and team, but somehow, by grace and luck, receiving awards for my "achievements" during my most massive bouts of depression
  • Mentally "rallying" before answering the phone, so I can have a conversation with someone which focuses on them, and deflects attention away from myself
  • Always answering, "Great! How are YOU?" when someone asks how I am, because I would much rather hear about and worry about someone else, rather than myself
  • Appearing and feeling numb most of the time when I'm alone or with my husband (because even tears require too much energy), but really knocking it out of the park as a "social butterfly" in public or at work
  • Ignoring deadlines for things I really do want to accomplish, because meeting that deadline will mean new, different labor or work, which I can't even begin to think about right now
  • Failing to dial the phone, but always hoping it will ring, and someone, anyone, will notice things just aren't right with me... and then assuring them I'm "fine... great, even!" when they ask
  • Feeling constantly overwhelmed, and at the same time, being unable to feel good about the things I actually am doing well ("You navigated that IEP meeting like a boss today!" is met with, "Yeah, but I didn't cure world hunger, so... what's the point of even trying?")

But here's what you probably see:

  • A super-active mom, who advocates for her kids daily, and tries to make the world a better place by spreading awareness
  • A creative genius, or someone too busy for housework? Actually, no... you'll still see a demilitarized zone. I'm not even going to try to kid myself.
  • A woman who enjoys her "free time," because she's designed her life to provide "self care" and "downtime"
  • A small business owner who is killing it!
  • Someone who greets each social interaction with enthusiasm and positive energy
  • The "social butterfly" you are meant to see
  • Someone who has a lot on her plate, because her talents are so varied... Surely, it's reasonable that some deadlines will need to be adjusted?
  • Someone who simply doesn't give herself enough credit for all the awesome she brings into the world
  • A woman who is -- depending on how much you like me -- either adorably or annoyingly distracted
Some days, I see that, too.

Some days, it's not so bad. Some days, I am the warrior woman, on a mission, and I succeed in conquering a lot of villainous things, and rescuing a lot of people -- metaphorically, of course. SOME days, I really am "fine... great, even!"

And then, there are the other days. The days when, as my friend Anna puts it, depression is " the boogie man hiding around the corner, ready to kick you down if you're not on guard." These days seem to come when I least expect them -- when things are going pretty well, thank you very much, and I really do feel like I have it all together.

As it turns out, I am not alone. 

I wrote the majority of this post based upon my own experiences and feelings, but I wanted to know if anyone else had similar thoughts, or even vastly different thoughts, on depression. I tossed up a couple posts, asking for folks to tell me what they wish others knew about depression. 

Overwhelmingly, I found that a lot of people had similar knowledge about how depression can strike even the "happy" people, and the deep feelings of confusion, helplessness and fear that accompany it. People shared with me their experiences, and really helped to sum up a lot of what I didn't think to say. Take a look:

Siena: It's frustrating when people ask me why I'm depressed, and then don't understand when I say, "I don't know." 
It's not as easy as "getting on something." (medication)

Lei: I hate when people think it's as simple as being sad about something. "what do you have to be sad about?" That just makes me feel more ashamed and guilty about having depression.

Audi: is real and it happens to the best of us. Especially Post partum, which is a time where you are "supposed" to be happy, by the definition of other people.

Kristin: Depression is heavy.
(NOTE: I found this simple statement so profound, I couldn't improve upon it. So much, in those three words. It goes along with the next quote.)
Anna:  It feels like having 1000 lbs of weight crushing you from every angle. And all people can say is "why don't you just take the weight off!?" I had a Bible study leader tell me that I must not have faith in God because if I did, I wouldn't have such a problem. Because God is JOY and if I don't have that then I am not "in-Christ."
(This last part hurt my heart SO MUCH! The church needs to better understand depression and other mental health disorders, and lead those suffering to hope, not condemnation over a perceived lack of faith.)
Cera: On the outside I look like I have everything together, while on the inside I'm battling years of hidden depression and making it up as I go along. 
The monsters don't live under my bed; they live in my brain. 
No matter how much sleep I get I'm still tired, no matter how tired I am I can't sleep!
Chelsie: I wish people didn't say "it could be worse." Everyone's situation is different and it is belittling to be told that "you don't have it that bad."
Kasmira: That sometimes it presents itself as anger, not sadness. Every single person is different, but it is no less real.
A parent with an adult child who battles depression: When you repeatedly feel something is wrong with your child/loved one, speak up. Don't be afraid to ask "Do you think you might be depressed" (I was afraid to ask) If you observe upbeat, 'appropriate' emotional responses when around others but experience negative emotions or worse, lack of emotions one on one, you need to pay attention.
A friend who chose to remain anonymous: Sometimes a depressed person is the funniest, happiest and most outgoing guy or girl that you know. (DING! DING! DING! We have a winner! This is what I was trying to say, at the beginning of this piece.)

