That’s kind of where I am at the moment.
So in my last post, I “came out” as depressed. And the feedback I’ve gotten leaves me completely speechless. I’ve received so many comments, messages and texts saying everything from “I want to be there for you” to “I’ve been going through the same thing” to just a simple “thank you.” I don’t really "do feelings" too well, but I am filled with joy at the love and support I have received as well as humbled in the ways my post was able to touch others.
But as awesome as all that is, I’m still left with this disease. And for the first time, I’m actually thankful. Although I may not feel this way all the time, I don’t have this overwhelming desire for my depression to go away. It sounds crazy, I know. It doesn’t make any sense, I know. I would never have thought of saying that even a few weeks ago. I hate that depression exists. I hate that it is crippling to so many of us. It pains my heart to know people are suffering like I am. But I’m fine living with my depression because I want to be there for those like me. And I think my experiences give me special qualifications to closer identify with those people–and I never want to lose that. As unintuitive as it sounds, I don’t want to remember just the good things, because that doesn’t help anyone who’s at their rock bottom.
So for this, the second of my three part “series,” I’m going to talk about my life now with depression and my road to recovery.
Yes, it’s a road to recovery. Recovery isn’t a week-long hospital program that you complete and you’re there. I’ve done that. And I’m still not “cured." It’s a process. And a long one. It’s training yourself to think differently. It’s learning to change your entire lifestyle. I firmly believe that you cannot live the same way you have if you really want a different outcome. It would be so much easier if you could just start taking meds and everything would be great, but your daily life has to change too.
Which is freaking hard. Lemme tell ya.
And what’s even harder is that you have to want it for yourself. Recovery doesn’t work unless you really want to get better.
Before I was hospitalized, I was at the point I didn’t want to get better. I couldn’t see myself getting any better. I thought I was too far gone. So the only real options I saw left were to continue suffering, or suicide. I couldn’t imagine suffering the way I was for the rest of my life, so I chose the latter. Thankfully it didn’t work. The day I chose to go to the hospital, I started the day telling my friend that I didn’t want to get better. Only after our following conversation as well as some divine intervention did I have a desire to get better. I say this because a lot of people that know someone with depression end up forcing them into a recovery program and then wonder why it didn’t work. The program isn’t the saving grace. Don’t get me wrong, though. I am a huge advocate for those programs. It taught me how to have a healthy mindset and provided me with great tools to continue the recovery process once out of the program. But there has to be that desire and a willingness to change.
So now, I’ve made a conscious decision to live differently.
Like I mentioned in my previous post, I am a lot more picky about my environment. If I’m somewhere that I don’t think is healthy for me, I politely excuse myself. If I’m watching a movie or tv show that might be a trigger, I turn off the tv right away–even if it’s one of my favorite shows. I am also much pickier about who I hang out with. Being a hard-core extroverted people-pleaser, this one is really tough for me. I want to know everyone and I want to be everyone’s friend. That’s not an exaggeration. I want everyone to like me. But that’s not healthy because there are people I really shouldn’t be friends with. There are some people that act as a kind of trigger–and those people need to be out of my life. It sounds harsh, but if I want to stay around, it has to happen.
That stuff kind of makes sense, right? But there are some things that aren’t as easy to deal with.
The big one?
This one is a lot more complicated. You can’t just turn off stigma like you can the tv, because it’s all around. The thing is, depression is still not seen as a disease. I read an article by a father of a girl with depression. He told a story about how when his wife was diagnosed with cancer, friends, neighbors and church members rushed to their side with meals, flowers, and comfort. But when his daughter was hospitalized and committed to an in-patient recovery program for her depression, they received nothing. Nothing was brought. No comfort was given. No words were exchanged on the subject. This infuriates me–and part of the reason I decided to write these posts. I think education, personal stories, and general exposure to the idea of depression can help end the stigma.
So what does stigma look like for depressed people? I think this video does a pretty good job of what different people experience.
I think the biggest misconception about depression is that it’s a choice. To respond to this as succinctly as possible: No, I don’t need an attitude check, I need a brain check. There is biological proof that my brain works differently than most. And there is no decision to be made to turn it on and off in the moment.
