Today I want to talk about my mental health…again. Except this time I will not be specifically speaking to you (how dare I right?). I am speaking to all of those that care to read this.
Specifically, today I want to talk about the worst part of my depression.
The worst part is the numbness.
People that know me (not people that know of my existence but people that know me) know that I am a person that is extremely expressive of my emotions. You know what; it would be fair to say that strangers or acquaintances see this too. I am somebody who is very energetic and who smiles literally all of the time when I’m out in public. When a topic that interests me comes up (Christmas, Disney, Movies, etc.) I can get lost in it and I can ramble on and on with enthusiasm. People know how I’m feeling because on good days I’m very talkative and extra smiley and on bad days I lower my head and keep more to myself.
Only there is a fundamental truth about many people that suffer from depression that almost everyone knows in theory but few people actually think about when having a conversation with those around them. This truth I speak of is that we wear a mask.
I won’t speak in general here because everyone deals with everything differently so I will talk about myself on a personal level.
When I was in high school I hid nothing. I was open and expressive and made it clear to everyone around me that I was depressed and that I was suffering. I didn’t understand the nature of why I was feeling the way I was and the biggest portion of me convinced me that I was faking it for attention and it was just another reason to hate myself and beat myself up. As time went on, however, and as I grew older I became more understanding that somebody who openly displays their depression isn’t greeted with a lot of sympathy and people trying to build you up. Instead you are avoided like a pariah.
People aren’t terrible for not stepping in. I don’t blame others for their lack of help during my time of need and for steering clear of me. Not only was I a bad friend but I also understood why people were so turned off from me because of my depression. If you had never dealt with anyone who has suffered with a mental health issue, if it never affected you in a personal way, the idea of trying to help someone through it can be frustrating and, frankly, scary.
People choosing to avoid someone like that because they don’t know how to help and they don’t want the burden of that on them are not wrong. They have that right and they shouldn’t be made to feel guilty like they should have been the ones to do something. Yes, we need a support system. Yes, sometimes we can’t do it alone. In my case, I absolutely needed at least someone to lean on. However, this is also a very personal battle and the ones I lean on can only help me get a part of the way there.
As I learned that showing my depression was pushing people away I chose to go a different road; wear a mask. This is a tool I use even to this very day. It helps me to survive and get through a day sometimes. I smile and I have pleasant conversation and I make jokes but on the inside I’m fighting something. I try to focus on my job but the thoughts creep in.
One of the hardest parts of depression is knowing that the stigma is more than just a word it’s a very real thing. Everyone wants to believe that they know how to handle someone with mental health issues and they know how to treat them but so many people truly don’t. Even the very well-intended people can go wrong.
A stigma is what makes me smile when I want to cry. A stigma is what keeps me at my desk when I want to go home to my wife and my dog and my couch. A stigma is what makes me feel alone in a crowd of people. Even as I write these words I am fighting back tears and trying to seem like as much of a professional as I can be.
I have a tattoo on my wrist symbolizing my battle with mental illness because I don’t want to hide it. I want it to be a conversation. Yet, it isn’t that simple. I have very understanding superiors that have given me all of the support that I could ask for while I fight this. Many of my coworkers are genuinely nice people that I’m sure would ask how I’m doing if I let my emotions show.
Those well-intended comments such as, “well you know, you have to just look for the good in every situation” or “you’ve got to push past it” or my personal favourite “everything happens for a reason” are almost always more damaging than they are helpful. I believe everything happens for a reason, but when I feel the depth of the emptiness inside of me calling, telling me that this is happening for a reason is only going to make me feel worse. Thoughts such as, that’s true…I must deserve this, begin to creep in.
People trying to be empathetic in saying “Yeah I’ve had some down days too” and proceeding to tell about a similar event don’t understand that empathy for my depression would be knowing that I just need to feel comfortable expressing myself and being given my space without judgement. I don’t need to hear about sad things that happened in someone else’s life or how they think they understand what I’m going through when they have no idea.
I’m not trying to take away from those that care for others. The thought is always appreciated when the better days come around. I’m just trying to explain that depression as an illness is a hard thing to help someone with when you haven’t been there or known someone personally who has been. Even if you have been affected by it directly, it still is a hard thing to help someone with.
The stigma controls me every day. It determines how I present myself. It speaks for me and acts for me. The stigma keeps me from speaking too personally or from letting people see me as I am. The stigma keeps me from showing the numbness inside.
The stigma worsens my depression because it forces me to pretend the worst part of my depression doesn’t exist, my numbness. Instead of sitting here with a blank expression on my face, not laughing at jokes, and not showing enthusiasm for anything I am forced to fake everything.
When I’m numb the things that I love don’t matter to me. Christmas, Disney, writing, hockey, etc. When I’m numb I don’t find most things funny. I get closed off and want to isolate myself further and further from people. I don’t care if something bad happens or if there is a tragedy and I don’t care when something wonderful happens.
This is something that I think is the hardest for most people to understand and accept. Most people feel things. Most people are affected by the world around them and have personal opinions and thoughts on different matters. Most people think that if you don’t feel something “there’s something wrong with you” which while technically right, is a damaging sentence. It shows a clear lack of understanding of mental illness.
Feeling numb hurts so much because it affects more than me. It affects those closest to me that I can only imagine feel helpless to make me feel better. I end up feeling guilty because someone feels bad that they can’t help me with my depression. I hope that this sentence alone gives a window into how challenging the lows can be.
It would be unfair for me to imply that the world isn’t aware of mental illness. It would be unfair for me to say that nobody is doing anything. There are lots of campaigns and fundraisers and support centers and etc. Yet, on an everyday level in an everyday situation people struggle to apply that awareness to the world around them.
I feel alone sitting in an office filled with people who can laugh and smile and have passionate conversations because I don’t feel what they feel. I don’t think like they think. I’m beating myself up constantly for being who I am because I don’t now, nor have I ever, fit in. Not entirely. Not enough to make me feel the burden of the stigma being lifted or to make me feel like I can open myself up to show my real face to those around me.
At 23 years old (24 next week) I’m a fighter. I’ve fought this before I even truly knew what I was fighting and I will continue fighting this probably for the rest of my life.
I want to help people that are feeling like they are in a similar place. I want people around me to know that there is someone who understands and who would happily listen or talk about what they’re going through. I can be a shoulder and a friend because I know how hard it is to go through it all feeling completely alone and nobody deserves that. So if you’re going through something and you just need someone who has been through something similar to listen to you please send me a message.
Until then I hope that everyone can make it through the winter and find at least a little enjoyment out of the holiday season.