CW: suicide and depression
A few months ago, I posted the following status update on social media.
Okay. This is going to be a long one so let’s get the TLDR out of the way: get help when you need it. You don’t have to wait until it’s an emergency.
Earlier this month, I shared that my black dog (depression) was back. But what I didn’t say was that he had been back for a while. He’d been hanging out on my front porch, as a friend said, for weeks, if not months. For years, I’ve been seeing my psychiatrist twice a year for refills and a very brief check-in, and my last appointment before yesterday was seven months ago. I knew then that I needed more help. I didn’t ask for it. Why?
Because I haven’t had to have a dosage adjustment in nine years. For nine years, I have managed my depression and I have gotten used to ignoring it. I was proud that I didn’t have to think about it and I got defensive of my status as a “cured” person. For at least seven months, I let it fester. I hid my feelings from the people who love me the most, from my family, my friends, my coworkers.
Until the dam broke.
After the holidays, I was physically exhausted from all our travel and the stress of being “on” for days on end. I could feel my depression growing but I wanted it to be situational. I waited another few months, thinking it could just be the natural let-down after a busy season. But it didn’t go away. It didn’t disappear. It grew. It got louder and meaner. And I had to use more and more energy to pretend to be okay.
By the time I shared here that I was not quite okay, I was nearly drowning. But my life rafts were plentiful. My family stepped in, my friends checked in often and made sure I stayed busy and left the house. And I made it to my appointment yesterday.
Medication isn’t magic, and I am not cured, nor will I ever be. But in a few weeks, as my body adjusts to my new dosage and my brain shuts the hell up, I’ll go back into depression remission and feel like myself again.
Until then, I’ll keep busy, I’ll lean on my support system and I’ll remind myself that it’s okay not to be okay. And I won’t hide from this. Because sadness feeds on isolation and fear. I will be vulnerable, and I will be okay.
If you’re in pain right now, don’t wait another day to reach out. I’m here. We can find resources. We can get you help. We need you here.
It was a scary moment, being vulnerable in real time, but my friends and family immediately surrounded me with compassion, love and accountability, making sure I took the steps to maintain my mental health.
They treated my depression like the disease it is and offered practical, grounded advice, stacked my calendar so I couldn’t burrow into my bed and refuse to come out, and most of all, they showed through action that they believed me and that they believed in me.
But there was one refrain I heard over and over: I never would have known!
And that’s the problem with depression. It doesn’t always come with a proclamation, a parade or even a smoke signal. Sometimes, it sneaks in and you try to hide it. You bury it deep and pretend everything is okay even when, especially when, it’s not. And if you can hide it, you don’t have to deal with it. And if you don’t deal with it, it gets worse.
But why am I writing about this now? Why expose myself in this way?
Because this week, we lost two celebrities to mental illness. Two outwardly successful, charming and talented individuals died and left tidal waves of grief and confusion in their wake. From the outside, their lives were perfect. From the outside, they had all the reasons in the world to be “happy.” But they were people and people are complicated. People are secretive. And people have undiagnosed or untreated mental illness.
This week and every week check in with your loved ones, even the ones who seem fine, especially the ones who take on the problems of the world and absolutely the ones who spend their time and energy supporting others.
So often, it is the caregivers that seem fine . . . until they’re not. Today, I challenge you, and myself, to reach out to the people who have taken care of you when you needed it. Check in on your loved ones and hold one another close. You never know whose life you saved just by being you.
If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/talk-to-someone-now/
Image: Flower of Blood, 1895, by Odilon Redon