When I was in my mid-twenties, I struggled with a severe depression. Everything was so dark and I felt so lonely and no one seemed to really understand. As it turns out I’m in pretty good company. Lady Di, Winston Churchill, Jim Carrey, Charles Dickens, Audrey Hepburn, all of them suffered from depression at some point. I also have a lot of company, according to the WHO (World Health Organization) almost one out of five people suffers from depression at some point in their live.
Despite the fact that so many people get affected by depression (it’s not just the person that suffers from it, but also the people close to them) it’s surprising there is still so little understanding of depression. A lot of people still think it must be someone’s own fault/weakness. They think it’s just some negative thinking that someone needs to snap out of. They will tell them to “just think positive” or to “exercise more”. But depression is so much more than just a bunch of negative thoughts. And maybe if someone has a mild depression, thinking positive and exercising might be enough. But if someone has a severe depression, no matter how well the intention, this ignorant advice can even be harmful. Depression is not the same as sadness. Sadness is a state of mind most people have every now and then. In that case it can be helpful to think positive or do something you like to do. Depression is an illness and should be treated like one. Treating the two as if they’re the same is like telling someone with a broken leg it’s merely a bruise. That it may hurt a little but there’s really nothing wrong with the leg. My sweet hubby found the perfect cartoon to illustrate this.
I have experienced myself that there was a difference between telling people I was dealing with depression and telling I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. A lot of people were much more understanding and compassionate when I told them about the Crohn’s. WHY?????? Because, honestly, I’ve suffered more from my depression than I did from the Crohn. Not in the least, because a lot of people told me to snap out of it or exercise more and didn’t really take me seriously. And I know most of them meant really well, but they just had no clue what I was dealing with and how much their words hurt me. And other people think you must be totally wacko if you see a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is merely a doctor, specialized in mental illness. No doubt there are psychiatrists that see people who have issue we would call crazy, but that doesn’t mean that everyone who goes to see a psychiatrist is crazy. If you break your leg, you go to a doctor that can fix your leg. If you break mentally, you go a doctor that can help you with that. Call me crazy, but I did.
Once I went to an ‘experience museum’ about being blind. They made an “obstacle course” in which everyday situations were recreated that blind people encounter on a daily basis. And to make sure visitors wouldn’t cheat, they darkened the place. They gave you a cane and a (blind) guide to lead you through the place. It’s unbelievable how many obstacles there are when you can’t see. Suddenly you realize that most times you are not even aware you maneuver around obstacles. I mean, do you ever really see that garbage can? Probably not, you just walk past it without even giving it any thought. Not when you can’t see though. You are definitely aware of the fact that something is blocking your way and you have no idea what it is. During our trip we paid a visit to a playground. Now, that’s a real obstacle course, and there were not even children playing! While I was trying to find my way around the obstacles, the group started to leave the playground. Since I was already a little bit freaked out about the fact that I couldn’t see a thing, I wanted to stay close to the group. But the playground was fenced off and I couldn’t find the exit. I started to panic…., I didn’t want to be left behind…., I desperately tried to find the exit, but again couldn’t find it. Since I have a slight problem with asking for help, it was difficult for me to call out to the guide, but if I didn’t want to be left alone, I didn’t have a choice. So, I asked for help. And the guide came back for me and helped me get out of there.
Being depressed is kind of like that. You’re somewhere in a very, very dark place and you have no clue where you are. You may be standing next to the exit, or you could be standing on the edge of a cliff. At first you try to make it out of there by yourself. But you can’t find the exit, you keep on bumping into obstacles, you start to freak out, become desperate. So what are you going to do, keep on trying, hoping you will make it out of there in this lifetime? Or will you ask for help? You still have to make the journey yourself, you will still encounter obstacles, but at least you have someone to guide you to the exit and you’re no longer alone.
Like I said, I have slight problem asking for help. And as I’m writing this, I can see Mr. M. looking at me in this tone, so let me correct myself. I have a BIG problem asking for help and that’s now, it was even worse when I was younger. When I was in my early twenties I knew that things weren’t going too well, but I wasn’t really aware I had a problem. Not until one day, I was staying with my boyfriend at that time at his mom’s place. What happened that day opened my eyes and changed my life. It was an awful experience and I still feel sorry for her she had to go through that, but it was a life saver for me. Early that morning a noise woke us up. We heard his mom yelling and screaming. At first we thought there was a fire or something. But when we heard what she was saying, we realized she was psychotic. She was delirious, screaming and laughing hysterically. It was scary and at that moment, I finally realized that if I wouldn’t change anything in my life, I might end up just like that. You can try to ignore the difficulties you encounter, you can choose to hide them somewhere far away, but sooner or later they will catch up with you. This was the moment I decided to face my problems. Not that things changed over night, but it was the crucial awareness I needed. And, even though it was really, really tough, I reached out for help.
I worked my way through university, visiting a student psychologist and after a few years I graduated. The moment I had tried to postpone for as long as I could had finally arrived. I had to find a job. I was afraid that if I was going to work somewhere, I would get stuck there, because of my fear of new people and situations. So I made a decision of which I’m still very proud today. I choose to work for a company that would outsource me to municipalities that needed help. Had I not done that, chances are I would still be working at the same place I once started, and I would have never met Mr. M. and never had my little girl. So, it was the best choice I could have made, because I wouldn’t want to miss them for the world. However, I was depressed (even though none of the counselors I had seen so far had noticed – yeah, definitely getting more and more convinced about my acting skills 🙂 ) and it turned out I didn’t like the work and I made long days because often I had to travel far. But I dragged myself through it for almost a year and then, then, one day I couldn’t get out of bed anymore. All I could do was cry. And I had such abdominal pain that I was convinced I had appendicitis. So I went to my physician. Fortunately I had a really nice and understanding physician. And for the first time someone told me I suffered from depression. When he said it, it seemed so obvious, but until that point I had never realized it.
I went to the psychiatrist he referred me to. She was very nice, and I was ready to talk, but she also suggested medicines. That was a little bit too much for me. Talking? Fine. Medicines? I don’t think so. Until about two weeks later my world was so dark, I was willing to try just about anything to make the pain go away. So I got medicines and within two weeks I slowly felt the darkness get a slightly less dark. I was so grateful that it helped, because it does not work for everyone. Taking medicines can help to get out of the deepest darkness so you are better able to handle things, but it still means you have to deal with it. It’s not some kind of miracle pill that will take away your depression and make you live happily ever after.
If you think you might be suffering from depression, please look for help. Talk to your physician, pastor or a good friend that will take you seriously. And if you think someone around you might be suffering, try to talk to them, let them know you’re there and will take them seriously.
If you think my story might be helpful to other people then please, do share it. If you don’t know anyone that might benefit from it, please consider sharing my story anyway to help me create more awareness and understanding for depression. If you want to use parts of my story somewhere, please feel free to do so. All I ask is that you give me credit for the words I wrote.
Not sure it will make a difference? I understand, I have these moments too. And when I do, I think about what the Dalai Lama XIV said:
If you think you’re too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.