national mental health month

May is National Mental Health Month. Last summer, I wrote about going public with depression. Maybe that’s all I need to say on the subject. Maybe not. I wrote about what it’s like for me to experience depression and how I try to cope with it, I didn’t really write about what it’s like to live in our society with depression.

I’ve been sad lately. Not falling-down-the-rabbit-hole depressed. Not stuck-in-the-swamp overwhelmed with life. Just sad. My thoughts are sad. My affect is sad. My dreams are sad. I’m also still – so slowly – adjusting to the Neurontin. It’s hard to tell whether the sadness, the lack of energy, the low motivation, the desire to sleep are all about the drug or partly about the depression. Or whether I’m just sad.

Asking these questions of myself, not trusting my emotions, is part of living with depression for me. I recognize different aspects of depression in myself. I know part of it – especially the falling down the rabbit hole part – is probably biochemical. Part of it – particularly the stuck in the swamp part – is most likely situational. Part of it, I think, is just me. The person who tends to react to everything – stress, anger, fear, happiness, success, everything – with depression. I really don’t like this part. I think I’m a bad person. Weak. A loser.

I know that people who care about me or who are otherwise my friends will object to that kind of thinking. But perhaps they’ve never lived with depression. Maybe they’ve never had people, even well meaning people, tell them that they just need to grow up. Or that they should pick themselves up by their bootstraps. Or that it’s not so bad. Maybe they’ve never been judged because they aren’t working. Maybe they’ve never had people walk away because they’ve talked about having attempted suicide when they were young. Or worse, that they sometimes think about death now, even if they have no plans to act on those thoughts. People really, really don’t want to hear that. Maybe they haven’t gone for months at a time having to force themselves out of the house. Maybe they regularly sleep for more than a few hours per night.

However that sounds, I don’t usually feel sorry for myself about that. People who haven’t experienced depression don’t understand it. It’s like people with diabetes complaining that everyone doesn’t understand diabetes. Much as I hate to admit it, before I was diagnosed and learned to live with it, I had no real understanding of diabetes. I thought I did. Looking back, it embarrasses me just how little I knew and the assumptions I made. So I recognize that people don’t get it. Some of them mean well. Some are truly judgmental. But most probably mean well.

Still, I’m embarrassed by depression. I judge myself harshly. I feel less than. I do believe at some level that I could be different, that I just don’t try hard enough. I talk to people about what it means to be clinically depressed but at heart, I’m not sure it applies to me. I should be stronger. I should be better. I should able too pull myself up. I should be able to force my way through this and be normal.

I know that’s not logical, or at least I think it isn’t. I also think that most – or at least many – people think that it’s true. I fear what people think even though I’m quite honest about my experiences here on the blog. Well, pretty honest. I don’t write about it often, I don’t want to drive people away. I tend to assume that people judge me, even when they don’t know me. I have the weight as an outward symptom of my depression so that serves as reason enough to assume people judge me. But then I make the same sorts of assumptions online. Like the other day when I reached out and posted a comment on a new blog and the person who writes it couldn’t even say “hello.” I felt rejected, alone, and wanting to never return to that blog even though I am enjoying reading her stories. I do that. I run away. I’ve also given up chasing people who walk away from me. I used to. I used to beg for them to care. Am I stronger for no longer chasing people or am I weaker because I don’t actually feel worthy of people caring, so I don’t try to make them. It takes me a while to let go. I give people a thousand chances.

Oh, as far as the blog thing goes, I don’t expect people to always comment. I have some friends who read and never comment, we keep up in other ways. I have online friends who show up once in a while, it’s always nice to see them. I also don’t expect constant responses if I comment on someone else’s blog. I do kind of expect a hello and I try to greet new people who stop by this blog. I guess I expect courtesy and maybe that’s unreasonable. I also confess that I know my total feeling of rejection is also unreasonable. I don’t know how to be different. I think I will keep reading that blog I like, but I will never comment again.

Anyway, that’s my experience with mental illness. I’d like to deny it. Depression doesn’t always qualify as mental illness. Sometimes it’s temporary. Sometimes it’s grief. But for me, this is the way it is.

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16 thoughts on “national mental health month”

  1. Hmm, where to start? First, I find your ability to analyze yourself a rather good sign. I mean if you were in complete denial about depression’s toll, then you’d be going nowhere fast. So, I’d say that as long as you keep pondering what it is that is holding you back, then you’re on a winning path.

    Second, I have no rousing thoughts to lift you out of your depression. I will suggest that the goal of being normal is overrated. IMH[non-professional therapist]O.

    And third, about being ignored by a blogger– I give a new blogger two chances to acknowledge me in some way. If that doesn’t happen I EITHER stop following him or her OR allow myself to lurk knowing that I will never reach out again. Usually, at this point, I just stop following the person. Life’s too short, you know?

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    1. I wish insight equaled change. Chances are I will deal with this all my life, and maybe I will deal with it better. Right now, all the stuff I can’t control helps to keep me in this place. I need to deal with the stuff I can control.

      Two chances? Not sure I’m up for a second chance this time. Sometimes I stop following them but more as a fear that I’ve said something wrong than as a choice. I need to see it as a choice. And I think it may be okay to lurk, at least without that second chance. Not sure I could do it if I felt rejected twice right now.

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  2. As Ally says, you’re very self aware and that’s a good thing! Although I know I’m not clinically depressed, I’ve beat myself up a lot the past two years. (even before that, stupid perfectionism) We can certainly be our own worst enemies, as the saying goes. I like commenting. I like responding to comments. When I started blogging, I vowed to reply personally to each and every comment. It’s helped me get to know(a bit more privately) many of the people who read my blog. I do have the lurkers and my readers have changed over the past couple of years, but that’s life. C’est la vie.

