Friday, January 1, 2016

Depression is a Silent Beast

Some (not-so) breaking news

Some of you already know, and some of you probably suspect that I've been struggling with depression. The truth is a lot of people are. Trust me, a ton of your friends struggle with it. It's very common, and it's a quiet disease.

Depression: an overview

It may be quiet to you, but to us it is the constant or exceedingly frequent downpour of loud negative thoughts and feelings. There are varying degrees of depression, and if you asked any of your friends that deal with it they would tell you it can be a bit erratic. Sometimes you're managing fine, and sometimes you just want to cease to exist. Sometimes you want nothing else but to be alone, but other times it's so lonely. It's wanting people to understand, but not wanting anyone to know. 

When it's really bad, it is battling your own mind every waking moment. For me, when it is at its worst, it's an excruciating unhappiness/emptiness where I'm feeding myself an endless stream of harmful thoughts, sobbing so hard I can barely breathe and I feel like my lungs are going to collapse, and I find absolutely no solace in anythingnot friends, not family, not talking, not serving, not socializing, not watching movies, not reading scriptures. The only hope I have for any peace at that point is unconsciousness. Sleep is the only respiteif I can even fall asleep through the storm of negativity. And even when that episode is over, it was so hurtful and exhausting it takes days and/or a lot of coaxing to get back to "normal." Before or after an episode like this happens, I turn off all feeling so I can cope. It is lonely. It is debilitating.

And I hate it.

Depression and spite

I hate depression so much, sometimes I do things to spite it. For example, one night there was a party. I had agreed to go weeks earlier, but my day was flipped upside down by a little spat with Kyle, and I really didn't want to go. (My emotions can be flipped from alright to super bad at the drop of a dime.) But I was tired of feeling lonely, and I wanted to follow through with my plans. I refused to let depression control me. I wanted to go with Kyle originally, but I went alone instead. I lied about why he wasn't there. I lied about how I was doing. I smiled and laughed and I tricked a fraction of myself into thinking I was having fun. Me with a healthy mind would have had fun. I love those friends. I miss them.

Depression is isolating

My friends don't know that I miss them because I don't reach out. I don't reach out because I'd rather be alone. I'd rather be alone because I feel terrible, and I am uncomfortable sharing that fact, or I just don't want to. I don't like dwelling on my own misery. What does it help?? I have always felt like the Debbie Downer, and I really, REALLY don't want to be that person. But I also don't want to pretend I'm happy and fine when I'm absolutely not, so it's always easier to just stay away from people.

Sometimes I really worry that my friends will think I'm not interested in their friendship anymore by the way I act. I try not to stress too much about that.

Depression is irrational

Last winter was a very depressive time for me. Baking was one thing I found that gave me purpose and made me feel good. One day, I decided to make a pie. I started making the crust, which needs vinegar. I knew I had some but I couldn't find it anywhere. It wasn't where I had seen it the day before. I LOST IT. I folded onto the ground and sobbed my eyes out. By that point, I had finally learned I could trust Kyle, so I reached out to him and asked him to bring some over. He did, and he comforted me too. Is it normal or okay to have a meltdown over vinegar? No. Did I know that? Yes. Could I control it? No.

Recently, I've been emailing a couple of girls who also struggle with depression. I told one of them about this story, and she told me about a similar baking experience she had, and that now she makes sure to buy extra ingredients for anything, just in case. I do the same thing, whether for baking or anything else in my life. I always try to account for any possible surprises and hiccups. It's about keeping control. We grasp for the little control we have.

Depression is overwhelming

For me, it's been something I've been able to manage alone somewhat successfully for years, but I just have so much going on right now, I honestly cannot handle it. I'm lucky to still have a job. And the only reason I have a job is that I am extremely disciplined and I can, for the most part, put my emotions aside for work. I know if I lost my job, it would be catastrophic to my psyche, so I do my best to not put it in jeopardy. However, I won't lieI have cried at work more than once.




Depression is foggy/indecisive

We're just muddling through our days sometimes. Our brains get all foggy. It's hard to recall thingsthings that should be simple to remember. It makes it hard to think straight when we're asked a question. Sometimes it's almost impossible to make even the simplest decisions. 

Where should we go for dinnerZupa's or Cafe Rio? *paralysis*

Lately I have been talking to so many doctors, and they are constantly asking me questions. When did ___ start? Do you ever feel ___? How about ___? How would you describe ___? How would you rate ___? What is ___? Does this hurt? How about this? Do you feel better? Sometimes I just want to yell, "Oh, for heaven's sake! I don't KNOW!" I spend so much time trying not to think about how I feel so I can survive that I honestly don't know the answer to many of these questions. Frankly, it freaks me out that I don't have the answers.


