A Journey Through Depression: Understanding and Acceptance
This week marks Mental Health Awareness Week 2023, and it’s an important time to reflect on the progress we have made in understanding and accepting mental health issues.
For many, including myself, depression and anxiety are an all-too-familiar reality. I’ve been lucky enough to receive plenty of support through counselling and medication. However, I still feel there is a gap in getting people who don’t suffer from these conditions to really understand what’s going on. In this personal story, I want to share my journey through depression – from the symptoms and treatments I’ve experienced first-hand to the difficulties of being accepted by those who don’t understand.
Like many, I’ve suffered from severe anxiety and depression for most of my adult life. I’ve been lucky enough to get plenty of support through counselling and medication, and this condition is becoming more socially acceptable by the day. Mental Health Week does a great job of accelerating this awareness, showing people how to get the help they need, and educating those who don’t suffer from the problem.
However, no matter how acceptable it is, I’ve always felt an impossible gap to bridge is getting people who don’t suffer from anxiety or depression to understand what’s happening. As an avid reader of this magazine, I wanted to add depression to the list of topics that people openly accept but don’t necessarily understand or even – in their heart of hearts – agree with. It’s the people that brag about having an ethnic friend but really can’t relate to the struggles that they face. It’s the people who talk about LGBT+ rights but still keep those people at arm’s length. It’s the ones who shout about gender equality until it comes to their employment and conduct at work.
People tend to sympathise with someone suffering from depression but wonder why they don’t just ‘cheer up’. To me, this is absurd, but I can imagine that it’s an easy misconception: “You look fine, and your life isn’t bad; what have you even got to be depressed about?!”
Well, let me tell you something – depression is not a choice. If it was, then I promise that no one would ever choose it. Depression is real and can hit at the most frustratingly contradictory times in life – often when there isn’t anything to be depressed about! And that’s the crucial difference. Everyone feels depressed if something hasn’t gone well in life, whether that’s losing a job, financial worries, falling out with friends and family, missing out on something important, being burgled…all that stuff, but then life will right itself again, and the depression will pass. The feeling of being down is directly correlated to something that should make you feel down. Unfortunately for someone who suffers from depression, that same feeling is not only present on any given day, but the symptoms go beyond feeling down – and (again)
Depression stops life. I struggle to function when I get hit with it (it comes in waves). My body is heavy, and my head is spinning. Simple conversations don’t make sense. I have no appetite – I can eat nothing for two days without thinking about hunger (and no, this is not a good way to diet). I cannot get out of bed, lack fundamental motor skills, and minor tasks seem too daunting. I’m talking about showering, writing a text message, ironing a shirt, and washing the dishes. The problem is that when depression stops me, my life does not stop. My life doesn’t allow me to stay in bed under the covers. I have kids, and I have to work; I have responsibilities.
I’ve become very good at faking it. I’ll use up every last bit of energy I have to force myself through a day, albeit in something that I can only describe as a dream or a fog. I do things, but I am not really present.
I do things, but I am not really present.
To others, I’m sure that I’m perceived as a ‘scatterbrain’, or ‘forgetful’, ‘clumsy’, ‘quiet’, ‘lazy’, ‘odd’, ‘boring’, ‘weird’…but I’m just glad to get through the day.
Yes, it’s more acceptable, but there is still a stigma. I’m certainly not compelled to announce it to all my colleagues, friends or family. I feel like it’s a weakness, and I am a strong person. To those I have told, there is – as mentioned – sympathy. This helps a certain amount, as I’m somewhat left to my own devices, even if that means I can sit down and stare into space without anyone asking me what’s wrong. There is, however, no empathy – and how could there be?
Words cannot justly describe depression in such a way that one who hasn’t suffered from it can truly understand.
I’ve been on various medications (Sertraline, Citalopram, Fluoxetine), and they help. I wouldn’t say I like taking them as they have side effects, plus their chemicals in my body, and it’s another thing to remember to take daily and pick up a prescription, but they do help. In the past, I’ve also self-medicated with alcohol and other substances, which seem to help in the short term but exacerbate everything in the long term.
I’ve had many counsellors, done CBT (Cognitive Behaviour Therapy), and delved into the deep recesses of my childhood. That helps a bit too. I’ve joined AA. I’ve read books. I’ve changed my diet. I’ve taken sleeping pills. It all helps, but I’m yet to find a cure.
So what’s the moral of my story? I’m sure a tiny portion of the population says they suffer from depression purely for attention-seeking ends. Still, for the majority – I’ll say it again – depression is real. If you have a friend, a loved one, or a colleague, who is brave enough to tell you, it is vital that although you may not understand it, you must believe that it’s there. Your boyfriend isn’t unmotivated; he’s ill. Your colleague isn’t lazy; she’s ill. Your brother isn’t just forgetful; he’s ill. Catch my drift?
Stop saying things like, “yeah, but is she really depressed?” when you’ve never suffered yourself. Just take it at face value and show your love and support to her face AND behind her back. You’ve probably never had smallpox, but you know it’s real. You can’t see depression, but that doesn’t make it a fictional choice for millions of people to gain attention from. And, if you suffer from depression or anxiety, don’t be frightened, embarrassed, or ashamed. You have an illness that is not your choice, and there is help out there. Start with your GP, tell your HR department, and share with those you love and trust.
Mental health matters every day, not just during Mental Health Week. Take the time to check in with yourself and those around you.
If you were impacted by this personal post, please consider reaching out to these support services.
The views and opinions expressed within this post are solely the author’s. They do not reflect the views and beliefs of Women Who Rebrand–#WWR or its affiliates.
The views and opinions are solely their own current opinions regarding events and are based on their own perspective and opinion – it is the opinion and perspective of the author.
Such views, opinions, and perspectives are intended to convey a life story, are based on recollections about events in their lives on which conflicting memories may exist, and are not intended to malign any individual or company.
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