To this day, we still don’t like to talk about mental illness. We’ve gotten a lot better, for sure, but it’s still seen as a defect, character weakness or the potential to do harm. We are scared of it, we are scared of those with it, we don’t really want to know about it.
The truth is, having any mental illness is just as blameless as having diabetes or asthma. Just because the disorder is happening in the brain doesn’t mean the person asked for it in any way or has any type of control over it. Yes, it can and should be managed, much like other health conditions. But to suggest someone with a mental illness is somehow inferior is just so unfair.
We don’t know what causes it and we don’t know how to treat it. We have a lot of theories and we have a lot of medications and treatments, but these are all just a bunch of educated guesses.
Depression is a mental illness that often happens quietly, behind closed doors.
It’s hard to tell it’s going on and it’s difficult to interpret. More troubling is the fact that it often manifests as a change in behavior. This is often why we blame the person for their illness or even fear them. But we need to have compassion. Being depressed may just be one of the most painful experiences in human existence.
I was depressed toward the end of my marriage. It started after we had finalized custody for my stepdaughter. During that year, I had discovered that she had been sexually abused. We had also adopted a new puppy and kitten, making our pet count a total of three. So I now had three children and three pets. My then-husband worked very long hours, so we only saw him about two days a week. I was a stay-at-home mom and I had no family in the area. The closest family was thousands of miles away. I had lost most of my close friends to new jobs or relocations. I was overwhelmed and isolated.
To top it off, my marriage was awful. Years of reading books and going to therapy had done little to improve it. He acted like he was supportive but he mostly ignored me. I was responsible for absolutely everything and completely alone.
As I slipped into depression, it was slow and insidious.
I began to lose energy and focus. I started getting sick frequently and had increasing physical pain. I was also diagnosed with an incurable, chronic and potentially life-threatening disease. That didn’t help with my sense of hope for the future.
I tried to fight off my sense of hopelessness with the knowledge that my children needed me. But that slowly eroded as my sense of value to them and my sense of contribution to the world began to erode as well. It wasn’t long before I began to believe that I wasn’t of any value to anyone. That’s where the real darkness begins.
Depression is the loneliest and darkest place a person can ever go.
You believe that you have no value. You believe that you are a burden to everyone, including your children. You believe that you have not (nor ever will) contributed to the world. And eventually, if it gets too far, you believe that everyone would be better off without you. You would be doing them a favor if you quietly slipped away.
It’s important to understand the thought processes of depression.
I have seen the accusation that depressed people are selfish. That is so untrue. Depressed people are not selfish. They do think of others. They just happen to wrongly believe that others do not need or want them. They come to believe that they no longer have a place anywhere in the world. They are in terrible, excruciating pain.
Your thought processes are skewed. You simply are not thinking clearly. It’s not your fault. Your brain is just not working the way it’s meant to. Once it gets back in balance, you will have the ability to feel happy again. To feel peace, contentment and purpose. You’ve got to commit to putting one foot in front of the other long enough to get some help and see the results. You can beat this.
If you know someone who is depressed, don’t blame them. It’s not their fault.
You need to understand that they are suffering tremendously right now and they need your compassion. Get them help. They need help to get out of the dark hole of pain that they are currently stuck in.
Let’s keep the dialogue honest and open about depression.
It’s not a character flaw or personal weakness. It’s an illness like any other. We don’t berate people for getting the flu. Let’s keep mental illness on that same level. Destigmatize depression and those who are struggling with it can talk more about it and get the help they need. This benefits everybody. You never know which of your loved ones might need this kind of support one day. For those of you reading that are depressed or believe you may be depressed, remember this most of all:
You are not alone.
Have you ever suffered from mental illness? Anyone in your family? What were your experiences?