Depression breeds guilt

We feel guilty a lot of the time. We have so much to be grateful for, yet we're still unhappy. We know it's not right, so we feel guilty about it. We get the message at church that if we just had enough faithif we just prayedour problems would go away, but they often don't, so it must be our fault, so we feel guilty. We don't want to hang out with our friends, and we feel bad about that. We feel guilty for not performing as well at work as we know we are capable of. We get abnormally upset when things don't go the way we planned. Then we feel guilty for having lashed out. In relationships, we feel guilty for not reciprocating—for not loving like we should. Plus, we feel guilty for being an emotional black hole to those we love. We stop caring in general, and we feel bad about that. Perhaps we can't function in our calling and have to say "Will you please release me?" We then feel guilty for "quitting" instead of serving. For any single individual, the list could go on and on. And it never helps when on top of your own condemning judgments of yourself, others heap theirs as well. 


We want help

We want help, but we're terrified of being vulnerable because we already are always. And if we are rejected or ignored after asking for help, it's crushing. So deep down we hope someone will magically figure it out and help us. I am desperately seeking love, kindness, and help, but I shrug people off when they try. It's such a paradox. It could be because I don't believe they can help, I don't trust they have good intentions, I don't want to talk about it, I don't want to be patronized, I don't want to seem needy, I don't want to be a burden or have people say unkind things about me behind my back, etc. So I am really good at deceiving people and making people think I'm just fine.

We have happy facades

In order to survive, I have to trick myself into thinking I'm ok most of the time. In so doing, I trick others too, including Kyle. When I tease him more than usual, and reject any loving physical gestures, that's when I'm not feeling very good, and he's gotten better at recognizing it instead of taking it personally. It's not easy on either of us.

People romanticize death when they are actually suicidal

I recently came across a post on one of my favorite websites that harshly talked about how stupid it is to romanticize death and how selfish suicide is. I couldn't believe it. I had to respond! I had to speak up for the depressed. Here's what I said.
Can we think for a moment about how depression directly affects the person suffering from it? It controls your life. It keeps you from feeling happiness, and eventually anything at all. Your self esteem is gone. Your motivation too. You don't remember anything with fondness, and you have nothing to look forward to. Life is survival. And when you are forced to live in a world where it seems like everyone is happy except you, when you're painfully struggling to get through a normal day, expending the little energy you have on minute social interactions, forced to live a double life, trying not to cause any more harm or pain or sorrow to anyone else, then the idea of death doesn't seem so horrific. It seems like a place of relief.
You want to know why a symptom of depression is oversleeping? Because it's like death without the commitment. It's the only place a depressed person can escape their own poisoned mind. True, suicide is not the answer, but you have to understand how afflicted a person is to kill themself. Unconsciousness is the only rest of the severely depressed. Or at least, that's how they see it. I don't think depressive suicide is selfish. It is tragic.

It made me angry that someone would attack someone who is already being attacked by their own mind. How cruel! What people need is love and understanding, not condemnation. And the two girls I've been emailing agreed. That's how we came in contactthrough this post.

Things not to say

I have heard "Get over it!" and "It's not that big of a deal" and "It's all about your attitude" and "You need to pray" and the like for years. I can't tell you how much I hate these phrases. I know people have good intentions when they say these thingsthey want to give me hope and make me feel in control, but really, it just feels like a slap in the face. What I hear is "You have the ability to make the right choice and you're not." "It doesn't matter that you're facing Hell right now; things will get better sometime." "I don't have the emotional capital to deal with this pity party." "You don't want to be happy bad enough." "You're such a downer, and I don't want to be around you." "You're trying to be sad." "I have no idea how to handle this, so here's a dismissive platitude." "You aren't even trying!" "You just don't have enough faith." "This is all your fault."

As I was watching a show yesterday, this ad came up. I thought it was very powerful—I certainly identified with it.



Our lives are passing us by 

Above I mentioned the phrase, "Things will get better sometime." And to this point I want to say, that is perhaps true, but "sometime" is not fast enough when every day is torture. To my depressed friends, we have this culture that says it is honorable to try to overcome depression on your own. To a certain extent, sure, it is, but when it has become a chronic problem, it is more honorable to seek help in finding solutions to your legitimate (and depression is legitimate) problems. I guess I never thought that my happiness was worth enough or that my depression was out of control enough to do anything aggressive about it until Kyle insisted I get help. Sad, right? So here I am, a newlywed! And I have SO MUCH to be grateful for. So much. I should be happy, but instead I have been miserable. This is not right! You're only 20 and in college once. You're only 26 and a newlywed once. You're only 35 and a mother of three once. Each day, each month, each year is PRECIOUS. Don't live another day only trying to get by to the next. Seek help!

How to help a depressed friend

I can only speak for myself, but if you want to help, you first need to understand what depression is and how it feels. So a good start is reading this post or reading other stuff about it. 

