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Having Depression is NOT a Choice – This is Why

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I saw this on Twitter and read it about a dozen times. I thought, “this is me, this is what it’s been like during too many major depressive episodes over the past 5 years.” I shared it on Facebook and realized that simply sharing it only reaches a very small group of people. This scares people. This is honest and open. This is scary. But the part that is missing are the answers. I want to share my answers, my experience, my reality. Personal experiences are the missing link in order to gain understanding about those suffering with what can be a debilitating illness.

1. How would it feel to wake up and not having the emotional strength to face people?
I’ll tell you how it feels. I have felt it on and off over the past 5 years. It is daunting, sometimes an insurmountable goal that you know you can’t reach. I would get myself going on certain days, like days I would see my therapist and the days I work. It is not easy. I have worked in retail for the past 2 1/2 years and people is what it’s about. My mask is sometimes put up and while it has slid off at times, I have always done my best. At times, I choose not to go to synagogue with my husband and our daughter. It’s sometimes been too scary to bring my daughter to a friend’s birthday party. It can be exhausting.

2. To think that time is passing by with no reason?
I felt that strongly today. I had a session with my therapist where I felt misunderstood. While she meant well, it felt as if she were trying to convince me to see things realistically in order to not beat up on myself. I felt my feelings were not being heard. After that, the rest of the day felt odd and I am not even sure how time has actually passed.

3. To feel so alone even when you are sitting in a room full of people?

This is why I have stayed away from people when I have been depressed. Feeling alone when you are alone is one thing, but feeling alone while in a room full of people, even close friends, does not always make a difference. It is a terrible feeling.

4. To have to put on a face and hide your feelings because in your mind you think no one would care anyway?

This is almost automatic for me when I am in a depressive episode, unfortunately. I think to myself that I don’t want to burden my friends any more than I already have. There have been times I have asked my past 2 therapists over these past years, why do people care about me? Their responses were the same: a list of my attributes, reasons why people like me, love me, care about me. Sometimes I believed them, but others I didn’t.

5. To lose friends because you can’t find the strength to go out and you can’t physically be ‘happy’?

Fortunately, I have not lost one friend due to my illness. I don’t know what the odds are of that, but I am aware that it is not necessarily usual. I have heard from others, very sad stories of dear friends who literally disappeared on them because of their mental illness. 

6. To cry yourself to sleep, hoping that tomorrow will be a better day, then when you do try you are exhausted from the night before, and it all starts again?

This may sadden many, but there have been many nights I have cried just as I fall asleep over the past 5 years at the times I have been depressed. I pray for a better day, that I will wake up a bit refreshed and feel better able to tackle whatever the new day brings. The fatigue that my depression causes is the enemy of this hope on some days. It has taunted and paralyzed me. This cycle is more than exhausting, in terms of physically feeling tired, it is emotionally draining as well. This combination can be depleting and debilitating.

7. You try to hide your feelings hoping no one would notice, and more.

This is also a challenge, yet something I can do well, at times. When I am anxious, I can talk a lot. People then believe I am feeling better or well, when what is really happening is that I am not feeling great but masking it with my anxiety. I am actually not always aware I am doing it until I feel my heart beating a bit faster than usual.

8. Now tell me why someone would choose that?

This is truly the million dollar question. Would any of you choose any of this, as well as all of the treatments I have endure(d): therapy 3x per week, medication trials, ECT (Electroconvulsive Therapy), TMS (Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation), ketamine infusions and psychiatric hospitalizations? Any aspect of my experience mentioned above? I can’t imagine so.

Depression is an illness, not a choice.

Saying it is a choice is the largest form of stigma I can think of. It’s cruel. I would move mountains and do anything possible to be rid of my depression, anxiety and OCD. I have tried and will continue to try. To say I would choose to have these illnesses is shortsighted and ludicrous.

I have said this before:

My mental illness is treatment resistant, but erasing stigma doesn’t have to be.

