Why I Really Intensely Want to Talk About My Depression

Since starting this blog I’ve written three posts that specifically address my depression, referenced it a few times and Tweeted about it quite a lot. The truth is that for every time I’ve mentioned my depression on my blog or Twitter there have been been like fifty other times I’ve wanted to bring it up. Almost every time I’ve wanted to bring it up I’ve quickly shut myself down. Quite honestly I was afraid of being seen as a whiner or a complainer who was trying to get sympathy for myself. (There’s a very strong part of my identity that’s pure Vermont Yankee who would rather suffer with a stiff face then admit to any turmoil or pain.)

But there are times when I’ve let my Yankee facade down and talked about my depression online and I’m a bit confused as to why. Rather, I was a bit confused because after a few days of contemplation (read: several hours on public transit between Northern Vermont and Amherst, Massachusetts) I think I’ve discovered a new knowledge about my relationship with depression and why I’ve felt strange urges to publicly talk about.

I grew up hearing that depression was natural, that it wasn’t taboo or strange. At home and at school I was told that mental illness wasn’t supposed to be stigmatized and that with support depressed people could work through their pain. Nice but not very useful since I was given very one dimensional descriptions of what depression actually was. Oh sure, it was feeling sad and whatnot but when examples were given they were so extreme and tended to follow the same linear pattern. First a person had some sort of traumatic event (Death of loved one, extreme bullying, shark biting off arm) and then they were very depressed (Self-harming, hospitalized, basically catatonic) and then someone (Friend, professional, fairy godparent) helped them and they were fine. A to B to C and home in time for supper.

When I began to experience depression (A time that I date to around age 12, if not earlier) my depression wasn’t caused by one specific event. On the whole my childhood was quite nice and if I had a slightly different brain chemistry or something I wouldn’t have become depressed. My depression also didn’t look like the depression that I heard about. There were no books I could find or class talks held that described feeling general self-hatred, anxiety, pain, the ability to go from happy to crushingly sad in the same time that it takes a Kobayashi to eat a hotdog. When my depression started I simply couldn’t recognize it. And that really, really sucks.

It wasn’t until I was around sixteen that I realized that I had something going on that needed a professional’s help. Even then I didn’t want to admit that I was depressed. I had accidentally learned that depression had to be caused by trauma and to claim I was depressed when there was no obvious cause felt like weakness or asking for attention. I’ve been through three kick-ass counselors and one amazing psychiatrist in the past four years and with each of them I’ve said something along the lines of, “But I’m not depressed. I’m just being a whiny little baby.” Their replies were supportive and made a point of telling me that I was wrong (Though in therapy speak. They didn’t just go, “You’re WRONG, Samuel.”) All of their help was wonderful but we were trying to overcome more than a decade of me telling myself that I couldn’t have depression because it didn’t fit with my model of what depression was.

I wish I had been exposed to a greater representation of how depression can manifest itself and what can cause it. I hope this doesn’t sound like I’m blaming the adults in my life for teaching me a limited version of depression because I hold no ill will towards them. The issue is that there isn’t a varied representation of depression out there. That’s why I want to share my personal experiences with depression.

Depression is awful no matter the form it takes but not being able to recognize your depression because your mind has only one model makes it all the harder to begin to treat it. This is why I get so excited when I see people with depression taking their stories to a public forum. It’s damned important for these stories to be shared and I beg all people with a history of depression who are at a place where they can talk about their experiences to please do so. We need to make the public aware of all the various types of depression that exist (I suspect that this is something that would be useful to many other mental illnesses or disorders but I only feel comfortable talking from the point of view as someone with depression.)

I wish, I truly wish that I had been exposed to more people’s stories when I was growing up. The trouble is that I can’t go back in time and teach pre-teen Samuel that his depression is valid and real. What I can do is share my own stories in an effort to help the pre-teen Samuels who are here now and who will come in the future.

16 responses to “Why I Really Intensely Want to Talk About My Depression

  1. Josh Carpenter Ph.D.

    Depression is scary shit at any age and stage. Besides feeling out of control, I could not pin point the etiology of my depressive episodes for a long time. At least now, I can admit I get depressed without feeling whiney or guilty. A mentor and wise man told me “it will happen” – and you know what? It does….

  2. Samuel, I know I’m yelling across the living room about how I’m glad you posted this, but I wanted to reiterate it here. I’m going to do a similar post on my blog Dammit, similar is spelled weird. I hope you and I both get a positive response and not the usual, “Oh, it’ll all be okay eventually; just work through it.”