Know the symptoms:
  1. Overeating/undereating
  2. Oversleeping/insomnia
  3. Disinterest in socializing
  4. Fatigue
  5. Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  6. Feelings of hopelessness and pessimism
  7. Irritability/restlessness
  8. Loss of interest in activities
  9. Physical health problems
  10. Thoughts of suicide
I have experienced all of these symptoms except one. It's really difficult to have one of the above problems; just think how you would feel experiencing nine of them concurrently.

If you'd really like to help, do not wait for your depressed friend to reach out to you; you need to reach out.

If you sincerely want to help, ask your friend how they are doing—how they're REALLY doing. If they tell you they're fine, don't push it. They may not trust you deeply enough yet or feel comfortable sharing for whatever reason. Just keep being a good friend. If they do open up, ask them what you can do to help. Ask them how they're feeling or what's been going on—legitimate validation is therapeutic. Really pay attention to them. Do not—I REPEAT—do not try to fix it for them. Know that you cannot fix depression. It is very personal and can be very deep.

Do not try to "happy" depression out of a person. This will only make a depressed person close up around you as they will sense you do not understand or they will think you do not want to be bothered with their feelings. LISTEN for as long as the person needs you to. Depression should not be taken lightly. Do not give a depressed person platitudes or things they should try unless you're super close and have a strong impression that is the right thing to say. Chances are they've already thought through a lot of stuff and tried a lot of things.

Always feel free to invite them to do stuff, but be understanding if they say no. Keep inviting, but never put pressure on them. Don't make them feel guilty for not being social.

Pray for them. Let them know you're thinking of them. Text them. Bring them a thoughtful gift. Show them by your actions that you love them no matter what—that you accept their issues. Make them feel comfortable. As I said in a previous post, what depressed people need are people they don't need to wear masks around. People who are attentive, thoughtful, and kind, and who know, even when they're acting like they're fine, that they're not. It takes real empathy to support someone who is depressed.

We are tremendously brave

We, the depressed, tend to think we are weak. We are incapable. We are sad. But the truth is we are incredibly strong. Depression is like wearing a 50-pound invisible emotional weight on your shoulders every day, and your body never seems to adapt to it. It is a struggle every single day. And you keep hoping it will just go away, but the longer it stays, the more discouraged and tired you get. It is fighting with your mind every day to feel worthy, to feel lovable, to have faith, to feel okay. The fact that we get up and go to work, socialize, go grocery shopping, smile, go to church, or sometimes even just brush our teeth means we are strong. 



To a normal person, we look weak. To a healthy person, we may look like we're needy, attention-seeking, and irrational, but for us, even being around you in the first place is a victory. And I hope that you keep that in mind. When someone you know is being anti-social, irrational, emotional, or is putting on a smiling face when it doesn't seem quite real, these people are depressed, and they need love and support. They do not need pity. They need someone to know they're struggling and support and love them.

It really is true that everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle, and I can't tell you how many times I've been embarrassed by my own actions in handling certain situations. I pride myself in being logical and independent, so, oh, I hate it when I get irrational and feel like a burden. As much as I try to keep control of my situation and my emotions, I don't have much control. And sometimes I have to work hard to forgive myself for behaving a certain way, and I can only hope that others forgive me as well.

Why I'm speaking out

It's honestly absurd how many people struggle with depression and it's also absurd how many people don't understand it despite that factincluding some of the people dealing with it! In order to face depression, you have to understand how it affects you so you can fight it. You also have to understand how it works so you don't feel guilty for some of the things you do that are perfectly normal. Of course, we should always be trying our best to be our best, but when your best doesn't measure up to someone else's best, it's not your fault. When you are depressed, you are carrying a heavy load.

Let's open our eyes. Let's learn about this very common and debilitating illness. Let's validate others. Let's help.

18 comments:

  1. Oh Holly. I'm had no idea you were suffering in this way. I have lived this first-hand, and have experienced it with many family members, including my father who ultimately took his own life. You are not alone. I am here. I would be more than happy to share my experiences with you if you think it would help. You are such an amazing person, someone I have always admired. That has only deepened with the way you have so eloquently and openly described this illness and the role it is playing in your life. Love you, my strong, brave, and courageous friend. ❤️❤️❤️

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  2. So I was actually just in the middle of a blog post like this one. I appreciate your honesty. My depression was at its worst a few years ago, when there were so many days I just couldn't muster the will to get out of bed. I had a lot of really dark thoughts, which I'm sure you can relate to. A lot of people struggle with this, and so I really am glad you took the time to write about it.

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    1. Great minds! I'm sorry to hear of your experience--gosh depression is so hard--and I hope you finish you post soon. Your writing is always fantastic.

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  3. Holly--this is so well written and informative. It is certainly helpful for me to read and understand others. I too believe it needs to be discussed. You are brave and strong. Your voice is clear and loved. I hope you continue to shine your light on this debilitating illness.

