If I weren’t still dragging around the fear of what they might say, I would openly use my 500th blog post to email this letter to my friends and family.
I suffer from depression. (1)
My life with depression started before I was 19, and depression has been a factor in most of my life’s decisions, both small and large. I do not say this to excuse my behavior, but to state a fact about myself. Not facing depression was my strategy. And I was comfortable sweeping the leftovers under a rug and moving on once each episode was concluding.
My diagnosis 39 months ago is Major Depressive Disorder with Suicidal Ideation.
Sounds scary. But I am learning to live with my depression. Even more important, I now have the tools to understand my relationship with this mental health illness. This has given me the confidence to face depression, learn about it, and say out loud that I have depression.
It gets more complex because I exhibit concealed or high-functioning depression.
With a few noted exceptions, which some of you may remember, my day-to-day routine is to put on a happy face. Getting through the day without anyone seeing behind the curtain was my goal. The amount of energy required to do that was not important. Not being thought of as a fake, was everything.
I clung to this deception for over 40 years.
I realize now that I was fooling myself, but likely not very many others. Yet in my head, I had fought the good fight that day. And I had made sure no one knew that I had depression or that it was influencing my decisions. Well, that is what I would tell myself.
In April 2019 I spent four days in UVA’s 5 East (2), beginning my journey to finally face my depression.
It was there that I learned about the ten unhelpful thinking styles. And from there I found On Our Own (3), where I received and still find Peer Support. I am on Wellbutrin XL, after my psychiatrist and I first tried Prozac to oust my depression. It took finding a new Psychiatrist with the ability to hear what I was saying before we found this medication that is performing well.
Before switching from Prozac, I spent over 6 months not being able to get out of bed.
And when I would finally exert the energy, there would be 1 to 2 hours of dull, muddled fog in my head before I could really be myself. All this changed when my new psychiatrist listened and offered alternatives. I am extremely grateful for her out-of-the-box thinking.
Getting help for depression is different than getting help for a broken arm.
The morning I went to the emergency room to seek medical attention, I found out how effective my concealed depression can be. It took 9 hours and two video chats before I was able to be admitted to the hospital. Once I arrived by ambulance, the challenges only continued.
The intake doctor was more interested in my employer than in me, or so it seemed to me.
And he was ready to discharge me even before I was admitted. Getting professional mental health help was my goal and I was my only advocate. I stuck to my plan despite the obstacles, which included my depression telling me we did not need anyone’s help, especially professional help. Expecting me to once again keep secrets and not talk about my depression to anyone, I am sure my depression felt betrayed as I shared my story.
Even today, some 39 months later, I am on guard for my depression’s antics.
In addition to OOO, I have learned about the change triangle(4), WRAP(5), and SMART Recovery(6). In fact, I took SMART recoveries online course and am a certified session leader (with oversight until I get my sea legs). I have not done anything with this, but wanting to know everything, I also flew to Chicago for SMART recoveries 25th Annual conference (pre-covid).
Of greatest benefit to me was starting to write this blog the day after coming home from the hospital.
This open letter is my 500th post since I began writing 39 months ago. And I have been keenly aware of the stigma associated with mental illness. Seeing others face their depression in public, I have been grappling with that for months. While I am sure that eventually, I want to be found, I have been writing under the alias, “Depression Is Not My Boss.” Not saying my full name yet is in deference to my depression and my chickeness to come clean.
At some point, I added my first name to my blog information, in an attempt to be less afraid.
I have used this platform to work through my own relationship with depression. My goal is, to be honest with myself, facing each component of my depression while finding tools to reduce its influence on me. My efforts are a work in progress, and as I write I am still discovering things about my depression that surprise me.
I was planning to use my 500th blog post as a coming-out experience.
If I did come out about my depression, I know how stigma works. Some of you will embrace my decision, and others will find the nearest exit and slowly back away. Once again, understanding this is helping me establish a more consistent relationship with my depression. I have struggled with the strength to stand up to my illness, but until 5 East, I have not been brave enough to say it out loud.
My heroes are those strong enough to say, “I suffer from depression.”
Yet I fully understand the decision of others who decided that they cannot push that rock up the hill another day (7). I was once there, but for 45+ years, I have made a different decision. I am too chicken to end it all. And I finally decided, the morning I went to the emergency room, that I could no longer continue to do the same things while expecting a different result.
So here I am, facing the rest of my life diagnosed with MDD.
Being able to say that is freeing. Having concealed it for all those years is very strenuous. Getting through the day was my goal. Finding an excuse to go to bed early was my go-to move. In bed, I could recharge, without having to exert huge amounts of energy to appear “happy.”
My motto has always been “I like getting up in the morning because I learn something new every day.”
And while this can be a positive influence, I know I can carry it to extremes. While in 5 East, the head psychiatrist asked me, “when is enough, enough?” My depression would whisper,” just one more set of letters behind your name, just one more title, just one more of anything, and then…”
I am still struggling to see myself as enough, just as I am.
Being my own best advocate is an ongoing challenge. There are times when I can be overbearing and insistent that my way is the best way. It is me showing off my depression. It is happiest when it slips me ideas and I begin to see them as my own. Embracing what is now my depression plan, I begin to shy away from everyone and no longer seek their input.