Another place I’ve encountered stigma is with relationships. Stigma makes it hard to enter into relationships–romantic ones, and friendships. You worry about being a burden. As a guy, I would never want to put that onto my girlfriend or wife in fear that it might be too much. It’s emasculating enough having depression much less admitting that you’re weak. It shoots any sense of pride as a man out the door. And then there's the whole thought of kids. Would it be cruel bringing them into a world with genes that could send them down a painful path? Do they deserve a father that might not be able to care for them? Then it goes back to putting more pressure on my wife and the cycle restarts.
This is a comment I saw on an article on depression where the author mentions its effects on his relationships.
Yes, these people are real. And I’ve met plenty of them. I just don’t care to give them any attention that they don’t deserve…
But as you can probably tell, the stigma has crept into my own thinking. And that’s a hard thing to suppress.
I hate being shirtless. Not because I’m super skinny and lanky, I could care less about that. It’s because of the scars. I’m not the guy that will mow the lawn shirtless–no matter how hot the weather. And a simple day-trip to the beach with friends was a day full of anxiety. “Have they noticed the scars? Of course they have. You can’t miss them. Are they going to point them out? Are they going to ask ‘what happened?’ What will I say? Do they know? Are they going to talk about it with each other when I’m not there? As long as they don’t bring it up with me, I guess.” When I wear short sleeves, I sometimes catch people staring at my scars, then at me, then going silent. You can see the wheels turning in their head and a wave of discomfort wash over them. You might be thinking, “Why would you even put yourself in the position where your scars would be seen if it worries you so much?” The answer is simple–because I’m determined to keep living. I’m not going to let this disease control what I do. I want to live life to the fullest I can. As cheesy as it sounds, I don’t want to take any of my time for granted. I’ve lived more recklessly these past few months than ever, and I’m determined to keep living despite whatever stigma I encounter.
The thing is, the stigma can’t go away until people talk openly about it. And victims won’t talk about it because of the stigma. It’s an endless, vicious cycle. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but there have been times I’ve cried out to my friends wishing I was an alcoholic instead because at least it’s more accepted to talk about.
My biggest fear was that after telling my small group was that they would get freaked out and run away. Or that they would start acting different around me. But they didn’t. We finished off the weekend with total normality. I know they didn’t know what to do, or what to say, but they were still there. And that’s just what I needed. I was blessed to have these guys that liked me for me, and saw past my disease. Everyone reacts differently to hearing the news. And honestly, a lot of the time, my relationship with some people does change after they hear the news. People still come up to me and say “Hey, Jonathan. how are you doing?” “I’m good! How are–“ “–No. How are you…really?” Almost as if something is wrong if I’m actually doing well. Yes, I do need people to call me out on my BS when I’m lying to them about how everything’s going, but that’s a special trust I have with certain people. And since publishing my last post, there have been moments that I’ve walked up to a group of friends, and I could tell that they had been talking about me and what I wrote. It’s super uncomfortable, let me tell you. But as soon as I start smiling and cracking bad jokes, they see that I’m still the same Jonathan and conversation can begin to normalize. From other interactions, I can guess that a whole lot of people feel like they shouldn’t bring up the subject with me in person. Maybe they are too uncomfortable. Maybe they are worried that I might be uncomfortable. Let me tell y’all this: it’s more uncomfortable knowing you are avoiding the subject altogether. I know you’re doing it.
Even though I’ve gotten tons of responses online, there have been maybe three or four people that have even mentioned the post to me in person. A few of them have sat down with me to ask question after question about it. I love that. I think some people think they can’t ask me questions about my experiences–but guys, let me explicitly tell you here: IT’S OK. I wouldn’t have published my post if I was too sensitive to talk about it in person. No question is too uncomfortable. In fact, I love those ones because I can see a genuine desire to learn more from those questions.
I can’t change stigma. And being a control-freak, that frustrates me. I can only control my actions and my lifestyle. So that’s what I’m doing. And I’m still learning. I’m still not good at asking for help on rough days, and there have been times even within this past week there has nothing I wanted to do more than cut or self-harm. But I’m working. But I’m getting better. I’m getting stronger. And I know the bad days are all part of the recovery process. And that is a blessing.
This week is National Suicide Prevention Week. Please take the time to check out some of these links on depression and suicide.