Depression and I go back almost 60 years, but I have only said “I have depression” for the past four.
Before that, I was all about getting the episode over so I could get back to my “regular life.” It never occurred to me that living with depression was my regular life. I was so focused on never having depression that I refused to see my relationship with it.
Finally facing depression in April of 2019, I looked it right in the eye and said, “I have depression, depression does not have me.”
I have told the story to myself many times of how I felt that morning. My original thought was to just stay in bed that day. I had never just stayed in bed and not gotten up. And I considered being in my bed my only safe space. So, staying there for the day seemed to be a great plan.
But just staying in bed for the day wasn’t enough, and I soon came up with three different plans.
First, I could just end it all. This would make everything go away, at least for me. My depression would win but it wouldn’t have me to kick around anymore. But then I remembered how frightening the thought of being dead is to me. I am not ready to leave yet. And, I am very competitive, so I expect to celebrate my 100th birthday someday.
Second, I could keep doing the same things and expect a different outcome.
Now, this is what I consider the crazy solution. (Can I say the word crazy in our new PC society?) For years, this was what I came up with. As each depressive episode began to wind down, I would jump right back into my life. I would not consider that I had a bout of depression. In fact, I would sweep every hint of my being depressed under a rug and move on.
I am evergreen and I need to always be seen as such.
Seeing myself in that light, there was no way I could ever have depression. It was just not possible. I was the one who was able to think clearly when tragedy struck. It was me others turned to for strength when sudden sadness filled our lives. This included losing my father and lots of my parents’ brothers and sisters. By being the strong one, others could grieve while I attended to business.
But in the end, I was only fooling myself.
Of course, I am sure that others could see what was really going on each time I had a run-in with my depression. And while they may not have used the exact word, depression, I am certain many people saw that something was not right about me and my actions. So doing the same thing and expecting a different result (this time) was not going to be an option that morning.
This left choice #3, seeking professional medical help.
I made this choice before 6 AM that morning. I got out of my safe bed, showered and shaved, and left the house. And since that day, I have worked to learn everything I can about my depression. I have said that “I have depression” out loud and have written over 550 public blog posts about my efforts to learn about my depression.
Yet even just two hours after arriving at the hospital emergency room, I was having to advocate for myself.
I was so good at concealed depression, that I was initially not viewed as a candidate for a hospital stay. First, I had to make the ER doctor see past my high-functioning depression and let me get the professional medical help I was seeking. And then, the admitting hospital; psychiatrist interviewed me via Zoom, where I had to advocate for myself and my specific needs once again.
What I needed that morning was professional medical help.
And I was able to get that help, despite my outward appearance. It took over 9 hours for the doctors to make a final determination about giving me a bed in 5 East. Yet the story of my concealed depression doesn’t stop there.
The admitting psychiatrist was looking at me and wondering why I was there.
In hindsight, this could have all been a disarming technique to keep me calm. I am certain not everyone arrived as politely as I did. But for whatever reason, I felt as if I needed to advocate for my being allowed to stay. And I did stay for 3 nights and 4 days. In that short time, I started to understand what depression was and how it works.
And I faced it, said its name out loud, and promised me that I would never hide it again.
Which is what has happened. I found On Our Own and still have a peer advocate I speak to weekly. I have learned a significant amount about the Change Triangle, and have crafted a personal (WRAP) Wellness Recovery Action Plan. Additionally, I have learned so much from SMART RECOVERY and even was certified to be involved in leading a group. Did I mention DBT training and all the research I have done into all aspects of depression?
Yet I just realized, after 4 years, that I have not been 100% true to my plan about living with depression.
I see that I keep writing about never hiding depression from myself. And I am very proud of how I have not shied away from my depression and all of the uncomfortable, even messy thoughts depression can evoke. But there is still one thing I have not been able to do.
And that is to go public about my major depressive disorder.
Stigma is still the excuse I use not to come forward. But I see others who are much stronger than me who do not allow what “they say” to influence what they do or say about their depression and anxiety. I have explored stigma extensively and I use that as an excuse not to make the final leap.
Of course, I am really worrying about almost nothing, for it really isn’t all about me.
I shouldn’t be so self-centered and vain. Most of the world’s population doesn’t know who I am and couldn’t care less if I say I have depression. They have their own lives to live and their own secrets to hide. The few who do know me, either accept me or once I come clean, will slowly back away.