I’ve appreciated all the support I’ve gotten since I published “Finding My Voice Again” earlier this month. I want to answer a few questions and make a few clarifications, continuing the dialog about mental health since the whole of October is designated Mental Health Awareness Month.
The depression I wrote about happened in 2012. For me, depression is not a “one and done” thing. It is something that I deal at irregular intervals as things go out of balance, for whatever reasons. I’ve spent the last few months dealing with another round of depression and am just coming out the other side. You might have noticed the lack of new posts since July or so, and depression was the reason why. Some of my episodes are small but still disabling; others are longer and deeper and I need outside help to climb out of the pit. I tried to write how this feels, but it turns out someone on Facebook already did, so here’s a bit of what they shared:
“Getting up everyday participating in life, doing things that you normally do isn’t always a sign that you are not suffering. Depression isn’t always crying, nor is always the hiding in bathroom to cry and walking out with a smile. Depression has many faces… I am without the spark I usually have and my excitement about life and the future isn’t shining bright right now… My depression is not about what it looks like on the outside. It’s about what it feels like on the inside. And that’s the difference that people need to understand.” (Courtesy, Sue Morton, Braving Life Authentically on Facebook)
To stay level, I use a combination of writing therapy, physical exercise (oh, those lovely endorphins), and staying in touch with people. Being outdoors helps, as does light: sunshine or bright lights in the winter evenings both work. Being engaged with the world, whether it’s creative pursuits, contract work, hanging out with friends, or just talking on the phone with people is a huge help. And it’s also a huge challenge for me as a vagabond. It’s not like I can call up a friend and meet up for coffee. I’m learning to reach out, to dive into my contacts on the phone and call someone, but part of me still feels it’s a weakness to ask for help. I know, I know, it’s not. I keep telling myself that and someday I’ll listen.
Some people commented on finding a therapist. It was a nerve-wracking process because I had to be honest and admit I was struggling and share things I hadn’t even told my closest friends. Interviewing three of them turned out to be the right number for me simply because the third one was the person I clicked with. It might take four or six or one for someone else. The point is to find someone you can relate to and trust to work with you on getting better. And, to share my friend Beth’s advice, don’t make the therapist your friend. They are there to help you, to guide you, and not to be your bestie.
The opposite of depression isn’t “being happy” it’s being resilient enough to go through daily life without crashing and burning. It’s being able to find the joy in life, whether it’s a beautiful flower on a walk or a humpback whale showing flukes on a dive or a kid dancing in the grocery store to their favorite song. It’s getting up in the morning and looking forward to the day, instead of counting the hours till bedtime and being able to let go of the struggle for the night.
On this, the last day of Mental Health Awareness month, I wish I had some brilliant words to share about how to manage depression. I wish I had a magic wand to wave depression away forever for those of us who deal with it, whether as a constant or an intermittent companion. Most of all, I wish we will all be understanding and accepting and supportive of each other, whatever shape we’re in.
So sometimes one has simply to endure a period of depression for what it may hold of illumination if one can live through it, attentive to what it exposes or demands.
May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude