February is Mental Health Month, and despite the increase in society finally recognizing the horrid stigma attached to mental health issues, I find it is a topic I struggle in sharing with others. Why do I feel like if I write about this subject which inflicts so many, others will assume I am crazy, I feel like I am branding myself with a huge “C” on my forehead. Depression and anxiety are known as the common colds of mental illness, and the two words “Depression” and “Anxiety” don’t sound so awkward or daunting, but link those two words with mental illness and all of a sudden it has a different ring in the sound. I always liked the idea of being different, weird, an odd duck, unconventional, quirky and what have you, those are words I don’t mind hearing in how I am described as a person. Yet, call me broken, defective, and “not normal”, those words devastate me. Why? Anyone, who has struggled with depression or severe anxiety will understand that when you are in the thick of if, you know something isn’t right, you know you’ve gone down the rabbit hole and cannot get out and no one knows better than you do that your inability to dig yourself out and rise to the top is “not normal” and that something is defective in your chemical make up. Yeah, that is the funny thing about depression and anxiety, it isn’t something you advertise to the world because you are ashamed. People will say, your life is amazing, you are beautiful, intelligent, witty, well traveled, educated, have a great career and you’re talented, why can’t you just be happy? Some think it is all for show, all for being some tragic sad artist full of angst and drama. Others will be apathetic, which is fine, I prefer nothing than an uneducated opinion on something I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
Depression is a ghost who haunts, it never leaves you entirely, even with medication, therapy, working out like a crazy person, avoiding preservatives, going gluten free, whatever – you name it – the ghost is always there, at your heals waiting for the moment you trip on the trigger which pulls the trap door to the downward spiral of perpetual sadness.
Someone I admire and love profoundly said it best. He gave me some material to use for a book I hope to write some day. As I would like to write a succinct novel explaining depression and anxiety in layman terms. We are not doing enough to break down these barriers and misconceptions on an organic disease which affects so many, much more than what is actually reported.
I am quoting this person’s words, but out of respect to his anonymity, I will not release his name unless he requests otherwise.
“My depression has been with me so long that I no longer see it as an illness which can be beaten like cancer, but rather I see as an illness that can be controlled like diabetes. I understand it to be organic like cancer or diabetes as it has to do with too little or too few neurotransmitters, synapses or hormones. It comes down to a delicate chemical balance that is easily upset and in my case more easily disturbed than others. Medication helps-a little-reestablishing an equilibrium to allow some normality proving once again depression’s organic nature; however, there is something spiritual about depression giving it a life transcending a mixture of a chemical mix up.
My depression is a ghost. This illogical definition suits me better although I know the science behind what causes depression. Personifying depression this way makes more sense and why not! My depression haunts me; its presence is always there in varying degrees. It creates fear, worry, sadness and hopelessness. It plants messages in my head to give up. It won’t allow me to sleep. Its presence starts off as a barely audible whisper and rises to a screaming banshee.
The last bout of depression I had was a barely audible whisper that lasted ten years. I suspect most people experience this sort of thing. Things were going well and even when life had its upsets, they were manageable. My range of emotions was normal. I felt happiness, sadness, accomplishment, disappointment, excitement, fear, love, hate and every other emotion one experiences. Not only were my emotions varied, they were appropriate. If I did well at work, I felt happy. If my mutual funds were down, I felt disappointment. Yet all the while, there was the ghost of depression whispering ever so slightly its message of failure and hopelessness.
Most days the message was barely audible. I would wake up in the morning and have a heaviness come on me. “What’s the point? Why go on”. The message would sit there and ferment. Usually, thankfully, I would get out of bed and remind myself of some goal. “Just four more months and its summer vacation”, or “Payday is just ten days away.” Other times I would remind myself of my duty to my wife or family or God or someone. It didn’t really take much will; I just needed some self encouragement. And, really most days were not so bad. There were times when the message was worse, and this usually occurred during stressful times. The remedy was realizing the stress and plodding on through the hard times. But it needs to be said even during times of celebration and joy that message could be heard. The ghost was not going to give up.”
He gave me more to share, but I believe his story paints an accurate description of what many face daily and will continue to battle. There are good moments in life and bright moments, sometimes long periods of time when all is swell, but the ghost is always close by whispering in your ear about what an epic failure you are or what you could do better. It is a ghost who will haunt some until the day they die.