So going from one uncomfortable subject to another: Depression. The illness that blights so many people, especially women, who are two times likely more to become depressed than men because of all the shit that is thrown on our plates.
The symptoms of depression according to WebMD are:
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
- Fatigue and decreased energy
- Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
- Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
- Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
- Irritability, restlessness
- Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
- Overeating or appetite loss
- Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
- Persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings
- Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
According to a previous therapist of mine, if someone experiences at least 4 of these symptoms for over 2 weeks, he or she can be considered to be clinically depressed. According to the above list, I have suffered from all of them except the last one, ‘thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts’. There are times I wanted to disappear but not die. Disappear as in going away to a faraway land where no one knows me and I can just be myself without needing to meet anyone’s expectations of me. Basically to run away, run away from my life. But never death. Life is too good, too precious no matter how dire things look.
As a child, I’ve was never told ‘depression’ was a mental illness. I didn’t know that being perpetually sad, lethargic, uninterested, tired and restless at the same time had a name called depression. I didn’t even know it was a ‘disease’. I thought it was part of the human existence, the human condition. I never told anyone about my ‘disease’ because I thought it was normal. After all, I was still moderately functional and I wasn’t always depressed, there were also times of great joy and contentment too.
Throughout my pre-teens, teens, early adulthood and into my mid-30’s, I have suffered from some combination of depression and anxiety except that I didn’t know it. When I understood fully the implications of depression, I was already in my late-20s and I finally had an understanding what I was suffering from all those years ago. I always joked that I was a naturally melancholy person. I am never very chipper or up. I openly despised peppy people. If I ran into Katie Couric in the morning while she was still on The Today Show, that would have been my worst nightmare. All that cheery peppy talk, like everything is rainbows and unicorns, shoot me now. I built a reputation for my family and friends as an introverted melancholy individual, which was really just a mask for my depression. But because of my flair for the sarcastic and the ability to not take myself too seriously and laugh at a good joke, the mask worked. For a while.
My depression was never diagnosed as a teen. It was never treated. No one took care to make sure I recovered from depression or even asked what was wrong with me, it just lingered and when certain bad events in my life took place, it at times placed me over the edge. I was what I call a functional depressed person. I didn’t have the luxury of being depressed and just staying in bed all day. I almost wished I did, then I can avoid the world and people. When I was in my depression, I had to psych myself up to get out of bed and get in the shower, get dressed and go about my day, whether if it was school or work. I would tell myself, just jump in the shower, put on a pot of coffee and you’ll feel better and I usually do, just enough to get me into the car and drive to work or to class. When at school or work, I had the ability to flip a switch and forget about my depression as I can focus all my energies on the task at hand.
My life went on this way until my late 20’s when it became more and more difficult to manage my depression on my own and the episodes got longer. The times that I felt depressed stretched longer.
When I became aware of it, I decided to track the events that would trigger a bout of depression. And it usually had to do with people. Other people, usually people I was in a relationship who had unreasonable expectations of me, which I won’t meet because I am not a doormat but that mere expectation alone made me angry and depressed. Many times it was to do with life events or financial distress that were beyond my control. Those always send me into an anxiety ridden and depressive tailspin. My dearest wish in life is to do as I please, whenever I please. It sounds impossibly childish but it’s true. And I do mean within reason. If I don’t want to attend some family function, I shouldn’t be made to and I don’t want to be pressured into doing it and if I set my foot down and won’t go, I don’t want to be made to feel like a shitty person for it. If I am not in the mood to receive company from out of town at last moment’s notice because throwing everything together would cause me great stress, I shouldn’t be pressured into it so that others won’t feel bad. I don’t respond to emotional blackmail either. I stopped that shit in my twenties, thank goodness.
When I am in a depressed episode, I get ‘lazy’, I get listless and my energy drains. Every single chore, no matter how trivial becomes an ordeal. And while all of this is going on, I get reminded that I am ‘out of it’, I just want to be left the hell alone. When I am depressed I just want to be left the hell alone. Is that too much to ask? Apparently it is, when you are a wife and mother to two small children who still need you for everything, you are never left alone except when they are asleep.
As I learned more about mental illness and specifically mood disorders, I was able to recognize my depression and how it always just lingers and ready to attack. I also realized early on that my depression wasn’t a chemical imbalance in my brain, it was all events and people driven. Which means if people leave me the hell alone and let me be, I’d be fine, but life isn’t that simple right? So as a form of therapy, I put myself and my feelings first. I chose to not see a therapist or psychiatrist for medication as I knew I didn’t need them.
Mental illness is still a huge stigma in society, even in open liberal Western societies. People rarely openly admit to having any type of mental illness, for the repercussions are many. Most importantly it could cost a person their job or any future career opportunities if a person openly talks about his or her mental illness. Secondly it’s the culture, and I am guilty of it too, where we call anyone we don’t like or who don’t agree with us or is perhaps easily excitable and emotional person ‘crazy’ or my favorite ‘cra cra’, ‘batshit cra’ etc., I am certainly guilty of it. Or even a sexist or misogynistic saying a girl is on her cycle that’s why she’s crazy. And it’s always the women who are crazy, over-emotional, irrational, hysterical, these adjectives are used to describe women more than men. When men are exhibiting the above emotions, they would be called angry and the reason is always more legitimate.
Anyone with a ‘history of mental illness’, whatever that illness may be is immediately discredited, anything he or she says is to be regarded as suspicious or not fully truthful because that person isn’t in the right mind. Their testimony certainly wouldn’t be held up in court. It would be ripped to shreds.
Too many people suffer in silence and the stigma needs to end. People with mental illnesses deserve consideration and compassion, not name-calling and be treated dismissively.