Tag Archives: Mental Health

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.

The Privilege In My Depression

This post will contain some real-talk about depression, specifically my depression. If that makes you uncomfortable then… don’t read this…

My depression has been with me for as long as I can remember. Childhood memories, every photo, all are touched by my ravenous pet. Perhaps I’m projecting my recent emotions onto my past but I can’t help believing this reality. It’s easier for me to accept a depression that I was born with, a genetic quirk that I can treat with prescription medications, than to think of it as caused by something in the past few years that’ll need years of therapy to exorcise.

At its weakest my depression is a terrible imaginary friend whispering degrading comments in my ear from when I wake up to when I sleep. At its worst, well today I’m going strong and would rather not dwell on my darker days.

The spectrum between my two extremes is volatile and can change by the hour (though my medication does help to keep me at a level emotional footing.) I can drop from Maria von Trapp-levels of joy to a skulking Gollum with ease. Some days I walk around with a vile monkey on my back that pulls my hair and scratches my skin. At times I wander through my day asking myself, “Why? Why? Why?” There are mornings where leaving my bed makes me flail my limbs around in anger and frustration, which only increases the anger I feel towards myself.

My biggest breakthrough in the past few months occurred last week when I realized, “I have Privilege.”

I am a white, cis-male (I don’t always present as my gender is expected to but I can butch it up if needed) who is financially stable. There are self-care measures that help and I can do them. I have the privilege of being able to go to a coffee shop for a decaf coffee and a blueberry muffin. I can watch episodes of Deep Space 9 while hiding in my bed with a mug of Earl Grey. If I need to take a three-hour walk I can. Not only this but because I still qualify to use my parents’ health insurance (also- having parents with health insurance) so I’ve been able to afford medications, counselors, even a psychiatrist.

It used to be that this sort of thought would make my depression worse. I know my pain is my pain and the fact that many people are less-privileged than me does not invalidate my condition, but try telling my depression that. What helped me move past this was the recognition of my other privileges.

As a cisgender, white dude society seems to like hearing me speak. I can use this voice for raising general awareness of depression but I think that area is white and cis. enough. Don’t worry, I have no intention of speaking for non-white and not cis. people. What I can do is use my voice to direct attention away from me and to programs and causes that make the mental health advocacy more diverse, more representative of those of us who need help.

Adopting this mindset hasn’t cured my depression. What it has done is given me a lifeline to cling to: I can do something. “Do” is the important word in that previous sentence. No matter how nice a sentiment is what I really need is an action, work that I can do, movements that I can take.

It’s not too late to get involved with Missive March Madness, my month of letter writing. And by “not too late” I mean that I don’t have 31 volunteers yet. More information in this post.