Being Depressed is Being Human

How many times have you heard people say ‘I’m depressed’. The expression is casually bandied around as an everyday term for being fed up. Yet when someone is genuinely depressed – the sort that really affects your life, the one that is associated with the term ‘mental health’ – everyone runs for the hills. The stigma is always there – but why? A quarter of the population suffer some form of mental illness during the course of a year and yet this subject is still taboo.

IT’S NATURAL

depressionIt is only natural to be overwhelmed by the pressures of everyday life sometimes – a bereavement, divorce, job loss, outside pressures, miscarriage, caring for a disabled child or spouse – any one of these could tip the balance and some people have to deal with several issues all at once. It’s no wonder cracks appear in our wellbeing and once the process starts, it’s not easy to stop it. You may have got through those life-changing events – or so you thought – and then something minor happens that finishes you off and you’re left feeling weak and ashamed for being down and you withdraw. You shouldn’t feel ashamed – depression is not a sign of weakness. It means that you have been strong for far too long.

IT CAN HAPPEN TO ANYONE

It took a lot of courage for me to publish my first short story collection – putting it out there at the risk of bad reviews and ridicule. However, it’s taken far more guts for me to publish this post. It was only after hearing pop rapper Professor Green open up to the world about mental health in men, that gave me the courage to print this. He was so right that if we can remove the stigma and encourage people, of all ages, to talk about their problems, it will reduce the number of suicides and health issues. How many celebrities have recently killed themselves? They had it all, right? Wrong! No one is immune to anxiety and depression.

I experienced depression in my early 20s. Things happened in my childhood and I rushed into marriage to escape, but that ended in a nasty divorce soon after and then I lost my job. My life was a mess and I felt alone and I felt a failure. I shut myself away and sunk into a deep hole of depression. I didn’t want to be like that, I was angry with myself for being weak, when I’d always thought I was strong. I hated feeling that way. It was like being at the bottom of a well. I could see the glimmer of light at the top, but there was no ladder to help me get there, but I wanted to get there and so I accepted some help.

I went to regular counselling groups and I remember one of the nurses telling me that I was lucky to be there, because not everybody got the help they needed. It was some years later that I was able to appreciate what she said that day.

GROUP SESSIONS MADE ME STRONGER

I didn’t open up much, but listening to other people’s stories and helping them, helped me. I felt part of a caring family and nobody was crazy – just ordinary people suffering sad things in their lives. These people needed compassion and love, not to be stigmatised and to feel ashamed.

As I healed inside, I became a stronger person and have since coped with far worse than the events that had led me down my well. Then some 20 years later I was having a glass of wine with a ‘friend’, called Tracey. She confessed that she wished she’d married her old boyfriend because he was rich and she was fed up with her husband and contemplating divorce. I explained that divorce wasn’t easy and confessed that my own divorce had led to depression and she should think twice.

The next day, while doing the school pick-up, I was sure I was getting funny looks from the other mums, but shrugged it off. Then I went to visit my best friend, who childminded Tracey’s son (even though Tracey didn’t work). My friend said that she was sorry, but I couldn’t visit anymore, when she had the boy. Tracey had made it clear that if my friend let me anywhere near her son, she would stop using her services. So not only was I labelled the village nutcase who should be kept away from children (despite having my own) and for something that happened 20 years earlier, I had lost my friend. I have never talked about my depression ever since – until now.

The stigma has to stop. The ignorance has to stop. People need support not labels, and it could be you next. Nobody knows what’s round the corner, nor what will be their breaking point and everybody has one. So next time you come across this subject, act with kindness not criticism.

A useful article: 3 Major Causes of Depression and How to Heal without Meds

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3 comments

  1. Carol Fragale Brill says:

    Helena and Chiara, thank you for opening this discussion and sharing your personal experience with depression. I believe admitting there’s a problem and getting help is a sign of strength. Just like your honesty here, it shows courage

  2. beautythroughthebeast says:

    Helena, I honor the courage it took you to write this entry. A few months after being diagnosed with cancer, and having a daily battle with my live-in boyfriend, a friend recommended I see a psychiatrist, to maybe get some help with my anxiety and even maybe depression. I thought, would I benefit? I was willing to try. Certainly, my return from a year in Florence studying to get my Master’s degree only to return to find my father in hospice, and after his death, finding a lump in my breast, while my live-in boyfriend seemed too bothered by my neediness, was probably cause for an evaluation! The psychiatrist started me on low doses, and as soon as I told her I was feeling better, she said d”great. let’s up the dose a little, and tell me how you feel!” I followed her direction and am happy I did, because it helped me cope. At first, I fell prey to the stigma, that something was “wrong” with my brain, but that was me judging myself. Soon, I turned it around, and realized if it weren’t for those meds, I’d return to weeping daily, and that was no fun. I’m still on the meds, and plan on staying on until I am done with reconstruction. I agree, no one is immune form depression; it can be genetic or just circumstantial. Better to seek help that go it alone.

    • Helena Johnson says:

      Hi Chiara, sorry to hear about your troubles, it’s a lot to cope with and I’m glad you had the courage to seek help. It isn’t easy, we expect so much of ourselves and I’m pleased it’s working for you. Whilst medication helps us through those blips, I’m a firm believer that the inner strength that kept us going so long, eventually resurfaces and sees us past it all. Good luck with your surgery. Helena

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