29 May 2011

Why I Can't Stay Silent

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.
It's not the feeling you get when you're having a bad hair day.
It's 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.

The kind of depression I'm talking about is Clinical.
It's 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 it's beyond our control, it's not something we can snap out of. Really - we've tried.

Well-meaning advice to a depressed person just heaps up guilt...
"Oh but look at all the things you have to be thankful for! There are lots more people worse off in the world than you, you know..."
Yeah, we know.
But the added guilt really helps. Thanks!

Depression is a bugger.
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 shoulder our load as well as their own when we crash.

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

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Alison said...

You're so brave for writing about this. Thank you for sharing.

Leonie said...

thanks my dear friend, this post has me in tears.
When I was first diagnosed with depression 10 years ago a friend's response was 'but you're not psycho'. An ignorant response, but it cut so deep. And until recently I didn't share it again with anyone, too afraid of how I'd be viewed.
You describe it so perfectly. I can put on a pretty good face, but its just that, a mask.
I want to share this post with eveyone I know!!!

Jen said...

I LOVED reading this
not that you have it
I LOVE your honesty, courage and the way you write

Ive had it since I was probably 20 probably longer than that

I agree with John being active really helps
my walking this year has helped so so much

I really admire that man :)

thanks for sharing :)
kia kaha

Viv said...

I have absolute admiration for you and your strength to speak out and help raise awareness! Well done, you are a great inspiration to so many!xxx

Sammy said...

Oh Simoney. I love you. I have only really known you well as a married person, so from the time you have battled this onwards.
And I wouldn't swop you for the "before Simoney". Not for one second. You are tender hearted and kind. Two qualities that are so attractive. And because you battle the black dog you carry a grace that truly sees the hurting in others.
You were so kind to me when we were struggling with infertility. You put no demands on me, you were just there for me. So often you would come up to me in the foyer and just look at me. And I would cry (again) and you would hug me. Do you remember those times? Your hugs were like a warm blanket of love for my hurting heart.
So all I can do for you is be here for you. Give YOU hugs and put no demands on you. And love you- no real hardship as you are so very easy to love!!

Widge said...

Great write up Simoney.
I have to agree about supporting the spouse (the one without depression) because from personal experience I have to say it's SO incredibly hard!!!!
Frustrating and so tiresome and even very lonely. You don't feel you can offload on anyone as you still want to honor your spouse. The whole thing just sucks really hey

Dee said...

So good Simoney! He really is. As are you for speaking up (so well) also.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this Simoney, over here depression is not really talked about openly, at least not clinical depression. I have good friends who have suffered for many years and I am in awe of their bravery as they face each day.

Elizabeth said...

We love John Kirwan in this house, and were just talking about that exact thing the other day!

Sonia said...

I know EXACTLY what you mean.
I am a carer.

Hope seems to be the first thing that goes. We awake to every day and hope for a better day.

A wonderful post indeed.

Broot said...

"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."

This. Totally. Yes. **hugs**

Claire said...

Thank you for having the strength and courage of conviction to write this. I have been on both sides of the coin. My now husband was diagnosed with clinical depression a year after we met. Two rocky years later we married, and everyone thought I was crazy.
Last year it was my turn - I suffered severe pnd and have ended up under the crisis team much more than I would have liked to.
Every day is a battle for both of us. But together, with love, support and honesty we are doing much better than expected.
I agree wholeheartedly with your post. Depression is rife in our communities, but still barely anyone talks about it, and when they do it is generally not in the most useful of manners.


Our Whanau said...

awesome stuff friend.... You are right, it is often very difficult to spot in people... and I wonder how many people carry this in their life without being able to spot it themselves too. Glad you are a voice for them! Will keep praying though that you will be released from it - healed by His stripes.
Love ya.xx

Anonymous said...

always hope
the word I hold on to when the wet blanket comes trying to steal my breathe, my life
HOPE is what I cling to when the whispers try to sway my vision
HOPE...brought and continues to bring me to the other side
If we only understood how we are all connected I don't think people would be so dismissive about mental health...
love to you for writing this
I know you touch many lives with your openness and honesty
blessing to you Simoney

love and light

Miss Becky-Boo said...

Thanks for sharing, its good to know you're not alone in the strange world of depression!

meg said...

Simoney you write beautifully, especially about the hard things. It helps so many people, those who are suffering from their own depression or their partners, but also people like me, who just want to be able to help but aren't sure how. Lots of love and cups of tea x

The Woven Moments said...

A beautiful, brave, stark post. no matter how many times we see ads on TV (even with celebrities), it's not until someone says something like "That's like telling a man with broken legs to just walk his way to better mobility." that we really GET it.

Thank you!

jenn said...

thanks, simone, for this. i think what you've written is wonderfully apt.

Unsolicitedious Rebugger said...

