What They Don’t Tell You About Depression

Even though more than 16 million adults in the U.S. suffer with depression, it’s still grossly misunderstood. I’m guessing that’s because of the stigma that’s attached depression and other mental illness. If nobody talks about it, then people can’t educate themselves about depression and the stigma can’t be eradicated.

Hopefully you know that depression is more than just sadness. There are a whole host of symptoms that can be very debilitating, and depression can affect you physically, too.

Here’s what you might now know about depression that I’ve found out through my experience.

  1. A lot of medication I’ve tried, mainly antipsychotics, make you gain weight. While on Abilify, I gained 30 pounds in about four months. The meds helped me but gaining weight made me feel worse about myself. Often patients have to choose between a drug’s physical toll it can take and gaining weight. Normally, I would advise that you stay on a medication if it’s helping you, but because of the weight I gained, it just made me more depressed and fueled my body dysmorphia.
  2. Depression is misunderstood by A LOT of people. As I mentioned early, people don’t know that depression is more than sadness. It can affect your memory, concentration, sexual drive, appetite and sleep patterns. When I’m going through a depressive episode, it’s hard to get out of bed. I’m fatigued and it can be daunting to complete small (and usually easy) chores and tasks. People don’t understand that depression can affect all areas of your life.
  3. It’s lonely. Sometimes it feels like I’m on the outside looking in on the world go about their days and be happy. I feel out of place, because if you’ve never experienced major depression, it’s hard to understand. Just ask my husband. He’s the most supportive person in my life, but he still doesn’t understand completely. You start to think that everyone else is happy (they’re not) and that you never will be.
  4. People will judge you and you’ll feel guilty. That stupid stigma rears its ugly head again. People will think you’re lazy, that you’re not trying, that you can just “snap out of it,” but it doesn’t work like that. Sure, I fall behind on housework and take a lot of naps when I’m going through a depressive episode, but normally, I’m motivated and get things done. When depression hits, you are so fatigued it’s hard to even brush your teeth for two minutes. When people assume you’re lazy and not trying, it just means that they haven’t been educated on depression. That’s why we have to talk it. We have to say, “Screw the stigma,” and accept who we are. Then maybe others will better understand.
  5. You’ll experience fatigue and other physical ailments. I’ve already touched on this, but I wanted to talk about symptoms you may experience besides fatigue. I get migraines, stomach aches (mostly from my anxiety) and back pain. My sleeping patterns change, only leading to more fatigue.
  6. You’ll feel like a burden. I struggle with this so much. I feel guilty and like I’m a strain on my family, which sometimes I am. I went to a psychiatric facility for six weeks, leaving my husband in charge of most everything. It was hard. It was also very costly. And when I’m going through depressive episode, my husband has to pick up the slack with the house and kids. I also feel like I talk and think about my mental health 24/7, so I can tell if I get off track and am heading into an episode. I’m sure all my friends and family are tired of reading about and talking about my mental illness.
  7. There are “Impossible Tasks” that you will feel you can’t do. Mine is showering. When I’m depressed, I just can’t summon the strength to take one. I’ll go a week without doing it because it seems as hard as running a marathon with no shoes on and a bodysuit of armor. It may as well be. Brushing my teeth is also hard — any personal hygiene is hard for a lot of depressed people. You might find it gross, but it’s the truth.
  8. People won’t think you’re sick. Going back to thinking depression is sadness — they won’t understand if affects more than your mood. People don’t think depression is a disease like any other. Again, that’s the stigma talking.
  9. Family and friends may drop out of your life. It’s a lot to be friends with, date or deal with someone who has depression. We have unpredictable moods, we can’t always go out and socialize and we might even make others feel sad because we are. I get it can be draining, especially if your loved one feels like a caregiver at times.
  10. You’ll buy into the stigma at times but none of it is true. There have been times where I have thought I’m lazy, weak, useless, not trying hard enough or would be better off dead. No matter what, you should reject those ideas that are born only from ignorance. You’re not lazy or weak. Matter of fact, the strongest people I know struggle with mental illness.
  11. Sometimes you might feel like you want to die. I have treatment-resistant, major depression, and because of that, most medicines don’t work and it took a long time to figure out with meds did work with what therapies. In between that, I experienced severe bouts of depression where I felt suicidal. I didn’t want to be suicidal; I didn’t want to die. But my brain was telling me the only way to escape the unbearable pain I felt was to kill myself. It’s scary and overwhelming. If you are depressed and dealing with suicidal ideation, please call your doctor, reach out to a trusted friend or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Read my blog on what it feels like to be suicidal here.

When I was first diagnosed almost 20 years ago, I didn’t realize how hard it would be to deal with depression. Now, not everybody with depression deals with all this and is not as severe, but I think it’s still important to know.

If you would like to read more about depression, I urge you to go to the National Institute of Mental Health.

Thanks for reading. Stay in the light.

If you have something to add to this list, drop it in the comments.

Screw the Stigma of Depression

In my early 20s I had a conversation with two of my girlfriends about one of the girls’ boyfriend. She had made the comment he was taking antipsychotic medication for a mental illness.

In my infinite knowledge and wisdom, I said something along the lines of “You should dump him. That’s a red flag!” And I laughed. The other girl, a pharmacist, said, “Dude, you’re taking antipsychotics.” I stopped laughing. It was true. I had been dealing with depression for a few years by then yet I still laughed and judged another for doing the same thing I was. When you’re young and stupid, you’re young and stupid.

But there’s a bit more to that story. What I wrongly said and did — that’s the stigma of depression talking and it talks a lot, even to this day.

Did I truly think that guy was psychotic or “crazy?” I must have and must’ve thought he was less of a person for being mentally ill. I’m ashamed for that.

