On depression: three years later

Or, well, actually, four. Let me explain.

This is the draft of a blog post that I have kept in the notes app on my iMac for a year but never posted. I recently stumbled across it again, and although it is unfinished I feel like it is good enough to post. It ends rather abruptly, but I felt like it would be wrong to add an ending to it an entire year later. I hope you still find it worth reading.

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Yes, lets bring that up again! I has been way too long since I made things awkward around here by talking about mental health. Also, hello to new readers who weren’t around for this three years ago. You can visit these posts to get yourself up to speed:

This time of year marks three years (note from December 2017: it’s four) since I ended my treatment for depression. It is a weird anniversary for me because on one hand I am super happy about having been healthy and reasonably happy for so long, but on the other hand I don’t want to see it as some great achievement who will turn into a personal failure if I should ever get a relapse.

 

Has it been easy? Hell no. Life can be hard and adulting is hard and there have been times that were genuinely challenging. I have been exhausted and I have cried in doctors offices (some of them have been nice and some have been massively condescending), but overall I am doing very well. Mental health is not a binary thing where you’re either sick or healthy, but rather a spectrum where you can be in some pretty deep shit and feel awful for a long time without actually being sick.

 

Does being public about having been depressed worry me? Not really. Some people might be dicks about it, but those people will always find a reason to be dicks. Has it made any of my personal relationships turn weird? Yes and no. It has lowered my threshold for bullshit, and I have much less trouble cutting contact with people who have a negative influence on my life. The people close to me know and care the appropriate amount.

 

I don’t really bring it up in conversation myself, mostly because most people aren’t comfortable talking about it but also because you never know what their biases and misconceptions are. I might say “I used to have depression” and what you hear could be «I had a mental illness but I sought treatment and I’m fine now”, or you could hear “I have a weak personality and I can’t really be trusted with anything significant because I’m a fragile butterfly who probably cries all day and also I’m lazy”.

 

Sidenote: My pet peeve is people who brag about never being sick. You know, the ones who talk about never having missed a single day of work in their lives. Like, wow, gold stars and brownie points for you, much employee, very achieve? Let me present you with this self-congratulatory dickhead award with a special ribbon for having lucked out with your awesome genes. Is what I tell them inside my head while I smile and nod and change the subject.

(Rant over.)

 

I know there are people who regard my depression as a weakness, who think I’m weak or fragile or somehow less than them for not only having been sick but also having sought treatment for it. I also know there are people who look down on me for having been open about it. Like it’s some kind of self-indulgent oversharing on my part that I should have kept to myself because really, Jesus, how embarrassing for me, right? Not to my face of course, but you can tell by their vibe as soon as the topic is brought up. There will be glances or smirks or the way they choose to word themselves.

 

I have no qualms taking a sick day for mental health. Let me explain: People will often say that unless they have a fever or are vomiting their guts out they won’t miss work – well, I have added “very large possibility of crying in the office” to that list. And this is where I feel the need to clarify again, because I know there are people out there who will misunderstand me on purpose: I’m not saying that I would take a sick day if I feel a bit sad or tired or would rather watch Netflix. I am saying that if I feel like I will literally break down into a proper uncontrollable ugly cry in the office then I will stay at home instead. That one sick day could keep me from having to take a whole week off later down the road.

 

I know several people who have been depressed who later tell me that they feel like their pre-treatment self was a completely different person whom they can no longer relate to. I don’t feel the same way. I’m no longer the same person, but I dont view depression as some weird temporary personality trait. I have learned how to navigate life to stay healthy and happy, and I don’t take my health for granted. I still meditate. I still make sure not to overload myself with plans and commitments. I will let people know if I’m going through a rough patch so that they know why I might take a bit longer responding to messages or why I forgot to return that e-mail or why I didn’t jump at the chance to lead that project or missed that birthday party. I feel like this is something we should all be doing, anyway.

 

Not everything is all bunnies and roses, though. Of course not. I realize that having been through this and come out a healthier and happier person on the other side has made me uncharmingly impatient with people who are experiencing this for the first time. I will wax lyrical about how awesome treatment is and how much help I got and about how much better life will be once they get help, and will often forget how difficult it was to take that step, or to even admit to yourself that it is something you need to do. That when I say «just do X, Y and Z» you might be terrified of X, deeply embarrassed about Y and could lose support from your family and friends over Z. That some doctors and therapists will be assholes. That some people feel deeply ashamed about needing treatment for mental health problems. That some people can’t bear the thought of discussing their personal lives with a healthcare professional. That some will start treatment and then quit. That some people think they couldn’t possibly be helped, let alone be treated, because they think this is just who they are. The generational differences are massive, and people older than me have grown up with a much heavier stigma and find seeking treatment completely unthinkable. I get really eager sometimes trying to help, but I am afraid it can come across as insensitive. I try not to be.

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So why did I feel uncomfortable writing a “proper” ending to this post? The answer is that I had another bout of depression this winter, so continuing writing about my life post-depression would feel untruthful. I sought treatment and I’m doing fine, and I still thought this could be a text worth sharing. Instead I wrote a different post where I try to explain what depression actually feels like. I will post it in a few more days.

4 thoughts on “On depression: three years later

  1. Thanks so much for sharing this. As someone who has had depression a few times in the past I find it really well explained.

  2. Your rant about people who brag about never being sick is something I can relate to so much! I also really relate to the complete spectrum of reactions people can react with when you tell them you are being treated for depression. Some people (in my experience, generally people who have had mental health issues or are close to someone who has) will react in a positive way, i.e. “You realised you were unwell and are taking steps to fix that, go you!”; others will react more along the lines of “Oh you must be a particularly weak special snowflake, I will handle you with my most condescending kid gloves for ever and always”. Recovery can be such an unpredictable roller-coaster of ups and downs, and knowing that others are experiencing the same thing can make things that little bit brighter, so thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you for the lovely comment, Bonnie. Having experienced this a couple of times now it does seem that recovery gets easier every time. I learn what works and what doesn’t, and the guilt that I experienced the first time (for being sick/not having energy/having to take time off from work/having to inconvenience people with me being ill) takes up less and less space in my consciousness. Or, well, it’s there, but now I recognize it as yet another symptom of the depression. I’m also much better at spotting the warning signs now, which means I can take steps to get better at a much earlier stage. And also: big hugs! I hope you feel better soon.

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