My depression makes it clear that no one understands me as it does, so I should be secretive and avoid talking to anyone.
Secrecy is the hallmark of my depression. The closer it can get me to the abyss, the quieter I become. Circling the drain more than once, I can see how this plays out. Once I am up against the wall, I am numb. There is no feeling, no light, no anything. And I have been to that bottom more than once.
The day I showered, put on clean clothes, and went to the emergency room was the day I said, “no more to my depression.”
My depression has been heartbroken. It has concocted all kinds of ways to help me see I was better off before I faced it. My depression wants me to understand that saying” I suffer from depression” is bad for me. Depression continues to think of ways it can entice me back into compliance, into listening to it at the expense of myself and those I care about.
This letter is to say to the world, “I am on to your ways depression.”
And I am publicly facing my depression and sharing my experience with others. It only took me 45+ years to face my depression, so 39 months to come out publicly and share my diagnosis with the world is right in line. This would be more believable if I was actually brave enough to come out about my diagnosis of depression.
I will continue to share my experiences honestly and openly in this blog.
And having published two books, I am working on a more in-depth look at my depression as my next book. While I want to make this book readable by all, I am confident that I will share some of my less stellar moments from the past. And I will continue to write only about myself, without naming others.
SPOILER ALERT – I am still alive.
I am still able to think and write and am honestly working on sharing both my experiences and what I have learned from them. It is easy for me to revert to “just the facts” having used this to shield my depression from even myself. After all, if I have no feelings about something, I do not need to explain my feelings to others.
Not feeling anything is cleaner, and no one gets hurt.
Especially not me. The facts of the situation are enough. I do not need to share how I feel about them. Or at least that is what I told myself for the past 45+ years. Someone said when they read the log of my 700 nautical miles solo sail on the Intracoastal waterway, “where are your feelings about the events you wrote about?”
At the time, I took it as a compliment
It turns out that just the facts, is a skill that I learned from my depression. Separating my feelings from my day-to-day reality was safer for depression. And unknowingly, at times, I would support this plan. This strategy morphed into drive-by or doorknob conversations, where I would share a feeling on the way out the door. This setup gave me an escape route as soon as any introspection of my feelings began to emerge. Or worse, someone might ask a question about my feelings. Depression made sure I had an escape plan, so I would not have to deal with answering.
I have finally shared my feelings about my depression as I wrote the preceding 499 blog posts.
You can search by topic on my blog home page, as I have attempted to categorize my posts, mostly for my own convenience. I learned early that Facebook is not comfortable having depression as a page or post headline. I have set up a private page, but I am not certain that this will show up in my feed. All 500 blog posts are on Pinterest, and in the past year or so, I have been posting them on Twitter. Here I announce that “Depression Is Not My Boss has a new blog post,” and then supply the link.
I do understand that some writers share graphic information on public sites, and this can be troubling, or even be a trigger, to some readers.
My goal is to strike a balance between honestly sharing my relationship with depression and not offending those who expect a cleaner, gentler version of depression. In the end, I will be honest with myself and expect that this will show.
My instinct as I write this is to apologize to everyone who has experienced my concealed depression.
I can imagine situations where my depression had me saying and doing things that did not make sense to anyone not under its control. But once again, I know I am the one who said or did or did not do all these things. That is the rub I am still attempting to understand. Yet, in the end, I took the action and said or did not say things, while trying not to look like I was doing it. Or is that depression talking again?
It is really the chicken or the egg dilemma.
Were my actions because I had depression or did I have depression because I was having those actions? That is not entirely clear, but I am struggling with defining whose fault this is. And I know that is not the best way to look at it.
However, I accept that it is my body, my life, and my actions, so I am responsible.
I tell myself that I am no longer afraid of what “they will say” as I go forward. (Well almost not afraid) Heck, I only have another 25 to 30 years on this planet, why waste them always looking over my shoulder? I have been to the edge of greatness several times and then backed away, as depression and I secretly plotted to undermine my success.
I am sure I will continue to struggle with my successful behavior, as depression is not going to go home and never return.
But I have tools and resources that I did not know existed before. And I have a support network that I have finally let into my life. Well, that is a work in progress, but I am determined to be better at sharing my feelings. And better at practicing self-care. If you read my blog posts, you will see that I have a hard time with the phrase, self-care.
I practice it in my own way but have a hard time saying the words self-care.
In the end, depression and I are joined. But that does not mean I must listen to it and obey its every wish. Even depression’s unhelpful thinking styles are subject to my cross-examination these days. I am catching myself using them even as the words are coming out of my mouth. Understanding what it wants me to think, I now understand that I can make up my own mind.
In the end, I cannot control events, but I can control my attitude towards them.
Saying this and writing it down is far different than living this idea. History is full of examples of both men and women who have lived their lives exhibiting this philosophy. And they too are heroes in my book. In the end, here I am, and I suffer from depression.
But, as they are saying in SMART RECOVERY, “I am moving forward with the goal of leading a balanced life with depression.”
With best regards to everyone that I have met,
(I am halfway there, signing my first name. If I weren’t still afraid of stigma related to mental illness, I would include my last name.)
References and links where you can learn more about these resources: