“You don’t feel well enough to get up out of bed. Sleep is the only time you don’t feel it, so you stay under covers and keep lulling yourself in and out of it. Showering takes tremendous effort. You haven’t combed your hair or really brushed your teeth for a couple of days. None of that seems to matter at the moment, in light of how miserable you’re feeling.
Food doesn’t have the same appeal. It’s like your stomach also knows your body needs to focus all of its effort elsewhere. In fighting it. You keep your distance from your friends and family. You don’t want this to get to them too. Nobody should have to experience this.
‘It’s like a virus,’ the counselor says. ‘It wants to keep living inside you, so it fosters the ideal environment for itself. It keeps you from doing the things that could help you feel better.’ I nod in agreement. I know all too well. It sucks the joy from the things I once loved. It saps my energy and motivation. It steals all my creativity. ‘It might feel like you’re going through the motions at first, but you’ve got to try to get back to some of your favorite hobbies and activities. Eventually they’ll provide you some positive reinforcement.’
‘Yes,’ I think to myself. ‘It sounds nice to pick up my guitar again. I can pull out some of my watercolors. I can call a friend.’ But a few days later, I still haven’t done any of those things. It sounded easy at the time, but when it comes down to it, it feels overwhelming and pointless.
It leaves me feeling numb and lifeless. It puts a pit in my stomach and a weight on my chest. It makes my head hurt and my heart ache. It leaves my body weak. And I’ve yet to describe the mental anguish. This is depression. For those who think it’s all in your head, who think mental illness shouldn’t be treated like a physical illness… you’re wrong.
It is physical. And it’s like a virus. You can treat it, and it will probably go away for a while. But you’re never immune to it. It will come back. The only difference is you don’t get the same kind of help, love, and support. You don’t get the same kind of sympathy and understanding. You don’t get the same kind of credit and attention.
Depression is something I’ve dealt with for years. I’ve just learned to hide it and put on a face. Someone once told me, ‘You can’t be depressed. You have the prettiest smile, and you do so well in school.’ I did well in school because I didn’t have much of a social life. And because getting good grades was something I felt like I could control. But I was very much depressed. I just wanted the bell to ring so I could go home, be alone in my room, and lay in my bed.
My peers would probably have spoken highly of me, but they wouldn’t have had a whole lot to say. I just felt like I could never connect with anyone. I was mellow, boring, and lacked real personality. I was just trying to blend in, and be what I thought people wanted and expected. Any real feeling or emotion was suppressed deep inside. The real me was hidden under layers of hurt, confusion, and insecurity. I felt incredibly alone and misunderstood.
It took some time, but I began to realize how many other people felt the same way I did. We were all silently suffering, but there were a lot of us. Once I was able to be vulnerable with a few of these people, I started to really experience the connection and understanding I’d been craving. I felt the support and compassion I so desperately needed. ‘Wow, you’re able to do all these things while you’re struggling with depression? You’re a fighter!’ It was nice to have that acknowledgement.
It’s still hard to be honest and open sometimes. You don’t want to feel like a burden or an attention seeker. You don’t want to feel like you’re always being dramatic or making excuses. You don’t want people to think you’re a ‘Negative Nancy,’ wallowing in your own self-pity. There’s still a very real stigma surrounding mental illness.
It wants to keep you in isolation. It wants to keep you from finding help and relief. It doesn’t want you to realize how prevalent it is, how much it has spread throughout society. It wants you to believe you’re the only one. You’re messed up, flawed, broken. But that’s just not true. You’re one tough cookie for dealing with an illness that plagues ALL of your body. That’s physical and mental. That makes it so hard to do anything.
So when you get out of bed. When you eat breakfast. When you shower and get dressed. When you comb your hair. Realize these may seem like little things, but they’re actually big victories. Show yourself some compassion. Others don’t do those things when they’re sick. And you feel sick a lot, people just don’t know that. But I do.”
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‘Your son cut class today.’ I got the phone call no parent expects. ‘Excuse me?!?!’ I was LIVID.’: Mom comforts teen son battling depression, ‘we should treat mental illness the same as physical ailments’
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