An advertisement came on while we were watching TV the other night: John Kirwan, former All Black talking about his depression.
JK is a hero to so many of us. Because he spoke up.
He stepped out from behind silence and said, "ME. I suffer from Depression."
When I watch those commercials I nearly cry.
You see, so many people, most people in fact, don't get it. They don't understand what Depression is. What causes it. How far reaching it is. How long-lasting. How debilitating.
Depression is not a feeling.
Its not the feeling you get when you're having a bad hair day.
Its not something that goes away once the sun comes out.
There's a difference between the depression that comes when something awful happens to you - some tragic loss or grief - and the clinical kind.
The first kind of depression is situational. It comes... and it goes.
Its a medical condition. There are malfunctioning chemicals in our brains. It affects our thought processes, our emotions, even our spirituality.
We can't just think our way to positivity. That's like telling a man with broken legs to just walk his way to better mobility.
And its beyond our control, it's not something we can snap out of. Really - we've tried.
It doesn't just affect the sufferer; it impacts our families too.
Spare a thought for the partners of people like me, who have to carry our load as well as their own when we crash. Who find themselves married not the person they thought they were getting, but to her sadder, less capable shadow.
Spare a thought for our kids who too often see us crying, anxious, overwhelmed. And the guilt that comes with the knowledge, the fear that our struggles are affecting them in ways we can only guess at.
I'm writing this to give understanding to those of you who are blessed to not live with this Menace.
Because I can guarantee there are people in your life who suffer with this. After all One in Five people in the general population will suffer some form of mental illness during their lifetime.
Probably they haven't told you for fear of rejection, misunderstanding, judgement... or that well-meaning guilt-inducing advice.
I know when I was diagnosed I found it so hard to tell people.
There were some friends I tried to tell. I went to their homes to spill the beans, but just couldn't get the words out. I didn't want them to think badly of me or stop being my friend because I was not the same person any more.
I couldn't speak. My words froze on my tongue. I left without sharing, wishing I was braver.
Lots of people saw the change in me, and misjudged the reason.
Where I had been an out-front make-it-happen person, I became a background-dweller, an early-leaver, a no-sayer.
"What's happened to Simone?" some people wondered. But hardly anybody asked.
"Ahhh she's got her man now, and she's off living her life..." was the conclusion many came to.
No. I wasn't. I was struggling in my own private hell, subject to storms of anger and tears. Panicky and anxious over the smallest things, like walking down a busy street. Wondering what on earth was happening to me, was I going crazy?
There was no Depression.org back then. No John Kirwan sharing his story and helping remove the stigma.
I didn't know where to turn for help.
We suffered in ignorance, not knowing what we were facing.
But now I know.
Clinical Depression has been with me ten years and counting.
That's depressing in itself isn't it?
I never imagined I would still be struggling after this long.
Sometimes its hard to remember what normal even is.
Sometimes its hard to hold onto hope that I can ever be free of this.
My emotional dinghy is sitting real close to the water-line. Rock the boat just a little and I get swamped.
Add anything to what I'm carrying and the tide rushes in.
When all is calm and peaceful, I am OK. Coping.
But anyone with kids will know how rare peace is!
Just so you know, Depressed people are often hard to spot.
We don't go around crying 24/7. Quite often we do make it out of bed.
You might even find us talking and laughing, throwing parties and making friends.
But these things take their toll. And some days, like when there's financial pressure or the kids are sick or playing up or we're tired, hormonal, changing our meds... our backs get broken with that last little straw.
And the roof caves in, the rain leaks through and everyone in our house gets wet.
So I'm speaking up for all my sisters (and brothers); those who don't have the ability to put into words what they wish they could tell you. Those who fear the stigma, the shame of the label "mental illness". Damn, even now its hard to type that.
A friend turned up on my doorstep on Friday. She said, "I've come to do some housework for you. What needs doing?"
I love her. We never quite got to the housework, but the cuppa and the chat were a real bright spot.
Here's my request:
Be a friend. We are not crazy.
Show you care. The little things mean a lot.
Don't offer advice. Unless you've been there.
Be patient. It can last a while.
Support our partners. They carry a double burden.
So while there's still a stigma, still misunderstanding out there, I have to speak up. Not everyone has found their voice yet, so I'm speaking up for them.
- If you want to know more, visit the Most Excellent website Depression.org
- To read more of my posts on this subject go here