It doesn’t really make sense I would do that given that I was mentally ill and embarrassed to even tell my parents I was suffering.

Throughout my life, starting as early as middle school, I had exhibited signs of an anxiety disorder, and later in high school, depression. It all came to a head in college when me beloved grandmother died. Even then, when it’s understandable to experience great sadness, I kept my depression and anxiety to myself.

It would be almost a decade later when I finally admitted to my mom I struggled. There was really no way to hide it anymore because I was experiencing severe postpartum depression. When my youngest was 2, I had reached a breaking point and entered into an inpatient psychiatric program at The Menninger Clinic.

I hadn’t told many people that I was going but while I was there it suddenly occurred to me that I had nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of.

I tell this story because the stigma of depression is so powerful and far reaching. But it is so dangerous to perpetuate, and to not denounce the stigma. People literally die or don’t seek treatment because they think they’re weak, and that “it’s all in their head,” or because they’ve been told depression isn’t a “real disease.” Let me assure you, it is — a debilitating one.

Depression is a completely treatable disease, experienced by about 17 million American adults (stats from the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance, 2017). What does it say about our society that instead of helping and supporting more than 17 million people, we’d rather buy into antiquated beliefs and nonsense that depression isn’t real or that it’s some choice to be made? Absolutely nobody would make that choice.

Depression is as real as any other disease. It’s devastating, chronic and sometimes very scary.

So, let’s stop the bullshit. Let’s educate people about mental illness and end the judgement that comes hand-and-hand with the diagnosis.

Below are hurtful stereotypes that perpetuate the stigma:

  • Happy people can’t have depression
  • People with depression aren’t mentally tough
  • Depression isn’t a real disease
  • Depression and sadness are the same thing
  • Antidepressants change your personality
  • Depression is all in your head
  • Depression is a choice
  • You can just “Snap out of it”

People can literally die when we help perpetuate these lies about depression. It has to stop. Help end the stigma by reading more about depression here.

Let’s do better and be better. There’s too much at stake not to.

If you or a loved one are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website here. You are not alone.

Real Me vs. Depressed Me

This past two weeks have been amazing. My demeanor has changed. My mood has lifted. And I’m able to do things that were near impossible before. The ECT treatment I had two weeks ago must have been a good one. I’ve seen a glimpse of my authentic self, who wants so badly to be set free from wherever she goes when a depressive episode hits. Before this past ECT, I was suicidal. I was unbelievably sad and anxious. I thought I was doing OK but I can see now that I wasn’t.

I didn’t recognize this feeling of joy and happiness, and I can’t tell you the last time I felt it either. I’m more familiar with “Depressed Me,” a slower, sadder, less efficient version of me, riddled with depression symptoms, who seems to be the reigning champion of my brain. But now that I am feeling happy and I see the “Real Me,” I’m going to fight tooth and nail for it. I refuse to go down without a fight. How I’m feeling and what I’m able to do right now — that’s worth fighting for.

In the mornings, I don’t immediately feel weighed down and already exhausted before even starting my day. I have energy and am excited about the day. The chores and tasks I absolutely have to get done don’t seem so taxing and annoying. Showering is now relaxing and not a daunting chore I’d put off for days (yes, days!). I don’t feel the need to stuff with my face with food that I don’t want or need, which is a battle for most everyone. I’m more cheerful and attentive to my kids. The Real Me is kind of a badass.

I could name so many more examples. I don’t know if it was the last ECT. I don’t know if it was a new medication I started the same day as my last ECT. I don’t know how long this will last, but again, I gotta make hay while the sun shines. And I have to fight.

Fighting looks like me not solely depending on my medication and ECT treatments. It means exercising, going to bed early, eating healthily, keeping a strict routine and reaching out the minute I feel like things are slipping. It sounds like a lot, or maybe it doesn’t, but I’m done with my rebellious, depressed part of me that refuses to comply with even the simplest of instructions.

When I’m not handicapped by severe depression, I’m so powerful. I radiate love and happiness. My writing flows onto paper, because my words are powerful, too. I utilize my limitless ability to care for my loved ones. I’m able to reach my full potential, instead of being a shadow or fraction of my true self. Like the phoenix, I am rising and there’s not a whole lot that can stop me.

Here are some examples of what the Real Me versus the Depressed Me are like:

The Real Me exercises, reaches out to friends, eats healthy foods, writes/blogs, goes outside, puts the TV remote down, reads for pleasure, sings all day (to the point where her family complains), cooks, bakes, showers, brushes her teeth, laughs loudly, plays with her kids even more, styles her hair, gets massages (or goes to any self-care appointment).

Depressed Me sleeps more, watches TV until having to get the kids, endlessly scrolls social media, gets in bed until she absolutely has to move, doesn’t shower, blows off doctors appointments, gives into sadness/anxiety, doesn’t smile as much, has a short fuse, is impatient and more.

Depressed Me goes to sleep at night because she can’t stand to be awake one second longer than she has to. She’s judgmental and mean about her appearance and body.

The Real Me looks forward to the future but enjoys the present.

I’m certainly enjoying right now, and although I’m cautious about the future, my outlook is finally optimistic.

As I’m writing this, I’m hoping that you don’t get the wrong idea about Depressed Me. While I would love not to experience depression and anxiety, I respect Depressed Me. She fights hard and doesn’t give into her suicidal thoughts. She’s a fighter. She’s scrappy. She has grit, and without her efforts, the Real Me wouldn’t appreciate what it’s like to be happy.

For that, I’m grateful.

To learn more about major depression and signs of depression, visit the National Alliance on Mental Illness website.

If you or a loved one is experiencing suicidal thoughts, please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit the website here.