  3. I had a similar experience. I had no idea I was depressed for years – I thought there was something wrong with me. Why was I so crushingly SAD all the time? Even when happy things were happening? When I was actually diagnosed, I cried. Not because I was upset – because I was happy someone finally SOLVED it. There was a NAME for it. And no one was ever allowed to say, “Just CHEER UP already!” to me. (Well, they do, but I yell at them.)

    This is a great post. I agree – it’s important we talk about it, for each other and for people who don’t know what they’re dealing with.

    • Oh I despise being told to BE HAPPY FOR ONCE. All that time spent telling people to be happy could be put to better use by having discussions about depression and people, you know, listening to people’s experiences.

  4. I ran into the same thing. Suffering from depression at an early age, not naming it, but even when named, not having anything other than a very slippery definition of what it was and what to do. However, I’m at least now trying to do my little bit. I don’t blog about it much, but I do work in a group home for folks with MI, and now am waiting back to hear if I got accepted into a certified peer specialist program through my state, for which one of the requirements is to have a mental illness and be willing to talk about it. Changing maybe a small part of the universe 🙂

  5. Samuel – there are lots of us out there who are writing about depression and trying to reduce stigma. It’s a great thing to do for yourself and for others. I wrote a 6-part series a couple of years ago. It starts here if you’re interested: http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=2886737049184020992#editor/target=post;postID=3791510931558841917
    The more I talk about it, the less of a hold it seems to have on me. Good like with your journey!

  6. Came by way of The Belle Jar, via her Facebook post. And I’m so glad that I did. It’s nice to meet you, Samuel; I’m looking forward to visiting your other blog too, of your art. Peace, and love to You.

  7. I also came by way of the Belle Jar. I want to say that I’ve also dealt with depression most of my life. My father’s one of those typical Italian men who don’t talk about their feelings or acknowledge that depression exists, but he’s got it pretty bad himself, and I sort of wound up being the same way. Your story is really touching in that way. A lot of what you described is what I experienced. What I mean to say is that, despite the awful circumstances – depression is a terrible, terrible beast without a vorpal blade to slay snicker-snack – it’s always good to find that you’re not alone. Keep talking about it! It’s *so* important that it’s not stigmatized anymore. And don’t let anyone give you any shit for talking about your feelings.

  8. I also found you via The Bell Jar’s fb post, and I’m really happy I found your blog. Dealing with mental health issues is a scary, difficult, and often isolating thing, and it takes a lot of courage to talk about it in such a public forum. It can also be liberating, encouraging, and can offer support to so many people who need it 🙂
    I’ve dealt with depression and different times in my life, and I grew up in a family where we all suffered from depression but didn’t talk about it much because there were more pressing mental health issues to work with in regards to one of my siblings. Giving a voice to what’s going on inside of us though, and recognizing that it’s not our fault is such an important process, and I’m glad you’re willing to put yourself out there and open up that dialogue.
    I look forward to reading more of your blog in the future 🙂

  9. A friend sent me to your link this morning and I wanted to tell you how elated it made me to read this. I hope that doesn’t sound condescending, but I, too, have suffered from depression since I was 11 or 12, which set me on a course of self-destruction borne from the inherent belief that I was losing my mind and, thus, unlovable (because of the social stigmas placed on mental illness and the resulting ignorance of everyone around me that caused me to not get the treatment I need.) I’m currently working full time to write a book about my specific experience, with the message in mind that I am not unique. My story of self-destruction, feeling alone while suffering symptoms of depression-based insanity, and hospitalization aren’t something that only a few special people experience; it is everywhere and the social vocabulary needs, desperately, to change if we are going to start treating it aggressively. Reading that hearing others’ stories would have helped you, too, gives me the confidence I need to keep writing today. Thank you for that. And thank you also for having the brass tits needed to 1) fight through your demons and 2) loudly talk about it. We get maligned a lot for calling attention to what many believe is a fabricated illness, and it is encouraging to me to see others fighting for the social acceptance I want, too.
    Thank you.

  10. My early conception of depression, funnily enough, was the exact opposite of yours. I thought depression, by definition, *couldn’t* have been caused by trauma. Sadness from trauma was grief, which was normal; depression was sadness with no particular cause. I think that kept me from recognizing my state senior year, after that business with Scott and Peter, as depression: I kept insisting to myself that I was just grieving and there was nothing pathological about it, that I’d be better *next* week.

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