The ‘d’ word is one of those nasty topics that we refuse to look at head on. For whatever reason, one of the medical hurdles that Americans need to face as a culture is the mentality that mental health problems are somehow a weakness. Somehow it is the fault of the person struggling that they are in fact struggling, somehow if they just tried harder they would be happy-it’s like we think that since we’re not going through it, that our hard times aren’t as bad, that the other person must just not want to be happy enough.
This is something that needs to change. Hi, my name is Katie and I’m an American dealing with depression and PMDD. Maybe this post is going to loose me readers. Maybe it won’t; maybe I’ll actually give someone that wonderful feeling of connection. Taboos are taboos in part because we don’t make noise about it. This is me doing my part to break that silence.
*This post is inspired in part by a tumblr post that I have long since lost, which was a similar list-which was in turn inspired by a ‘just try harder!’ approach type list to depression. That post unfortunately received a fair bit of negative attention from what I understand. I allow for discussion-even heated-but I will not tolerate personal attacks.
**As with all things on this blog, this is personal opinion unless stated otherwise. These are factors that I or other people have noticed. Please talk to your medical team before making any health care decisions, especially in relation to your maintenance regime.
1. You are depressed, you are not a bad person.
This is something that took me years and years to come to terms with. Whatever your diagnosis is, you are not it. I don’t feel ashamed of myself for having asthma, why should I feel bad for my mental health diagnosis? The upside of accepting your current mental state is that it helps you come to a logical, as opposed to emotional, approach to treatment and maintenance- in my case, I discovered that my body doesn’t mix well with antidepressants but I do well with behavioral based treatments.
2. Other people may mean well. Don’t listen to everything they say.
I’ve heard it a lot from people I know and from people online-there’s always that one person that thinks that they’re being helpful, that thinks that what they’re saying is supportive, and who in actuality may actually be making the situation worse, at least in the short term. Nothing like hitting the low end of your cycle and being told to just stop obsessing on whatever’s going on.
In other words, a lot of people aren’t going to understand what’s going on in your head, and they may be trying to help you and just not going about it a way that’s actually, well, helpful. You have one of two options-smile and thank them for their positive vibes, or keep them at arm’s length until you can deal with them again.
3. Feed the Beast
Make sure that you’re eating. And make sure that you’re eating the right things. If you know you have a trigger food, cut down on it. Depression is a chemical issue, and food can alter that balance. I was diagnosed with PMDD in 2005. The conversation went something like this: you have premenstrual dysmorphic disorder. Don’t eat anything white. Guess what? White sugar and white flour can trigger like you wouldn’t believe.
Also, even if you have to eat half a sandwich five times a day just make sure you’re eating.
4. “Perfect people are lying to you.”
That’s a paraphrase of what a comedienne was saying on NPR on Saturday. This is a huge stumbling block for me, especially as a blogger. It looks like everyone else is so much…better. They do everything…better. People even like them more.
They aren’t, you know. Better, I mean. They’re giving you a carefully created version of their reality, a very deliberate look at what’s going on. You have no idea what’s actually going on. And you know what? It doesn’t even matter-you don’t have to be them. So you can’t craft sheep toys out of pipe cleaners and take professional photos of your flock of upcycled ewes? Has anyone ever asked you to? Whatever it is that you do, it isn’t less than what they do just because they happen to take better photos of it and it drives traffic to their blog. It’s true that people are magpies and like pretty photos but it doesn’t mean that you’re less valuable as a person.
5. You’d be surprised what people are actually saying about you.
I was attempting to talk to people this winter about who and what I am to people and honestly it was getting tiring to hear ‘but you’re such a great knitter!’ all the time. Then one day it was ‘knit, knit, knitknitknitknit…I wish I could be more like you, you’re essentially fearless…sock knitting, knit, knit, knit.’
Come again? I’m not fearless. Hell, I’m afraid of the telephone.
You have to remember that when you’re depressed what you’re seeing of yourself is being viewed through a very skewed lens. You may literally be unable to see what they’re seeing right, but what they’re seeing is probably much more positive than what you think. People are bad at paying compliments, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true.
I don’t mean exercise, but if that helps, great. I was reading a book about a hoodoo doctor of all things that had a passage that described how whenever her mood suddenly bottomed out, she literally walked into another room. The change in perspective generally forced her out of the cycle.
I can. As in, if things are suddenly bleak and I can do it, I can things. Or I change where I’m sitting at work. Or I tear out a knitting project. Just something to break the connections.
7. Getting help can seem staggeringly slow.
But do it. Even if it’s a short term thing. Find someone you can talk to that you trust, but the thing to remember is that it’s going to take time. You’re retraining your brain. You can walk in thinking everything’s going to change overnight, and it’s not. But eventually it does get better.
Edit to add a conversation from the comments:
8. Don’t be afraid of your pill bottle.
Eventually, as much as behavioral and talk therapy were helping me I felt that I needed to have something else in my regime to help. So I tried antidepressants-and unfortunately, got the whole stable of negative side effects to boot, including weight gain. They’re not really a viable option for me, at least the current generation.
HOWEVER- and I want to stress this, my case is not going to be the same for everyone. If your medical team suggests that it’s time to look at medication, try it. This ties back into point 1-I have no problem with my inhaler, and I shouldn’t have a problem with a medical intervention for my depression. Taking a medication isn’t a sign of weakness, or a sign of ‘giving up’. It means that for your body, it’s probably a solid therapy choice. Make sure you’re following your doctors’ directions, and make sure you aren’t making medical decisions without supervision.
Again, I want to stress that this is a list based off of more than a decade’s experience. Not everyone is going to have the same needs. Please make sure you’re talking to a medical professional and seeking out ways to best treat your needs.
Please, stop by and link up at this week’s Inspired Weekends!