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The Sound of Silence

I wear one several times a week and I hear nothing. I walk miles each day wearing it, passing many people and I hear nothing but the vast noise in my own head: my OCD thoughts and never-ending emotional worry. I try to focus on listening to the music through my ear buds, my 90s favorites. As I walk, I receive some smiles, friendly “hellos,” but otherwise silence. It’s deafening. They walk past, children and adults, and clearly read the message on each one. If eye contact is made, they either look away quickly or look past me almost pretending they never read it at all.
I know my expectations are very high. I want to be stopped, told how great the message is that I am wearing, that it’s so important, but, again, there is only silence. I want so much for people to engage, say something, let me know they get it. I want to hear how glad they are I am promoting such a critical message and fighting the stigma of mental illness.
The reality that faces me, however, is a quiet one. People do not comment on others’ messages on their shirts. I know I have never stopped someone to comment and perhaps it would be weird to do so. My passion gets in my way, at times. I know this and I am not naïve about this. Right now, I am feeling pressure, which ebbs and flows over time and that I have written about in the past. I am feeling the pressure of needing to be louder about my experience with mental illness, with multiple diagnoses and multiple treatments. I feel desperate that people will never get it and this is only added to my worry about the never-ending stigma that is rampant in society. I am so sick of it, of hearing about it, of living it. I am sick of hearing about people who have become outcasts from their own family and friends after a hypomanic episode, a psychotic episode or a depressive episode. We need support from those who know us and love us. Recovery simply cannot work without these people who are vital to our living the best we can. I cannot imagine living my life without the support I receive from those who have always loved and cared about me, during the difficult times as well as the better times. 
So, I am angry. I am fighting. I don’t really care when someone says, “I am so OCD about…”I simply hope s/he knows or is willing to learn about the reality of someone who lives with the real OCD. I don’t care when someone says, “I am having a bad day and I’m sooo depressed.” Again, I hope s/he can learn what it is like for someone who is living in a major depressive episode. I do care when someone says, “My husband and I had a fight about the laundry and I just want to kill myself because I am so annoyed.” I care because that person had an argument, which we all have with our spouse, but doesn’t mean she truly wants to kill herself as a result of that argument. She is using it as normal everyday jargon and that upsets me. Again, I know I have those high expectations of people, but saying that in front of someone you know has struggled with mental illness and/or has been suicidal or even a complete stranger, immediately stigmatizes not only that person but the term itself. 
September is Suicide Prevention Month and it is imperative that we educate one another, share stories and experiences and support those who are struggling and have struggled. You never know what another is going through unless s/he tells you, but even then, we never share every single thing that we experience. No one does. 
When my 8 year old daughter is angry, I ask her to talk and communicate about it and that is what I am doing here. I want people to say something, smile, give a thumbs up…anything to let me know they get it. So comment when someone is wearing any shirt that supports any illness or cause. We wear it for a reason.
My depression is treatment resistant, but erasing stigma doesn’t have to be.
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I Am Honored, Grateful and Desperate

Last week I was given a Humanitarian Award from my local Jewish Family Services for my fight against the stigma of mental illness. To say that I was honored, humbled and overwhelmed would be a complete understatement. It’s been 4 days and I have been experiencing a range of emotions. I knew I was receiving the award but I had no idea what I would feel after receiving it. I was extremely emotional the first couple of days, crying a lot, feeling so loved by supportive comments on social media that, again, felt quite overwhelming. I would walk by the award sitting on my kitchen table (we had not yet found a permanent home for it) and take a second, third and fourth look, always surprised to see my name on this gorgeous award. My anxiety would rise each time I walked by.

I began to question why I was given this honor. I asked myself, what have I really done to deserve this? I certainly am invested in my local Jewish Family Services and feel so grateful to be a part of their family. I write, I speak, I constantly post on social media. I share my experience of mental illness, of having a treatment resistant illness that has required invasive treatments. I am open, honest and do not shy away from any aspect of the topic of mental illness.

I then began to feel sad. I wondered, I have to do more, there is still so much more to do. How and what can I do to ensure that people hear me? It’s not working! I need to not only convey my experience but have people hear me, react, do something to demonstrate that they hear me. I need people to see the stigma and do their part to fight it. I felt angry and defeated and even retreated a bit over the weekend due to feeling disheartened.

While that strong feeling has dissipated, I am still feeling a bit defeated. I am so desperate for people to understand and not be afraid of mental illness that I feel lost as to what to do next. I am out there, there is no question about that. I will keep writing and share that writing hoping to connect with people. I will keep speaking about my experience as it is so vast but giving one speech does not come close to covering all that experience entails, not even close.

Patrick Kennedy was the guest speaker at the event and I am trying to use his words and follow his lead in terms of his never-ending fight against stigma and prejudice. His energy does match mine, I just need to look inside myself and recognize that familiarity. This is not an easy fight. Sharing myself so openly and without inhibition is almost natural and I plan to use that ease to continue my fight by sharing my experience. It’s there…in my heart. I do feel it.

As Jewish Family Services would say, I am going to Embrace Possibility.