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.