Such a beautiful, eloquent & compelling post Simone. Every word resonates with me, especially re"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 very very true.

As someone who has a very mild level of depression I'm in the group where everything always looks okay so people assume I AM okay and expect me to just snap out of the apathy, lack of motivation etc that I am feeling.

When people think depression they think you sit in a corner crying & rocking and/or unable to get out of bed for days. That has never been me - like you say, "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."

For me the hardest thing has also been realising how few people have real empathy - they think just because they are goal setters everyone can set goals, that you can always do anything if you put your mind to it. Not so with depression. It's a bizarre almost other worldly feeling knowing that you want to do things/feel things but just can't. I actually wrote about my story too - http://unsolicitedious.wordpress.com/2011/04/14/my-name-is-rebugger-and-i-have-depression/

In terms of hope of a life without depression - I don't honestly know either. My way of compartmentalising it is to see it as something like alcoholism where the circumstances of how you ended up with depression are irrelevant and that as once you have got it, you have got it for life - that it is something you will always have to manage.

Recently I read a fascinating book called The Depression Cure by Stephen Illardi. He talks about 6 key things that can help to manage depression (the depleting stores of serotonin - mega-3 fatty acids, engaging activity, physical exercise, sunlight exposure, social connection, and enhanced sleep, all of which have antidepressant properties.

This is an essay of a comment but just wanted to put my thoughts out there!

Thanks again for having the courage to share your struggles and your vulnerabilities. You are doing an incredibly powerful thing and I hope that you know what an impact you have. xx

Jenn @ Coolest Family on the Block said...

I can relate to this. It's so hard for people to understand. They just think you're being over dramatic or trying to get attention. It's awful. No one but my immediate family would ever even know that I struggle with depression because I'm so "funny" all of the time. A lot of funny people are depressed, perhaps it's coincidence or maybe it's just a coping mechanism. I should probably start blogging about depression but I already bummed everyone out with my infertility posts, I hate to pile too much on them at once ;)

Thank you for writing this. You put a lot of my feelings into words perfectly.

MamaRobinJ said...

This is a great way of describing it. My struggle first came to light as postpartum depression and it took me a long time to even realize that. But after letting down my facade, little by little, I've realized depression and anxiety are no stranger to me. Or my family. So I'm dealing with it and writing about it and sharing the struggle with others - both those who know it and those who don't.

I know writing about it is hard. Admitting it is hard. But it helps. It helps you and it helps others. So good for you.

Sophie said...

Very thought provoking post Simoney. Love to you,

Jess said...

Beautifully written. You had me crying for how brave you are, for the words I have tried to put together in time and for the sinking I feel for you having to be here. I know what its like to be judged and for no one to get it. I wish I was as brave as you and could just tell people how it is instead of forever finding a way to get over the depression I too deal with. From one of your sisters that knows too well the world you describe, Thank you. xxx

Kristin @ What She Said said...

This passage resonated so deeply with me:

"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."

It's so true. While not clinically depressed, I have a low-grade chronic form of depression called dysthymia. It's like situational depression, only my brain can't chemically right itself when it goes into an emotional tailspin. I've learned to manage it for the most part (without medication, though I'm not afraid to seek help through meds), but there are days when I feel like I'm being held together by a thread that could unravel at anytime.

It's an exhausting, debilitating, ugly disease that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. Thank you for having the courage to write this.

Anonymous said...

Hey Simoney, thank you so much for sharing your journey with the big black dog. One of my close friends suffers from it too (for the past 2 years now) and I'm still just learning to support and help her the way she needs. I feel helpless sometimes since I moved away to another country but I try my best to listen and talk to her even though I know I can never feel what she is going through. Your posts help me see things I can do to help my friend too. So, thank you once again!

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for being brave enough to write about this. I so appreciate it. My family has several forms of mental illness dotted trough it. You are so right that the stigma of mental illness throws a lot of people off. Those are the people you probably don't need in your life anyway. Stay strong and stay loud! Praying fo your and you family.

Stopping by from Mama Kat's.

Tori Nelson said...

Thank you for sharing this. It's not everyday that someone can make such a big, scary thing as Depression better understood by people who haven't been there. This post is a whole lot of good :)

Cat said...

The blackness - it sucks - I know -
Thank you for sharing xxx
Such a well written post - so much more I want to, however, I keep hitting the delete button ;'( I still can't open up the way you have

Anonymous said...

The bit about a partner not getting what they thought they married, but a shadow of that person - that really resonated with me. I didn't have depression when i met my husband, but he has been with me through 3 or so bad bouts. There is a lot of guilt there. You think they deserve more. For a long timne i didn't like myself and felt very ashamed of who i'd become, mostly to him. But my depression is currently under control, and i can finally be a part of that person he first met. I'm so glad of that.


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