Archive of ‘Mental Health’ category

The Power of Depression

There has been such an outpouring of reactions to Robin William’s death. I have found myself pouring over every article and finding comfort in the words of so many speaking out about mental health, but no one has said it better than Chaz Pazienza. As I read his article, If You live With Depression, You Understand Why Robin Williams Took His Own Life, I found myself absorbed in how he so eloquently describes what depression feels like.  His words capture the torture that depression brings:

I’ve battled depression for years, had that voice in my head — the voice that sounds just like my own voice — telling me that I’m worthless, hopeless, and damaged beyond repair.

How evil is a sickness that turns your own voice into your own worst enemy? When you hear that you are worthless over and over again, you believe it and the relief you can imagine is to give up.

So many people today are discussing how joyful and passionate Robin Williams was. His joy was infections and spread to everyone within reach of his voice.

“Imagine what it takes to convince a man of Robin Williams’s passion and character that life is often an exercise in punishing misery and death is the sensible answer to it. If you can do that, you can begin to grasp how deeply depression runs and how tragic its impact is.”

Today as you remember about how talented Robin was, how much joy and laughter that he brought to us,  think about how powerful the depression was that could extinguish such an amazing person’s light.

We have so far to go in battling depression and there is still so much to learn so we can find effective treatments. If you are interested in donating to mental health research, there are several foundations that are doing great work in this fight.

Anxiety and Depression Association of America 

Brain and Behavior Research Foundation 

National Alliance on Mental Health 

 

 

Raise Your Voice Louder Than Depression

I don’t know where to begin. The news that Robin Williams has passed away from suicide is devastating and brings so many different feelings. I am outraged that such a precious human had to die because of depression. I am sadden that so many are shocked because Robin Williams hid it so well, because he shouldn’t have had to. And sadly, I am grateful because the only good thing that can come from such a tragedy is the awareness that it brings to this disease and maybe one person won’t suffer in silence any longer.

For anyone who has not experienced suicidal thoughts, it is so difficult to understand how things can get that bad. It’s not the “things” that you would expect, like losing a job or a break up,  that push you towards suicide, it is when the depression gets so loud that you can’t hear your rational thoughts any more. Depression manifests itself in so many ways but one of the worst ways is that it takes over your thoughts.  Your brain is taken hostage by a different voice than your own and this voice takes every thought you have and turns it negative. To make matters worse, it churns out these negative thoughts at a rapid pace so that you can’t correct the negative thoughts with rational ones.

Those with depression often suffer from sleeping disorders as well, so these negative thoughts take over 24/7. Imagine living like this for days, weeks and months, that is how long it can take to realize that you are in a depressive episode. You become exhausted at fighting and start to believe the negative thoughts and eventually, you just want it all to end. You’re exhausted and all you can think about is finding relief. It feels like the only option is to give up.

I have been there and it still feels shameful to admit it. I didn’t want anyone to look at me with that judgement that I was suicidal. I didn’t want them to use that word to describe me.  But why does it take using that word to get some people to understand the severity of depression?

We can each make a difference by removing the shame and judgement from our perception of depression and suicide. Talk about mental health openly and without reservations because you could be making a difference to someone who is silently suffering and not even know it. The more we talk, the louder our voices will become and we increase the chance that we can be heard over the depression that someone is silently fighting. Your voice does make a difference.

“No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world”

Robin Williams

Thank you Robin for sharing your joy with us, I only wish we could have saved you from your pain.

I Get It From My Momma

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It could be said that I got my depression from my Mom. She has suffered from re-occuring major depression since she was young and she recalls that her Mother, my Grandmother, suffered from it as well. Studies show that children of a parent with re-occuring major depression are 4-5 times more likely to suffer from major depression.

I have been very vigilant about my predisposition to depression since I was in high school and tried to stay aware if any symptoms started to be prevalent. When I started going to therapy after college, I would cringe anytime the word “depression” was brought up. I was determined that I didn’t want to be my Mother. Don’t get me wrong, my Mother is an amazing woman. I would be lucky to be half of the woman that she is. Blame it on part immaturity (we all have worried about becoming our Mothers at some point, right?) and the fact that I had watched this illness steal so many parts of her life. I have been in the front row witnessing how she has suffered and she has continually battled to overcome her depression.

I convinced myself that I was different from my Mother. I don’t even look like her, I am the spitting image of my Father, so my genes had to be different as well (obviously sound logic to determining your genetic make up).  When I was first diagnosed, I wouldn’t let myself believe that I was “like my Mother.” I was terrified of suffering the way that she did. It wasn’t until recently that I realized that I may have inherited my depression from my Mother, but more importantly, I was lucky to inherit her bravery, as well.

Since I have gone public with my depression people have used the word “brave” to describe my actions. I figured after awhile that if so many people were making the comment there must be some validity to it. I am very introspective and I had to figure out, where did the bravery come from.  Then as listened to my Mom casually tell a story of how she went zip lining on her own on a recent trip, that I thought, “damn she is a brave, badass lady.”

My Mother has fought depression most of her life, but she keeps fighting and she has never given up. As if fighting off the symptoms of depression wasn’t enough, she has made it her goal to push herself outside every comfort zone she has. A woman who used to be terrified to drive over a highway overpass conquers her fears on zip line tours now. If it scares her, she has gone out and tried it. She may still be scared, but she is brave in facing those fears. She refuses to let depression steal her life and I don’t think there is any truer definition of bravery than that.

My Mom was completely helpless in passing depression to me, but she has made all the difference in my ability to face it and fight it by teaching me to be brave. It is through this gift of bravery that I have been able to fight my depression and I couldn’t be more grateful.

