Dec 31 2012

My least shameful secret.

You probably don’t know this, but I have suffered from depression for well over a decade.  I’ve debated writing this post for a long time.  It’s a hard thing to talk about, but the amount of other people I respect who are coming out and talking about their mental illnesses has made me feel like this is an important thing to do.  And what better time to do it than to close out a year that has, frankly, been pretty intense for me?  People who suffer from depression shouldn’t have to hide it from the world or be ashamed of their illness.  And I am one of those people. 

For most of my life, if you met me in a social situation, you would think I am one of the perkiest, most outgoing people you’ve ever met.  And for most of my life, that was me compensating.  Some people who know about my depression have categorized me as the happiest depressed person they’ve ever met.  I’m just good at faking it.  I like to put on a show for the rest of the world, and that show is part of an elaborate series of walls I put up to avoid letting people see the real me.  A big part of that is because for most of my life, being depressed has been something other people have implied I should be embarrassed of.  I’m not embarrassed.  Quite the opposite, actually - I’m proud of myself for coming through some really, really tough times and knowing I could do it again.  That’s why I’ve stopped compensating quite so much over the past 3 years - if I seem more low-key now, it’s entirely because I am attempting to be more genuine in my social attitudes and actions.

The fact is, these days my depression is in what I like to refer to as “remission.”  I have very few days of crippling anxiety and sadness.  But there was a time in my life, about 11 years ago, when I had to be hospitalized because I was a danger to myself.  Thinking back to that time still hurts, honestly.  I lost some good friends and some of my relationships were irrevocably changed, either because of my reaction to my illness or their reaction to my illness.  I tried overdosing on pills and would spend hours running a razor over my wrists while thinking about taking the plunge.  I was put on antidepressants three times and did badly on all of them, especially when the money ran out and I couldn’t afford to take them anymore.  Fun fact that many people still don’t know: there are antidepressants with worse withdrawal symptoms than heroin.  There was about a year of my life that is now a blur of sadness and fear and misery. 

And then I convinced myself it was all over.  I’d beat it, I didn’t want to die anymore, so obviously I would never be depressed again.  But that was just the start.  Because the thing I didn’t realize at that young age is that for most of us with depression, it never fully goes away.  You just learn to deal with it and treat it.  In my early 20s I tried a variety of ways of “dealing” with my depression, from escapism to faked illnesses.  I did these things because once I was no longer suicidal, I wanted to pretend I wasn’t depressed anymore, but I needed help and I was still hurting.  I hurt a lot of other people this way, though, and that’s my cross to bear. 

So what changed?  This is going to sound ridiculous, but…I got a job at DC Comics.  That job, and my ensuing career, gave me a passion and a direction that I had never had before.  It gave me back the self-worth that had been trampled on for years.  Now, that job itself was no magical cure or anything, and was fraught with its own messes and complications.  But it was because of that job that I figured out how to value myself and thus take care of myself.  And it was because I was valuing and taking care of myself that I finally admitted to myself that my depression wasn’t gone, and it might never be gone, but that didn’t matter.  I would get help, I’d live healthier, I’d cut out the things that made me feel bad about myself. I would treat my depression like any other illness I’ve ever had.

And it has helped.  I feel better now (knock on wood) than I have since I was a kid.  I’ve discovered a lot of different ways to keep my depression minimized and not let it ruin my life.  I’d be lying if I said there hadn’t been days in the past year or two where I didn’t want to leave bed because I was sad.  But those are just days and I don’t let them destroy me.  I bounce back.  I keep pushing forward.  Treating my depression like a regular illness instead of an awful secret has made all the difference in the world for me.  I know now that I have nothing to be ashamed of.  I have an illness that I didn’t ask for that has nearly derailed my life multiple times - but it’s ONLY an illness.  It’s not who I am and it doesn’t get to define my life or my relationships.

Even despite treating depression as an illness, I still felt fear about admitting publicly that I suffer from it.  If you asked me outright about it, I would talk about it, but other than that I generally kept quiet about it.  About a year ago, someone I care about a great deal was hospitalized for depression, and I discovered just how much sharing my experiences could help.  I spoke to him and explained my experiences and listened to him and talked to him about other stuff that had nothing at all to do with depression (because so often when you’re depressed, especially when you’re in the hospital, all anyone ever wants to talk about is your DEPRESSION.)  It was then that I realized for the first time that maybe talking about it and removing the shame of the illness is the best way to combat it.  No one’s experience is the same, but to know that someone you like or even just know has gone through this, it helps.  It’s taken me almost all of the last year to really work through my feelings about my desire for privacy on this and my desire to help other people who are suffering and just be honest about my illness.

If you’re reading this and you have depression: Your illness is unique to you but that doesn’t mean you are alone.  Talk to people.  Get help.  Don’t put up with people who make you feel like you should be ashamed or who put their issues with depression on you.  Find your own ways to deal with your illness because it’s different for everyone.  Your depression might never go away, but that doesn’t mean you can’t keep it from running your life.  And above all,  it’s worth it to keep fighting.  It’s SO so SO worth it.  I am thankful every day that I didn’t succeed in killing myself 12 years ago, because my life is absolutely worth living, and so is yours.

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