For five years, depression wanted me dead.
When you live with a brain that keeps trying to kill you, a new dawn is never a given, more of a surprise bordering on unpleasant discovery, depending on how you feel that day.
Depression can convince you that you’ve run out of things to live for. This is how I ended up losing five years of my life to major depressive disorder, wondering every day what I was still doing here.
At the time, death frequently presented itself as the only possible form of relief from a life that no longer fitted, and the only way to permanently eradicate feelings.
Because you can’t feel better, you’d rather not feel at all.
Mental illness stigma is strong so we often recoil from inconvenient feelings, practicing self-censorship lest we should lose face in front of our peers or relatives.
But as long as we refuse to acknowledge or share the distress within, it proliferates like weeds and takes over.
Thoughts beget feelings.
When we repress those thoughts, we also reject the feelings they create. And yet, they can give us important clues about how our mind works.
Putting on a brave face and pretending we’re fine isn’t pushing back. Instead, the illness festers and grows in the dark, slowly corrupting all that is good in our life, asphyxiating it.
But the moment we give ourselves permission to feel and we articulate those feelings, something changes. The intangible becomes concrete; the invisible becomes visible.
When you start sharing the turmoil within, you realize you’re not the only one going through this ordeal. Overwhelming feelings begin to loosen their grip on your psyche and your mindset shifts.
Once you change the way you think about depression, then how you feel about it changes too.
The guilt you experienced as a result of being temporarily incapacitated or hindered tends to lessen and may even vanish.
There is no shame in being human.
Although American society is so competitive it takes a dim view of anything or anyone who’s not constantly over-performing and exceeding expectations, we are not robots.
Regrettably, start-up talk has seeped into collective consciousness and is being coopted in every day conversation, dehumanizing people as we focus relentlessly on productivity rather than what it means to be a human in the world.
You don’t have to hack your brain or disrupt your depression or optimize your recovery, you just have to be honest with yourself so you can be honest with others.
And effect change.
Being open about the mess within and the mess without, day after day, is the only way to do this. There are no shortcuts or miracle solutions, no matter what the bestselling memoirs chronicling the epiphanies of privileged people who had the financial wherewithal to travel around the world will have you believe.
You have to figure out why your brain has turned against you and why it’s trying to hijack your life. While a medical team might help — if you can afford to enlist one — ultimately no one but you can do this.
And there isn’t a pill in the world that can reset your brain either.
While medication may be helpful in getting you back into a functional state of mind, it’s unlikely to cure your depression if you don’t address its root causes.
There’s no magic bullet. For most of us, there are issues to face and changes to be made instead.
Beware of self-help ghouls.
Some self-help books reduce depression to an attitude problem and promise to jolt you into action by capitalizing on your hopelessness and guilt with the alternating use of bullying and fluffy jargon that makes the writer sound like an old friend who has your best interests at heart.
They do not.
All they care about is getting you to purchase their books and courses and coaching sessions and merchandise. There’s a big difference between nonfiction writing and copywriting, the latter being a marketing skill that works wonders when deployed upon sick people at the end of their tether and desperate for a solution.
Because human misery is lucrative, which is no surprise in a country that has commodified everything.
Steer clear of anyone who has the hubris of telling you what to think and feel.
Only you know exactly what you’re going through and only you can talk about it in your own words.
In turn, speaking up will give you the courage to keep going as you connect with like-minded people.
As you excavate the feelings you went to great lengths to avoid, they will eventually show you the way forward.
Please be patient.
Getting better is an assault course full of surprises and setbacks, it’s exhausting and slow and frustrating but allowing yourself to express what you feel will help you become whole again.
Eventually, you’ll come through the other side with a deeper understanding of your own humanity, and more compassion for those who are still stuck.
A kinder, gentler world without shame or stigma is only one shared narrative away.
What’s your story?
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.