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  4. So, what if you don't know if you have depression? I feel like I have had many symptoms, but I also have lots of friends and family with depression and they mention breakdowns like your baking incident, and that doesn't happen to me. I more have phases of numbness where I feel no emotions except irritation really. I don't know. Fortunately, I'm in a great time of life right now. Thank you for this post! I don't know you, but I am so impressed by this post and your sharing!

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    1. You could talk to a doctor or therapist if you think you are depressed and are looking for help, but I'm glad you're feeling good right now. :-) I believe there are different levels. I don't claim to be an expert, but obviously meltdowns, cutting yourself, or thoughts of suicide are big red flags for a more severe variety. What you describe, in my opinion, is also depression. I went to someone a couple years ago and they told me I had light depression, which really wasn't very helpful. I think it was more serious than she thought, and I felt kind of dismissed. This is partly why I didn't seek help again until recently.

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    2. I suffer the same symptoms, Anonymous. I am clinically depressed, and have been for all of my life that I can remember. I don't ever recall feeling much other than sadness, anxiety, and eventually consistant irritation. Rage, in fact. I have had "breakdowns" but they have been very rare. Mostly, I just shut everything down except the anger response. I think that is because it forces people to leave me alone and stop expecting anything positive from me. Thankfully, one of my besties is a therapist, and he provides the kind of emotional support that I really need. Stay strong, talk to your doc (Card carrying member of the Prozac nation here, and it's so much better!!) about mood stabilizing medication and anxiety relief. Chemical relief of symptoms isn't everything, and it doesn't stop the negative internal dialogue, but it helps control the irritability so that I am not taking the head off anyone who dares to speak to me! Best of luck to you in your battle!!! And thank you Holly Ann! Your honesty and intelligent dialogue on this subject is a much needed help to those of us who know and understand the pain. It is real, and it is a daily fight. Big HUG to you!!!

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  5. Nicely written, Holly! Thank you for sharing something that is so deeply personal. You are an amazing woman. You really are!

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    1. Very well written! "I would replace it each time with, 'I don't want to hurt any more.' After all, that was the reason for thinking about dying." Indeed. I'm so sorry this has been a huge struggle for you too. Love you!!!!

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  8. So funny, posted a comment, it didn't post, I re-wrote it, but not as well and then deleted it. It's not easy for me to publicly share what you have shared. It is good that you are able to express so well this trial. I really did feel as if I could have written this article. I may just have to share it with some friends and family. People think they understand it, but I know that unless you live it, you cannot totally understand the trial and anguish this is. I grow weary sometimes from the fight and even when my chemical depression is not so bad, I seem to have circumstantial depression. I do sometimes wish we could all wear signs around our necks stating our trials. Depression and some other trials I have had to deal with are all silent. People have know clue the silent suffering that goes one. You have widened the door opening to this problem and I love you even more knowing this about you!

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  9. I just sat here as I read your post and cried. I don't normally respond to people's posts but yours hit home so hard I couldn't ignore what you said. It was like you were in my head and speaking my thoughts, my feelings. How could you know what was in there? How could you be able to say exactly what I couldn't say? And yet sometimes want to?

    It's not that I don't know that I have depression. I do and have known for some time now. But it seems that the demons in my head, as I affectionately refer to them as, have been winning and beating me to a bloody pulp. And yes, sleep is a wonderful release but thinking about the way that you put it never crossed my mind... thank you.

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    1. I call them my demons too. Comforting in a weird way to not be alone in this discription!

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    2. Sara, these demons are not you. And I'm so sorry they've been winning lately. I sincerely hope that you are seeking/will seek help. If your experience is anything like mine, it might be tough at first to face it all head-on, but it will help. You are not meant to live this battle-filled life. And your mental health is even more important than your physical health. If we go to the doctor for a broken leg, certainly we should go to a doctor for a broken brain!

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  10. I'm in the middle of a bad depression/anxiety day and saw this article recommended by Gina to read. I normally am too scared to read about this topic because it can trigger me deeply. Simply put I don't think I have ever read anything that comes so close to giving a glimpse inside my head every day. Thank you so much for articulating what I have been unable to do. And for reminding me I am not alone <3

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    1. You are not alone, and you are SO STRONG for dealing with this. Not a weakling--a mental weightlifting champ! Please don't forget that. <3

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  11. Oh my goodness, thank you for getting inside my head and putting everything into words, my friend Cherie shared this with me as I battle the worst episode ever, I've been clinically depressed since I was 6 and have been able to manage it pretty good except for my teen years and Moew in mid 30s. I have been thinking that I need to be more open about it and stop faking it, so you honesty is refreshing and uplifting and encouraging. I hope you know how much your writing helped me today. I want to share this with everyone I know. Well done sister

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