So, today, I agonize over how to tell my mother that I'm not really feeling well enough, mentally and emotionally, to get together for Thanksgiving. (Mom, if you're reading, call me to discuss. I don't seem capable of picking up the phone, lately.) 

I think about the to-do list I should write (first on the list: MAKE A LIST). 

I hope my friends, my family, my team, and my clients somehow get the telepathic message that I care about them, and love them, and to please not hesitate to connect with me -- some days, it really is the fuel that keeps me going -- because I'm not always well enough to reach out and say so.

I spend all day blogging about everything I think I should say, when, really, all I want to say to those who love me is:

I'm still here. I'm surviving. I'm a little lost, a little hopeless, and a little mixed up, but I love you, even if I can't precisely show it.
Be tender with me. Understand I am rather fragile right now.
Be tough with me. Don't let me withdraw, or retreat, even when I say it's what I need. It isn't. What I need is to know I have a wall of love and safety around me -- even if I'm not brushing against it, it will be there when I try to run.
Mostly? Please... don't give up on me.

Can you ALL help me to change the way we think depression "looks?" Reach out to someone you haven't heard from in a while. Invite a friend out to coffee. Write a letter to someone you care about. Love on your loved ones a little harder. And, of course, don't forget to share this post. Let's change the world, friends. 

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  1. It's like having a small car parked on your chest with everyone standing around (either in reality or in my imagination) oh come on, get up. It's just a Geo Metro, it's not that heavy. You know there's help for it,too. Hurry up or your kids will be taken away.

    1. Yes. Very much so. Thank you for speaking out. We are not alone... Not a single one of us. We need to have the discussion, open the dialogue, and keep talking about it. <3

    2. By the way, I'm not sure why comments are duplicating... I've removed the duplicates, and will try to figure out what the deal is.

  2. Thank you Christina-Marie. No one believes that I battle depression because: A. I'm not on meds. And B. I don't look like I'm depressed. I've battled depression since grade school. I didn't know that's what it was then. I battle it every day with out meds, because I'm allergic to all anti-depressant base chemicals. It's hard to be "perky" all the time. To be upbeat and loving, when all you wanna do is yell and scream, cry and cave in on yourself. And if you should not be the upbeat, happy, positive person everyone thinks you are, you get snapped at by "friends" for being negative or crabby. So again thank you for this. It shows me, I'm not alone.

    1. It's hard. It's HARD! The fact that we are around to have this discussion doesn't mean it's not hard... It's means we're TOUGH! We are fighters, and survivors.

      We are NOT alone, though it feels so very much like we are.

      I am not on meds, either. They weren't good for me. At all.

      Much love and solidarity to you. Thank you for speaking out. We need the conversation to continue, and we need to keep talking, and keep talking, and keep talking... until the world understands. <3

  3. For me its like im sitting here looking at the pile of dishes and i want to wash them, i want to clean my house but i just cant i dont know how to explain it... i dont want to wake up or get out of bed... but i do because i know i need to...

  4. Thank you for writing this. I could expand on several of the complications I suffer from having Anxiety/Depression. I have all the above, plus, if I don't take my medication I get stabbing chest pains. Yes, I feel like I am having a heart attack. The pain takes my breath away, and then I feel if I do breathe the pain will continue. (Does that make sense?) Of course, I constantly second guess myself, and then I don't say what I am feeling to anyone, because they will think, I probably shouldn't be "feeling" that way. Or, that my way of "feeling" will be confused with a "Crazy" person. So, here in lies the biggest fear, to expand on the definition of depression/anxiety brings in the word "Crazy". No, I don't want to go seek professional help, because then it will be on my record that I am "Crazy". EEK!!! It took me a few decades, and 2 failed marriages to finally get some medication. Yes, that will fix everything, right? Fail, the medication only seems to control the chest pain. But I don't really know, because I am too afraid to stop taking it. I have missed taking a pill, once, and the next day I was an emotional mess. I don't forget to take my meds anymore. I hate being emotional. I would rather be numb. Are these vicious circles that I create for myself, or am I second guessing myself, again?
    If I have to be somewhere, for an appointment, a lesson, a coffee date, I can not be there on time. I can not sleep the night before. I lay there fretting about being late, not getting enough sleep, should I be doing something else, or get this, thinking about something embarrassing that happened to me 20 years ago. I also have huge issues with keeping my beautiful home organized. WHY??? I should be grateful to live in a comfortable home, yet I don't make it comfortable. Weight gain, yes. And not because I am lazy, but because I can not get up to do anything, without explanation. I have become the master of excuses. My husband just thinks I am lazy. Don't give me a list of things that need to be accomplished. That is too stressful.
    Is it just our generation? The statistical numbers are outrageous, of how many people suffer from depression/anxiety.
    And the final, but something you all have already noticed is, my disjointed thinking. I notice it.
    I really don't have anything to be depressed about. I'll just keep telling myself that. On the outside, nobody really knows ....I think, but I know.


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