Do you ever have one of those days where you feel like your control over anything, even small stuff, is totally illusory?
I had one of those days yesterday. I've struggled with depression at various points, and anybody who's been in that spot knows that it never quite goes away. You just manage it sometimes, and other times you can't. Depression was bad today. There wasn’t even any obvious trigger for it. But it was very bad. I felt like I was trying to walk through a pool filled with Jell-O. Not a whole lot got done.
I have great days, and then sometimes I have days when feels like there’s a negative voice whispering in my ear, saying, “Go back to bed, there’s no point."
A lot of people I follow on Facebook and Twitter deal with these issues. I appreciate them talking about their struggles because it makes me feel less alone. And being of a different generation, I still battle a feeling of stigma whenever I do discuss it. There's still a collective sense that it's somehow inappropriate to talk about depression, being bipolar, or having any other debilitating mental or emotional problem. That's changing, though. Slowly.
It's hard to find the words to describe how much I appreciate the example of some of my younger friends who have no compunction about discussing the particulars of their mental health issues in public forums. They emboldened me to do the same.
In the space of about 5 years I’ve gone from advising people not to discuss their mental health issues on here, for fear that they would be stigmatized, to doing it myself pretty openly.
And wow, what a great change. What a great feeling!
Now I’m defiant about this stuff. I tell people, “When you have a cold, when you break your leg, when you have heart problems or cancer, when you have to deal with recurring physical issues, you talk about it. Why shouldn’t we talk about our mental health?”
I used to think “I should keep this quiet. I need to be strong for other people.” That’s a very traditional attitude to have about this sort of thing. Stoic. American, you might say, though I've been told that it's a common attitude in all sorts of cultures.
But it’s not helpful.
My left knee is messed up from a volleyball injury I suffered about 4 years ago. Usually it’s fine, but once in a while it hurts, and I can’t run or do any kind of serious workout. I started thinking about my depression this way, too. And it helped.
Sometimes what your loved ones actually want is to know what’s going on. It's OK to tell them. It's also OK to say, "If I'm a little bit curt or distant today, it's because my depression is flaring up again." Like a bad knee. Or psoriasis. Or migraines. Or any other physical condition you can name.
It’s pretty extraordinary to think that almost everybody has a physical or mental health issue that sometimes interferes with their ability to function. But we’ve all been trained not to discuss it, so we have a false sense of normal. No wonder so many people feel alone. The thing that's affecting them more than anything else is the thing they've been told from birth that they can't talk about, because it's inappropriate, makes people uncomfortable, is a sign of weakness, is somehow their fault, etc. None of which is true.
I don't have any answers to any of this, but I know it's important to discuss it.
Thanks for listening.