 

You Can’t Take It Personally

Last week was my first week back at work after taking a hiatus to treat my depression.  I really weighed whether or not I should go “public” in my workplace.  There are about 120 people in my home office, then about 20 people outside of the office, who I work with on a day to day basis. I am not connected to many people I work with on social media so most of them were in the dark about why I was away. In fact, rumors had swirled around the office that I was fired.

I considered the professional, personal and legal repercussions of sharing my story with my co-workers very heavily, but ultimately decided that if I was going to say that I wanted to remove the gag order on discussing mental health, I needed to do it completely. Selfishly, the cool reception that I received on my first day back made me want my co-workers to understand that I hadn’t been taking an extended vacation while they still slaved away.

So I shared my blog with a select group of people I work with closely and the reaction was both disappointing and surprising. The surprises came from the number of people that I never would have expected to reach out who shared their experiences with depression. The disappointment came from those who I thought were closest to me who stayed silent.

The first lesson I have learned in sharing my story is that you can’t take someone’s reaction or lack of reaction personally. Many don’t understand and they still won’t understand, even when you try to explain. The ones who are silent may not be comfortable talking or they might not know what to say.

I felt frustrated for a moment and then realized this is why I started talking in the first place. I am going to keep talking and maybe the silent ones will find the words to support someone who is struggling with depression in their lives.

 

The conversation has started!

Wow. I am just speechless at the feedback that I have received from my first post “Breaking the Gag Order on Mental Health“. Sometimes when I read blogs and they say “thank you so much for sharing your stories” I am left wondering, well what did people share? I want to get specific, because I think that each response carried so much value.

  • Friends shared their stories of their own personal experiences with mental health, specifically depression and anxiety, and similar symptoms that I experience.
  • Distant family members reached out and shared that they have similar experiences from depression, further supporting the genetic condition
  • Friends reached out saying that they have suffered from similar symptoms but have never thought that they could be suffering from depression until now
  • People that I haven’t spoken to since middle school shared my blog, not because they have mental health issues, but to bring awareness to their network of friends
  • Friends reached out to share how they have felt ashamed or unable to discuss their experiences and they appreciated me sharing my story to help them do the same
  • Many people reached out just to say that they were there if I ever needed anything and that gesture was so simple and kind.

A sincerest thank you to those of you who have reached out. Pressing “publish” on that post was scary and each and every one of your responses has made it so worth wild. My voice is small, but I know that by sharing my experiences it at least starts the conversation in the network that I engage with and that is the first step. I have no doubt that if we break the gag order on discussing mental health, we will no longer have just temporary solutions, but a cure for generations to come. Let’s make it happen.

 

Breaking the Gag Order on Mental Health

I have decided to break the gag order, the one that I believe keeps society from discussing mental illness. I am no longer going to lower my voice to a whisper when it comes to discussing mental illness, instead I am going to say it out loud and proud. Since I am saying this out loud for all to hear, let me be specific, I have major depressive disorder, reoccurring, also known as clinical depression, along with generalized anxiety disorder (these two are often companions).

A Little Bit of Background…

I was first diagnosed with major depressive disorder in 2009 and after about 6 months of trial and error, I found a medication that treated my symptoms.  This medication worked well until this past fall and over the past couple months, my symptoms had become so crippling that I found that I could not be effective at my job. Finally, the only thing I could do was take a step back to focus on taking care of myself.

When I called in sick to work, there were many opportunities presented to answer the seemingly simple question, “what is wrong?” from the people around me.  As I responded with the explanation that I have depression, I watched (or heard) their confusion and discomfort.  I don’t fit their expectation for what depression looks and acts like.

Do I look like someone who is depressed? 

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Most people who suffer from depression develop coping mechanisms so they can continue to function despite their symptoms. This is our way of fighting back. We fight with all we have so the depression doesn’t steal every moment of our lives.  We fake it until we make it. While there is a smile across my face in this photo, I felt completely worthless inside and I was barely hanging on to keep my head above water, when this was taken.

I can understand why people are confused when I tell them that I am depressed, how is anyone supposed to know what depression looks like when no one will discuss it. While I have grown more and more comfortable discussing my depression with my close family and friends, but very few of those closest to me understand what it really means.  It doesn’t mean I am just “feeling sad” or that it is a result of a situation that I am going through. My depression is clinical, it is a result of a chemical imbalance in my brain and when the chemicals are off balance, my life is thrown out of balance. When someone with asthma can’t breathe, they need to use their inhaler and when I am depressed, I need help balancing the chemicals in my brain to treat the symptoms.

Symptoms of depression vary for everyone. It is common to think that depression just means that someone is sad, withdrawn, and going through a rough time, but they can snap out of it if they tried.  I can’t speak for what others experience, but the cocktail of symptoms that I experience with depression are:

  • Irritability
  • Uncontrollable Negative Thoughts
  • Exhaustion
  • General Feelings of Worthlessness
  • Lack of Interest to Engage in Social Activities
  • Increased Anxiety
  • Feelings that there is no solution or resolution to these feelings
  • Desire to Give Up

Many of these symptoms can be invisible, which can make suffering from them even harder.

Something to Talk About 

Statistics show that 1 in 10 Americans suffer from depression, so why aren’t we running 5Ks for depression? Our health is a private and personal matter, but without bringing attention and (and more importantly private funding) to an issue, how can we expect a change?

So let’s start talking.  I am making a vow to break the gag order and discuss mental health openly and honestly. I will raise awareness with my voice in person and here, on this blog. I ask that you consider taking the same vow. You may be surprised about what you learn once you start.

 

 

 

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