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    1. I agree with you Margaret. I’ve always thought the getting to know the people who visit here is the best part. Sometimes, something I say resonates with them and I feel connected. Sometimes, we just have fun.

      Perfectionism – no fun at all. I don’t know that the beating yourself up is part of depression but it seems to go together. Maybe the person inclined toward depression just approaches it from a slightly different angle. My father’s idea of motivating us was to tell us how much we sucked. None of us were ever good enough and all of us eventually gave up trying. I think maybe that is the depression part. The giving up.

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  3. I hardly ever comment on posts about depression because all I have experienced is the temporary kind. I know I don’t understand clinical depression well enough to say anything useful. In my ignorance on chronic depression I worry about saying something that could easily be misunderstood, make someone feel worse. Even saying, “I don’t understand, but I care about you,” probably sounds rather lame to a person who is hurting that badly. I do care about you, though.

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    1. It’s okay Hannah. Sometimes hearing someone cares is not lame at all. Now the cheerleader – that I can’t take. But someone willing to sit with me while I vent or meander through the thoughts that go with this depression thing, that’s valuable. You don’t have to understand. I’m really not sure that anyone who hasn’t been here can really understand. It’s like trying to understand what it’s like to be black when you’re white. You can try, you can empathize from the outside, but you can’t really know. But that’s okay. Caring enough to try is okay. You don’t have to make it better (in fact you can’t). You don’t have to know the answers. You just have to be my friend and not turn away because these things are hard to hear. I know they’re hard to hear and I don’t want to make people uncomfortable. And you’d still be my friend if you said you couldn’t listen, because that’s honest.

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  4. Zazzy,I’m one of your friends who cares and likes you ! I read your blog regularly and rarely comment.

    You are right,most people don’t understand depression, diabetes and other medical conditions either ! DS is in the hospital right now,diabetes complications and his other medical conditions are not something local people I know want to hear about.Or how I feel as a mother and caretaker 24/7 .I answer….I’m fine,when asked…how are you ? But I’m not feeling that way.

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    1. Maybe that’s why I write about it Schunki. Mostly, people want us to say “fine.” I try to remember that everyone is fighting a hard battle, they have their stressors. For years, I was the one who listened. It got hard to be that person and to never feel listened to. Maybe you should start a blog. I’d come and read you. 🙂

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  5. Now I’m glad I commented. Your posts about depression do not make me uncomfortable. I am interested in everything you write. But commenting on something I don’t understand very well… I guess it is my own writing that makes me uncomfortable. I won’t turn away. When did we meet online – 2000, 2001? I’m still here. 🙂

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    1. 2002 I think. It’s been a long time. I’m glad you come by and you sometimes comment, never feel like you have to or that I’m going to grade you or something. Every comment is valuable, even those I disagree with.

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  6. I am not uncomfortable talking about my own or anyone else’s depression. While the diabetes roulette wheel was constantly turning on my dad’s side of the family, the depression one was turning on my mom’s. Both of her parents had severe bouts of clinical depression, then referred to as a “nervous breakdown” and would be ushered to a facility in Minneapolis called Glenwood Hills to receive ECT. Then they’d come home and be okay for several months and then it would happen again. it became routine.
    I have been on some type of medication for over 10 years and they all worked for a couple of years and then petered out and we’d try another.
    I would really like to have more contact with the shrink and be monitored more closely, but appts are usually a 3 month wait. “Here, let’s start this and we’ll see you in August.” blah blah blah. It seems to all be a big guessing game.

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    1. People hardly ever have nervous breakdowns anymore, I wonder why? Maybe depression is more acceptable now? I don’t like meds that change my brain chemistry (though I’ve tried several) and not a chance I’d let someone loose with ECT.

      It’s crap that you don’t have better access to therapy, though. I know it’s getting harder to make a living as a therapist but I hadn’t heard that the numbers were down that badly. It is next to impossible to get in with an actual psychiatrist here, however. Maybe everywhere.

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  7. Well, get this – there’s a large diabetes clinic here in town that used to have 4 psychologists on staff. Now they are down to one. When asked why, I was told, “there just wasn’t the need for so many…” Say what?

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    1. Ah, so it’s not that there aren’t therapists, it’s that clinics are cutting out the positions to save money. Yeah. Mental health doesn’t matter. Next to the arts, it’s the first thing cut. You can’t see it. And people with severe mental illness disappear onto the street. Not the need? Right.

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  8. Aw Sweets a tear came to my eye reading all this. I too was reared by a father who thought being negative was the way to motivate. How wrong headed thinking that is and seems to be one of the hardest things to overcome. I signed commitment papers when I was 23 so I could get the therapy I needed. They never felt the need to commit me but you had to sign those papers to get treatment. I got a wonderfully talented clinical psychologist and through 10 years of therapy I became as OK as anybody can who has gone through that kind of depression. I learned to love myself and to know that I was not the ‘sissy’ and ‘dumb’ person that my father said I was. I knew that if I didn’t do something that I would not live to be 50 and am now 68. That damn number is getting closer to 70 than I care for! Just know that my thoughts and prayers are with you always. You are a special person believe it or not and have the most unique talent of being able to mangle a paper clip like nobody else I have ever met! And I still think Fred tried to eat me, I was just able to run faster than the other person he was trying to eat, bless their poor soul!

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    1. Thank you Tom, for reminding me it hasn’t always been like this. Yes, I’ve dealt with depression on and off pretty much my whole life, but the ongoing stress since 2002 has triggered what feels like a never ending depression. I’ve learned those lessons you talked about, or I thought I had. But perhaps there is light at the end of this tunnel.

      And Fred only ate two people in his life. You were not one of them.

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