depression the beast

                             shado

Depression is a scary beast.

I know, not only because of my work with clients who suffer with depression, but because I struggled against the beast myself for 9 years of my life. This entry is an attempt to integrate both my professional knowledge and personal experiences, in case there are others out there who are looking for enlightenment.

My beast’s name was Dysthymia, often morphing occasionally into Major Depressive episodes (i.e., full blown depression). I thought I kicked it out of my life for good six years ago, only to have it come back this summer, rearing its ugly head and stomping over all the good I had been building in my life. It sucked energy and motivation out of me, squeezed out tears, took away hours of sleep. It whispered lies too, that I’m not good enough and I never would be, that I’m ugly and invisible, and not doing anything great with my life… even though logically, I saw that I was a therapist and doing much good. It even pushed me further, murmuring, “Maybe you should kill yourself. No one wants you. You’re not important. Why not just die?

In one of my classes, I learned that having had one depressive episode before in your life increases the likelihood of you having another episode.

Before my class, I thought because I was high functioning and doing well, I probably wouldn’t have depressive feelings again. I’m optimistic, I seek to see the glass half-full, and view failures and letdowns as opportunities to learn and grow. But looking back in retrospect at my depression this summer, I see how much I used my “optimism” to push away and deny my feelings. Pretend everything was okay, when subconsciously, I was in deep pain. But it was to no avail, because the pain eventually took over. It was so overwhelming I couldn’t keep smashing it down anymore. Soon my optimism was nowhere to be found, and I was buried underneath the shit pile of my negative beliefs and heavy, painful feelings.

I’m the type of person who learns things after she has gone through the experience. And one of the things I learned from this struggle was this: While having the guise of safety, in truth, denying our feelings hinders us, and really, makes the problem worse. I wish I could bold the last sentence 10x more, because this is so important. I see it in all of my clients and in the support group that I lead, this tendency in society to ignore our feelings (with the exception of the “happy” variety) and pretend problems do no exist… whether it is due to ignorance, shame, or a whole host of reasons. But just because you sweep something under a rug, doesn’t mean it disappears. It grows bigger and bigger, until it controls your behaviors, your perceptions. Akin to a cancerous cell, it will keep growing and if we choose to deny or do nothing, it will wreak havoc and may even take our lives.

My beast almost did when I was young. And it tried again this summer.

I realized that I couldn’t keep running away. I needed to face my feelings head on, even if it scared the crap out of me. Because the more I tried to kick the beast out the door, the more it tried to come back in. Hell, kicking it out gave it more power. Our fear of our feelings and emotions only fuel their control over you. The only way to regain control, is to stand face-to-face with your beast and deal with it. That’s the first step we need to take to get better; we will not go anywhere unless we face it, make eye contact with it, and say, “I won’t let you rule my life anymore.” I’m not saying it is easy. It’s fucking difficult. But the things worthwhile in life are never easy. And contrary to our happy delusions, life is full of struggles. Either we deny that fact and consequently suffer, or rise to the challenge and choose to live in the face of challenge.

I ended up seeking help, and was better off for it. I am consistently pushing myself out of my comfort zone, and still working through my issues. But now I’m allowing myself to feel, and telling myself it’s okay to feel. I’m human, and in a constant state of growth. Even though I had some good coping skills before, I need to build more to live healthier, and better equip myself if the beast comes back. Even if it does, it’s okay. I’ll be okay. I’ve made it this far, and I believe I will overcome. The beast loses power when I tell myself these things, and refuse to believe in its lies.

Seek professional help. Build a support system of people who can be there for you, including your family and friends. If depression is also your beast, I guarantee you that you are not alone in your struggle against it. It may not seem that way sometimes, but the thing is, a lot of us are good at faking it. And society encourages us to. But don’t keep smashing it down anymore. Allow yourself to feel, to be. Most of us can’t fight it on our own. We need to get help in learning how to fight.

80% of people who seek professional help are able to overcome their depression. And you can too.

kicking the depression stigma

                               behind_the_mask_by_ookami_seaempress

I hate the negative stigma in our society that comes with being sad and depressed, or struggling. As someone who works in the mental health field, I see how this stigma affects people every day. Recently I came across an article on Huffington Post about “types of friends worth keeping forever.” Although one can see it as a insightful article on the choice we have in making friends and the ones we “should” keep, there was one caveat that I found a little disconcerting. For one of the types, the article’s author wrote, “People who are upbeat.” She further elaborated on those who are the opposite, or not upbeat, “They are those folks who ruminate over every little problem in their life again and again — and yet never make one move to change their situation. They are Debbie Downers. And they bring me down. Misery loves company and downbeat friends generally are more interested in your bad news than your good news. People who are positive and motivated and optimistic and who lift up those around them are worth hanging on to.

Perhaps I am making it out to be more than it seems. And I can completely see the author’s intention in writing this. Upbeat people are nice to be around… they make you feel good. It’s good to have them in your life. However. Whether it is intentional or not (and I want to hope that it is not), just in the way she frames her words, she is implicitly encouraging the aforementioned stigma. These upbeat people are the “types of friends worth keeping,” and only those who are “upbeat” are “worth hanging on to.” I could not help but feel after reading that that one could easily read this piece and come away feeling they are “not worthy” to be a friend, or worth keeping to someone else because they are suffering with depression, or are struggling deeply and find it immensely difficult to “pretend to be happy.” Am I supposed to make you happy and talk only about good things in order to be a friend worth keeping? What if I am reaching out to you for support? Does that mean I can’t because it might bring you down? It’s as if I have to hide away my issues and pain, so I won’t be a “Debbie Downer” and bring people down, like this article writer. I need to find a way to put a mask on so people will accept me and want to be around me.

As a therapist trainee, I am seeing clients who suffer with depression, anxiety, relational issues, trauma, sexual abuse, the list goes on. And for many of them, I see them minimize their issues, feel left alone in their struggles (most likely by those who avoid “Debbie Downers”), and feel shame for feeling what they do. They constantly seek validation from me to know that it is okay to feel and think the way they do. I have found just by the act of validating my clients’ feelings, they feel greatly empowered… and it is because we are constantly de-validating each other in this society and forcing one another to “be happy.” And I can’t help but think, how would this society if we just allowed others to express sadness and suffering? What if upbeat wasn’t the main goal, but instead being authentic and genuine with ourselves and with others? Many of my clients would not be needing to come into my office, of that I am sure.

This is a long diatribe, but essentially what I want to get out is that I am not in agreement with the negative concept this article writer is (unintentionally) transmitting. What I do support is this: you are worthy as a friend and as a person, regardless of your mood, whether you are happy or sad. You are not a label (i.e., Debbie Downer). And you are NOT your emotion. You are a complex and beautiful person. You have a right to love and be loved, and you have a right to exist. No one else has the power to define you, except for you.