I’ve lived with depression for at least 14 years or so. I’ve made only passing, someone subtle references to it at the blog and elsewhere because – although I’m fully supportive of people who need to talk openly about it a lot for therapeutic purposes, I’m not one of them. Like a lot of people who live with depression, I’ve generally gotten by with self-management. I don’t want messages of support, because nothing has changed. I’m the same as I have been for years, and I’m not suddenly in need of sympathy. I also don’t want advice. My friends probably (hopefully!) know better than to share “Mom blogger” or celebrity advice about mental health with me anyway, but you should assume that I generally make myself pretty well-informed, especially about things that affect me on an everyday basis. And no, I am absolutely not an “at risk” person.
Depression doesn’t look exactly the same for everyone who is affected. For me, it’s in the fact that I can’t find the initiative to write much at the blog (or elsewhere), or to record podcast episodes at all. Actually it’s something that sucks away initiative to do a lot of things, and at its worst it makes it very hard to find value in many things in life at all. It’s a big part of the reason why I’ve slowed down in my pursuit of possible ordination in the church, although I haven’t let go of that goal. I’m going to have to work on myself a bit as part of that process. It’s seen in the belief that I’m going to fail even before I start something. At the worst of times it’s like perpetually falling through the day (or however long it lasts), so that it seems like no decisions are worth making (and it doesn’t really matter which ones I make), because nothing will come of it, or at least nothing good. It sometimes means no decisions, or bad decisions, or even hopelessness and fear that everything good I place faith in is a lie. Those are the really bad days, and they aren’t very common.
If you find yourself asking, “What reasons do you have to feel that way, or think those things?” then you’re assuming that depression is a purely rational state. It’s not. I know that the beliefs generated by those feelings aren’t true. But there they are anyway. No doubt *some* of the beliefs that drive depression are true. Maybe a lot of depressed people are a bit like the writer of Ecclesiastes, who knew that “with much wisdom comes much sorrow.” Maybe understanding the human condition is just depressing. But like a lot of states of mind, depression isn’t generally something you think yourself into. It’s something that affects the way you think and act.
What I’ve described might sound pretty bad, but that’s because I’m only talking about depression – not the other bits of life. But it’s not always like that at all. Like everyone else, people who live with depression have ups and downs. Sometimes the ups are great, and even the “downs” aren’t the end of the world. It’s something you have to learn to manage. There are even parts of your personality you come to be thankful for that are probably depression-related in some way. Depression isn’t something in addition to me. It’s a feature of me, or at least that’s how I’ve come to see it, and in some ways – but certainly not all the time – come to embrace. The best illustration of how that works (although no illustration is perfect), is the “black dog” video. I don’t really relate to the “stigma” of depression mentioned in the video, because I don’t feel stigmatised by it, although I know that some people feel that way.
Like I said, I generally self-manage, and I do pretty well. I can imagine plenty of people who would hear me tell you the things I’ve said here and say “What? You? But you’re so happy!” I find things that make me happy, and I do them. Doing physical things, making things, being creative, exerting yourself (I plan to be back in weight training soon), those things have all been really good for me. And as you’d expect, given that I’m a Christian, my relationship with God has a really important role to play in making some of this more bearable, in making life more meaningful, in giving me hope and so on. But I’ve decided to think about whether or not I might be able to do even better. Therapy might not be for everyone, and it might not turn out to be for me, but I’m going to give it a try. We’ll see what happens – although I make no promise to keep anyone posted on how it goes.
So. If I self-manage, if I’m not going to keep you posted on my progress, if I don’t want private messages of sympathy and support, and if I don’t want advice, then what’s the point of telling you this at all? The point is that it’s nice to know that you’re not the only one, and that there’s yet another person in the same boat. Over the years I’ve received lots of kind messages of support from people who read something I wrote or heard a talk I gave and wanted to tell me that it helped them. How many of them, I wonder, have mental health struggles they’re dealing with? They might have just assumed that I had things all together, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to write that, or say that. Would it have helped them to know that I have those struggles too? Probably. I’m a private person when it comes to this sort of thing, and I can count on one hand the people I’ve spoken to about it. There’s nothing wrong with that of course, but I’m “outing” myself here in case it does you any good.