In case you are new to my blog, my name is Joel and I live in Charlottesville Virginia. I am a middle-class male, and I have worked since I was 10 years old. My career spans over 50 years in retail management and along with my wife, I have raised 3 remarkable children.
Recently, I finally said out loud that I have lived with Major Depressive Disorder for over 60 years.
Depression often shows me paths to follow, that ends in my circling the drain and crashing into the abyss. It never insists but drops hints and then waits for me to take the bait. Before I know it, I am acting secretive and have adopted whatever plan my depression has invented. Then it is only a matter of time until I am up against the wall.
As I learn more about my relationship with depression, I am moving towards a more balanced life.
The truth is I am writing this blog for myself. As I confront different aspects of my depression, I research, think about, and then write about what it is for me. However, I realize now that my writing shows others dealing with mental health issues that there is hope. It turns out there are many tools that will lead to living a balanced life. I am here today because I have realized that I didn’t need to “look further than my own back yard” to see all of the resources I had. Plus, I have a great many people who are willing and able to help if needed.
Over the decades my relationship with depression has ebbed and waned in cycles.
The good times are always exhilarating. The bad times with depression are days, weeks, even months and years of nothingness, of being up against the wall. And in the grips of depression, I see absolutely no way forward,
50 months ago, I finally made the decision not to sweep my depression under the rug. I had become so adept at hiding my depression, instead of facing it, I had never looked at what was happening. I had never even considered that depression was a problem. When the bad times would subside, I would conceal what had happened and move on. I never, ever faced what had happened and I did not want to.
It’s hard to believe that I finally faced my depression over 4 years ago. It was not that I was suddenly empowered. But that was when I saw just three choices. These options had come up repeatedly in my life:
- Stop trying and end my life by suicide
- Keep doing the same thing and keep expecting a different result
- Break the cycle and ask for professional help
I chose the third option, not because I was brave, but because the other two were more terrifying.
50 months later, I am solidly in recovery. I have my life back. My journey has included meeting wonderfully supportive people at On Our Own, whose mission is to provide free peer support, self-help, education, guidance, and referral services for adults. Through them, I discovered WRAP training and now have my own personal Crisis Plan.
I discovered SMART Recovery and took courses through them. I even flew to Chicago last year (pre-pandemic) and attended their 25th Annual International Conference. And I discovered DBT, The Change Triangle, and NAMI. I am finally seeing that I can lead a balanced life with depression.
The wall is gone, and the path forward is clear and waiting for me.
From almost 60 years of personal experience, I know that loneliness and isolation accompany mental health challenges. Guilt and shame appear and would keep me from facing my illness. I have spoken with people in support groups and heard many others share the same experience.
Even today, there is still a stigma around mental health.
This keeps many who would benefit from the tools available, from feeling they can access them. I personally know two people who could not see a path forward, became isolated from others, and could not see a way forward. They chose to end their lives. Their outcomes may have been different, if there was more acceptance of and less stigma surrounding mental health issues.
Removing the stigma around mental health would help untold millions.
When seeking treatment for depression is finally viewed the same way as seeking treatment for a broken arm or an impacted wisdom tooth, doors will open for those with mental health issues. Having celebrities acknowledge their depression takes away some of the stigma. And hearing that everyday people are making decisions that can alter their lives can be the catalyst to begin a new life. But even as 2021 draws near, our society is still treating those with mental health conditions as somehow deviant, or nor deserving of help.
People still believe you can just “snap out of it.”
Clearly, there is more work to be done educating people on what mental health issues are about. While I and many others are living with our mental illnesses and leading balanced lives, we lose one person in the US every 12 minutes to suicide. This is about how many we lose to breast cancer each year.
Once society becomes more accepting of mental health issues and the stigma is removed, many of those who commit suicide will see other options. I was there once, I know. So, I am asking you to be more accepting of those with mental health challenges.