Depression is such a misinterpreted disease. It wasn't too many years ago when I associated depression with people who were just inconsolably sad all the time. You could pick these people out of a crowd in a second because they were the ones always crying, heads down, not talking to anyone, suicidal. At least, that's what I thought... until more and more people started talking about it, and I realized that so many people I loved suffered from depression. And if I'm being a shameless truth teller, I have to include myself in this list as of the last year.
I don't know if I'm just being sensitive because it's so close to home or what, but I'm increasingly frustrated with the stigma that comes with depression. I think people tend to write it off because it is finally being talked about more. I think some people assume it's overdiagnosed, like kids who have been diagnosed with ADHD. Or maybe people just don't connect this disease with real people. It's a word that's constantly in the spotlight, and sometimes you can become desensitized to things if you don't stop to actually connect that word with a face.
A few weeks ago, after I wrapped up the Harry Potter series, I picked up a book I knew wouldn't disappoint- Carry on Warrior by Momastery writer Glennon Melton. I've read this book a handful of times, and each time, I find something new that speaks to me. One of the lines that hit me hard this time around was the one that said, "People who need help often don't look like people who need help." This has rung so true in my life this past year. Let me explain.
After going back over my blog posts for the last 12 months, there are many posts where I started out with a disclaimer on how much of a funk I was in, a rut if you will. It wasn't until probably a few months ago when I was walking with my sister Amy, that I realized depression comes in all different forms, and that I had been suffering from it for almost a year. Those words are hard to write because I'm having to change my definition and my view on depression even as we speak. If you saw me at all within the last year, you'd probably never know that I was suffering from it at all. Not necessarily because I'm trying to hide it, but because it comes and goes in waves for me. I'm still happy much of the time, and I'm still social....which is such the opposite of the "norm" that I pictured depression to be.
I think the hardest pill for me to swallow, the part that makes it really hard to talk about this with other people is the fact that nothing really life changing or "big" has happened to me over the last year. Another myth that I had about depression. Can you have depression because big things happen in your life like death, sickness, or job changes? Absolutely. But it's not the ONLY time people suffer from it. For me, this has evolved from multiple smaller things, and has been somewhat of a chain reaction. Some of those include, but aren't limited to a stressful school year, friendship changes, winter blues, transitioning to busier kids' schedules, and so forth. Those things spiraled into less time. Time for me to workout, to decompress, to reflect, to spend time with my kids and my husband, to clean the house, to sleep or to prepare for the next day.
Picture me as a juggler (a really horrible juggler), and all the things in my daily life as the balls I juggle. There's no way I can keep all those balls in the air at one time. Eventually one is going to fall. That's normal. This is the way life is supposed to be- you drop a ball, you pick up another one. Life is a constant ebb and flow. This year, I can't keep any balls in the air without dropping three more. Instead of picking them up, I end up dropping more because I keep focusing on the ones that are down instead of the ones I have in my hands. So when they all fell on the ground, they just stayed there, and I found myself metaphorically curled up in the fetal position unable to move past it. That's how this year has been for me. It's taken a toll on me mentally and physically. I'm so tired from being sad that I have had a hard time motivating myself to stay healthy. I went from being in the best shape after having kids last April, to gaining so much weight that I am at the highest I've EVER been.
That's a sobering confession. I'm also trying really hard to pull myself out of an apathetic state. Which is oh so dangerous by the way. Not caring is the worst place to be. I'm not proud of it. In fact, it's a daily struggle to force myself to do things to better me: workout, eat better, reflect, find the happy. I'm trying so hard to pick myself back up. I'm making slow baby steps, and forward is forward I guess.
So where am I? I'm taking it one day at a time. Sometimes one moment. I'm trying to find the happy in every day. In fact, I'm starting my 14,000 Things to Be Happy About again. I think that book should be on constant repeat. I'm talking about depression more. I'm trying to workout every day. Sometimes to find my strength. Sometimes to find my peace of mind. Always to feel better. I'm working on eating better. This one is hard because there are so many quick choices that aren't healthy. They don't make me feel good, but they are within arms reach. This will be a forever struggle. I'm accepting myself and allowing myself to feel whatever I need to feel in the moment while simultaneously trying to claw my way back to "normal".
Why am I telling you this? Because I think it's super important to speak up. To let others know they aren't alone. Depression is a journey that only gets darker the lonelier you are. There really are power in numbers. I want people to know that depression doesn't define you, but it will make you stronger if you let it. We've got to start building people up instead of tearing them down. In the day and age of social media, people find it much easier to tear others down from behind a screen and a keyboard. Stop it. Build someone up today. Be someone's light.
Which brings me to...What can you do? Well you can't fix it. If you are like me, you will want to. You want the people you love to be happy, but you can't make this better by waving your magic wand. You CAN however be present. Be encouraging. Be kind. Be a listening ear. Offer to take their kids for a few hours. Invite them out for a fun night. When you see them slipping away, and they will, pull them back gently. Lay down in the trenches with them if you must, but don't let them fall back alone. Above all else...Validate their feelings. Their feelings may seem irrational or menial to you, but they aren't to them. They need to know they aren't "crazy". There are a list of "Don'ts". Please read them here. Sometimes we have the best intentions with our advice, but they can be damaging to the psyche of people who suffer with depression.
Obviously this is all based on my depression. My story. Everyone is different. What works for me, may not work for others. Know your loved ones. Be aware. "People who suffer with depression often look like people who don't suffer with depression." Above all else, love us. We may not look like we need or appreciate it, but we do. We so do.
And if you are like me, if you fight this nasty illness, all I can say is just keep showing up. Keep fighting. Keep swimming. Just do the next right thing. That's all you have to do. Know you are loved beyond comprehension. Know you are never alone in this fight. Keep talking. Be vulnerable. Keep your village close. We were meant to do big things. I promise. Much love and Godspeed.