People strongly associate me with a few things. Taco Bell, makeup, soups, the inability to make it through a day without embarrassing myself, and… depression.
People approach me about mental health sometimes – questions about therapy or medications or just not to feel so alone. I was diagnosed with anxiety as an early teen and depression as a young adult and I’ve struggled terribly in my 30s with regulating the highs and lows of my moods. Mental health is not something that I was raised to be ashamed about and I’m so grateful because I don’t think most people grow up that way. I owe most of that to a father who is open about his mental health and proactive in treating it and a mother who loves and supports unconditionally.
I’m not a mental health expert, but the reality is that I have dealt with these conditions for more than half of my life and I know that I will probably be treating them forever.
I have a great life and I consider myself to be a happy person, but I also have depression and I’m not ashamed.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Week, I thought I would offer up some insight on what it is like to live with depression. I’d mostly like to talk to the people who feel helpless as their loved ones struggle with depression.
Your help often hurts.
This is the hardest sentence to write, but it is probably the most important thing I can tell you. I am surrounded by so many loving people who support me and I would never ever want to belittle or sound ungrateful for that. But the reality is that sometimes well-meaning advice is hurtful.
“Have you tried yoga? Vitamins? Chiropractors? Behavioral therapy? Going outside more? Praying? Eating healthy foods? Just faking it ‘til you make it? Being busier? Essential oils? CBD oil? Taking it easier? Less time on social media? Going out with friends more? Spending more time with your family?”
I’ve gotten all of those suggestions. People give me suggestions because they love me or they have found relief with a certain method. And I love them for caring. But what isn’t acknowledged is that with every new suggestion comes the silent inference that if you would only try a little harder, you could be cured. If only you tried more things. If only you wanted it more.
After one incident of well-meaning advice, I burst into tears. I had been regularly doing ALL of the things that were suggested to me, along with seeing my mental health providers. I was eating healthy foods and walking outside and doing yoga. WHY wasn’t I feeling better? What was wrong with me that I couldn’t find relief from depression when my friend’s cousin felt completely better after taking fish oil? Did I not want it enough?
Your loving advice isn’t always the wake-up call that someone needed. Many of us with depression are in the phase where we are either desperate to be cured or trying to accept the reality of a lifelong fight with depression. In both cases, we’re vulnerable. And many of us are so soul-achingly tired of being depressed that we’ve done yoga, gone to therapy, read self-help books, taken vitamins, taken psychiatric medicines, and prayed and prayed. And we’ve found some relief, but it’s not gone. Here’s my second-most important sentence: depression is complicated. It’s not a simple fix, or maybe it was for a few months, but its back again. That’s the most frustrating part: it’s complicated and individual and can ebb and flow on its own. And we know it hurts the people we love to see us be depressed.
And I also know how hard it is to watch a loved one suffer with something so inexplicable. I know how draining and hard it is. I can’t tell you how to help the person in your life with depression, but I can tell you about times that I felt helped.
My husband, who held me when I cried and said “I love every single part of you.” My mom, who would drop everything to drive to me in the middle of the night. My dad, who knows what it is like, and gave me a model to look up to and accepted me without judgment. My loved ones who checked in, who sent me funny things, who asked my advice, who treated me like I wasn’t broken. My loved ones who unflinchingly saw through the person with suicidal thoughts and frightening mood swings and still saw the person who loves Taco Bell. The person who loves makeup. The person who can’t stop making soups. The person who embarrasses herself every single day. The person who loves them desperately.
And I will be grateful to them for the rest of my life.