I stop taking showers. Usually, the first night I rationalize waiting until the morning because I am too tired to shower.Then one night turns into every two days. Then two nights turns into three. After having only showered twice in a 7 day period, I know that I am
headed into a difficult spot. This is definitely, almost certainly, the most embarrassing
detail of the matter but it is also the main indicator that I am in two feet into a sometimes long walk ahead. At this point I usually find myself in a place that I try to stay far away from. Here, food is something I force upon myself solely for the purpose of sustaining my life, sleep is something I pray to get at least 3 hours of once my brain shuts down, and all the energy I have is reserved solely to care for my child and keep my job. I don’t pray, I don’t hang out, I mostly only text for fear of my voice cracking if tears start to roll for whatever reason. But you would never know that by looking at me. If I didn’t tell you, you would never know that for almost 2 years now I have struggled with depression. This is something that until recently, I rarely bring up. When things are not good, I do a really good job of still putting on a smile and skating through the day. I can tell that I have gotten pretty good at it because of how often I hear, “You don’t look depressed. I would think things are all good with you” when I find myself in a situation where I do share this with someone.
Depression affects millions of people a year and from what I have seen is also often disregarded, invalidated and minimized by those closest to the one suffering. It could be because they don’t know how to respond or are uncomfortable with talking about something that they don’t really understand. Maybe they really want to help and think that offering encouragement to put it out of mind, or to will yourself into feeling better will help it go away. But such is not the case. Even in my own experience there have been times when I wished I had just said nothing at all instead of having to endure the well meaning dismissals of what I was experiencing. I have often been reluctant to share what I go through with people (especially those “close” to me) because I am often met with a “pep talk” about picking myself up, being strong enough to create my own happiness or pull myself out of it, or a speech about how I am just going through a rough time right now. Granted, sometimes how I am feeling can be triggered by a specific situation, but the struggle comes in when the “trigger” is no longer an issue but the way I am feeling is still just as severe.
“You don’t have to be sad Janai, you can make yourself happy if you wanted to.” Although my friend’s words were well meaning, I instantly realized that he had no idea what I was going through.
I recently started feeling back to my normal after about 6 very difficult weeks of a depressive episode. I was halfway out of a mild occurrence when I was hit with back to back to back events that caused me to go deeper into depression. To be honest, this was probably the worst experience I have had with depression since the very first one, even more so because I felt the need to hide it. I still do with some people. The fear and stigma experienced by a person with mental illness is very real but I can only speak of my own life because I know that everyone’s experience is different. I have a fear of being judged by the people that I love because they don’t understand or friends distancing themselves from me because they are worried that I will be a “downer”; or that they can’t share their good news because it will make me feel bad. This by the way is not the case with me, even if I am down I would never wish for miserable company. I can be happy for you and still have to deal with my own feelings. I fear being labeled as an “unfit mother” or “unsafe” by those who only know the negative stereotypes of depression (or the term mental illness in general). And heaven forbid I openly stated that I have at times felt my son would be better off if I wasn’t here. I can just imagine the fallout from that. I have even, for some time, avoided dating because I know that there will come a point in time when I will have to open up about my depression to someone that I have grown to care about and they may very well decide that they do not want to deal with it. I will admit that even I think my strong personality, plus a child, plus bouts of severe (or even mild) depression are a bit much to take on unnecessarily. Although I will be glad to have found out that they wouldn’t make the cut sooner than later, it still hurts and leaves one feeling pretty rejected. These are not paranoid concerns fueled by pride. These are things that I have, in fact, experienced over these past few years. And because of them, I have mastered presenting myself as okay when necessary, even if I am not.
In working through this most recent time, I have come to discover quite a few things about myself and others. I recently opened up to someone that I had not talked to in years, only to discover that they too suffer, and understand even the things I couldn’t bring myself to say out loud. I am not alone. Looking back on this recent time period, I see that no matter how low I was feeling, I made sure that my son was taken care of to the best of my ability and his needs were unhesitatingly met. I am a good mother. I have also accepted that even though everything that comes with me is a lot to deal with, it is at times uncomfortable, inconvenient, frustrating, and stressful, the one that can endure past the struggle will see that I am worth it. I am worth it. And I have come to realize that it is okay to be okay even when things are going awry, but it is also okay if I am not okay. That my feelings are valid because they are my feelings, my symptoms and concerns are valid because I am the one experiencing them, and my thoughts matter because I know myself better than any other person. It is okay to feel, no matter what that looks like. For me, prayer helps. A major part of my struggle this recent time was that in the center of this episode, I didn’t even have the will to pray or to trust that God is bigger than my symptoms or the illness as a whole. The disconnect from living out my faith in my thought process almost always translates into me not living out my faith in my actions if it goes unchecked. This usually leads to unhealthy coping behaviors that only perpetuate my downward spiral. The other part is that although I believe in the usefulness and helpfulness of medication, that doesn’t mean that it is right for me, but that is another topic in itself.
This has probably been the second hardest thing I have shared in writing, mainly because I have spent a great deal of time keeping it concealed. I don’t want those who know me to treat me differently or become overly sensitive to my “condition”. And I didn’t write this to garner sympathy, I do not feel I am any more of a special case than the next person. I do hope that if someone reads this and is struggling with depression, or any other mental illness, they will know that they are not alone. I hope that if you know someone with mental illness that you will not (or no longer) be so quick to dismiss their words or feelings as “not so bad”, or encourage them to “make themselves feel better” as if they chose to make themselves feel this way in the first place. I hope that you will be more open to acknowledging the tale-tale signs of someone who may be struggling with this and not only ask them how they are really doing, but also be willing to stick around for the conversation when they open up and say something that you did not expect. And if you really know me and are not sure how I am doing, or you don’t know how to ask if something is wrong, don’t be afraid to ask, “When is the last time you showered?”
Still, if you just feel completely ill-equipped to talk to someone you know, the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance has an article that offers some guidance, you can find it here. Know that whether you are suffering or see someone suffering, you are not alone.
**If you or someone you know are having thoughts of suicide, please call**