I have not been a good blogger lately. Yeesh you guys. Let’s see if I can hop on the wagon again, again.
I’ve started watching United States of Tara on Netflix. While I don’t know anything about dissociative identity disorder, I still think the show does an excellent job of portraying how a family deals with the bizarre reality of mental illness. It’s not always Cuckoo’s Nest — some unrelatable insanity that could never happen to you. It’s more often just the mundane details of everyday life, with some bonus weirdness and extra stress thrown in.
The careful balance for a blogger is trying to be introspective without over-sharing, walking the fine line between self-exploration and self-indulgence. So I apologize in advance if this post comes off as heavy-handed or TMI or whatever it is we say when someone has been too vulnerable for our comfort level. Consider this the ominous warning scrawled above the cave entrance: If you have a problem with messiness, maybe this is a good time for you to turn back.
I have a few things to say about depression.
(“Oh boy!” the readers cried, “just in time for summer…”)
I know. Not the kind of thing you might choose to curl up with on a summer night, but it is the kind of thing (I think) we need to talk about more often — and not just when a celebrity seeks treatment and we hear about it on the morning news. (Gasp! A beautiful, successful person has bipolar disorder. How did we let this happen?!)
The Mad Men season finale (spoilers carefully avoided) explores depression a bit — beyond the ennui and malaise present in most episodes. One character describes herself as “feeling blue lately” (a popular 60s euphemism, no doubt). “It’s so dark,” she says, “that I get to this place, and I suddenly feel this door open and I want to walk through it.”
Later, Pete Campbell (man I want to hate that guy…but I can’t) wonders whether his job and family have been “a temporary bandage on a permanent wound.” That stuck with me. Because it’s so sad, and because Pete probably won’t seek help. After all, he thinks that stuff is for weak people.
Which, I think, is what a lot of people think…
Even though words are my medium, and depression has been a muse (first and second-hand) my entire life, I still find it hard to describe. Not because I don’t have the words, but because there’s a lot of secrecy and shame about it.
I find the only people in my life who truly understand depression are those who have experienced it themselves — either personally or in their close circle of family and friends. I know that seems intuitive, and it is, except that I don’t think it works this way for other diseases.
For example, I know I don’t fully understand breast cancer because I haven’t experienced it, but I think I do validate its severity nonetheless. And that’s the part that is often missing in reactions toward mental illness.
I’m not a trained expert beyond “Intro to Psych” class and lots of reading on my own time, but I am a student of my own experience, from which I’ve learned that this mother-effer is very real and also very misunderstood.
There are plenty of people in my life who try to understand me but just don’t understand depression (including some very close individuals). I think they equate my bad days with their bad days. I can feel this unsaid assumption that I’m just not doing it right. If I only tried harder to be positive, this messiness would just go away and we could all go about our business. As if there are some internal bootstraps that I’m just not pulling up hard enough, and if only I were tougher / stronger / less dramatic / more grateful, I would be able to bounce back and move on with my life and my day.
(“Yay!” the readers cried, “We fixed depression!!”)
The part these people miss is that I do pull myself up by those internal bootstraps, and they are what keep me on my feet much of the time. There’s a whole lot of work that goes into keeping myself from walking through that dark internal door. But sometimes I can’t keep up. It’s not enough.
I think the trickiest part for them to understand might be the fact that I’m not like this all the time. I’m very good at putting on my happy face, and what’s more, my happy face is my real face much of the time. I’m the outgoing one. The “funny” one. The goofy-cheerleader-Pollyanna with enthusiasm to spare.
But then sometimes I’m not.
And then I’m really, really not.
Most people don’t really know that.
Sometimes I look at my life and the color is gone. That’s not something you can just talk yourself out of.
Pharmaceutical commercials might have you believe that depression is a cuddly cartoon robe that follows you around and clouds up your day. Or a wind-up doll that only needs a little boost to get back on its feet. Wouldn’t that be nice. Drugs can help, but they can also bring their own complications, and drugs alone aren’t enough.
There’s no magic pill or mantra or book or therapy session or caring word from a friend that will make it all better, though all these things are vital. Pulling up on the bootstraps is vital. So I keep doing it, even when I feel like I can’t anymore.
I think I need you to know that this isn’t a thing I choose to do because I can’t handle life. This isn’t a thing I choose to do because I think it makes me more interesting. This isn’t a thing I choose to do because I think it makes me a better writer (though, I can only hope, someday it might…lots of the good ones were crazy, after all).
I share all this with you because after a while it’s exhausting to put on that happy face and still feel so misunderstood. And maybe somebody else out there needs to know they aren’t alone. You don’t have to wait for the end of the tunnel to find some light.
(“Look!” the readers cried, “a happy ending, I guess!”)