Sometimes life is hard. I think I'm luckier than most in this world, and yet I still struggle with my own demons. I suppose that's true of all of us, but not everyone faces the crushing weight of depression when things go wrong. I recently discovered that my dear friend is struggling to stay afloat and I want so desperately for him to know -- for everyone experiencing the pain of depression to know -- I've been there.
Depression isn't something we like to talk about in our society. Mental health in general is a rather taboo topic, perhaps because for those with no history of mental illness, it seems as simple as a change in mindset. But depression is very real, and often very difficult to control.
I've struggled with depression, anxiety, and mood swings my whole life. I learned in early adulthood that I suffer from some pretty serious chemical imbalances that peak in the winter and ebb in the warmer months. I also know that stress can put me in a funk regardless of the weather. The past few years have been hard on me given the many changes we've experienced in our family. In fact, I suffered from late-onset post-partum depression when my first son, Atticus, was around 6 months old. The medicine my doctor prescribed made my skin crawl, so I lived with the sadness until things leveled out. And then when we moved to a new city, turned our entire lives upside-down, and received our unborn son Quinn's Down syndrome diagnosis, the depression returned, this time with a severity I had never experienced. But the only drugs that we knew to fight the funk without the desire to pull my hair out or walk around like a zombie all day weren't recommended for pregnant women (especially those with a high-risk pregnancy like mine), so I was forced to power through.
It's difficult to cope with something that many people feel is easy to fix. Over the years, I've had friends insist that I need learn to count my blessings, as if I hadn't tried that before. Or they expect to snap me out of it with a quick hug, a phone call, or even chocolate cake. But depression doesn't work that way. Depression is an all-encompassing reality that no amount of silver linings can overturn. Moreover, sometimes it feels normal to be sad. I know that's not something that most of you can understand, but for those with chemical imbalances, they know how right it can feel to give in and allow the wave of hopelessness to take over. To fight it is to sink lower when you lose.
The bright side is that there is a bright side. I've learned over the years to ride the waves of depression that come my way and seek help when they get too serious. I'm lucky in that my family keeps me close and ensures that recovery is swift. My husband is my rock in this. He knows what works and what doesn't. And he never tries to fix me. He just listens. I'm also lucky that my depression has never affected my work, as walking into my classroom is like a refuge, as if I've suddenly found a life raft after treading water for days. But others aren't so lucky. Others struggle to recover, regardless of their support system. If that's you, then please seek help. It's amazing how quickly depression can lead someone down a dead-end path. And once you start that road toward drug abuse, alcoholism, or even suicide, it's hard to come back.
Many of you will read this confession and feel embarrassed for me, or even sad. Don't. I'm not ashamed. In fact, I'm actually pretty damn proud of my ability to overcome it and live a successful life. I'm proud of my coping mechanisms, my bursts of happiness in which I can appreciate the sun on my shoulders in late February, or the sound of my children's giggles on Sunday mornings. Those are the moments I live for. Those are the moments that keep the depression at bay for longer stretches of time. In order for more people to find their moments, we need to talk about mental illness without shame or fear. We need to help more people become aware of the struggles so that we can be more aware of ways to help each other cope.
If you're struggling with depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness, seek a strong support system. Here are some good places to start:
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.