Am I Depressed? (Mental Health Series Pt. 2)
Sometimes, we have a blah day or two. Maybe a week, even. Perhaps we’ve gotten some bad news or work is really tough or financial woes are keeping us up at night. We might even say we’re depressed, but we can feel depressed without having clinical depression. So what’s the difference?
Often the distinction comes with how long we’ve been feeling low; blue; tired; unmotivated; numb; down or just plain miserable and how difficult it is to pull out of the fog. There are also some risk factors involved. A tendency toward depression can be hereditary, just like anxiety and other disorders.
When Nothing Helps
I had experienced rare "down times" before, but after I weaned my second child, the blue feeling just stuck with me. Like that old cartoon character with his own personal rain cloud. I couldn't seem to shake it. I tried—really hard. I prayed harder. I got more sleep. I drank more water. I read my Bible more. I did everything I could think of to make myself “get it together.” But nothing worked. (Okay, not EVERYTHING—I’d like to say I exercised but that would be taking hyperbole too far. Walking from my room to my couch doesn’t count, right?) But back to the depression…
Sure, I could rally for a few hours here and there. I’m a pretty good actress so I could fool most everyone for short periods of time. (Myself included!) But eventually it got harder and harder to pretend I was fine. I wasn’t fine. But I didn’t know what was wrong with me. You’d think it would have been obvious (it is to me now)…but it wasn’t. I knew something was wrong. But I kept thinking if I just tried a little harder I’d get better. I kept beating myself up for being a wuss. For not doing enough. For taking a nap instead of going for a walk. I thought if I just held on a little longer I’d start to feel better. Instead, I was sinking.
Too Tired To Tread
It felt like I’d been treading water for months and I was starting to dip under the water more and more. I was just growing too exhausted to keep treading. One day I talked with a friend who also happened to be a psychologist. When I described how I was feeling, I asked in a very tentative voice, “Do you think I might possibly be depressed?” I remember feeling embarrassed even asking that, thinking she was going to laugh at me. She did laugh. But not because my theory was ridiculous. Her response was an emphatic yes and the slight laughter was because I was so unsure of what seemed obvious to her. Her belief that I was indeed struggling with something real gave me the courage to call my doctor and ask for help. And through a series of visits, talks with a therapist and trying a few different medications, I did get the help I needed. Thank God.
Asking For Help is the Strong Thing To Do
But what if I hadn’t had someone to talk to? I wonder how long I would have continued trying to tough it out. I see people going through the same kinds of things and I wish I could just tell everyone IT’S OKAY TO ASK FOR HELP. If you keep “toughing it out” you’re not helping yourself or your loved ones. You deserve to be healthy and it’s not a sign of weakness that you can’t pull yourself out of this. Sometimes we just need someone to throw us a life preserver, so we can stop treading and rest for a bit. For me, medication was that life preserver. For others it might be behavior modification or talk therapy. Or maybe a combination of all three.
I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist or any other type of “ist” and I don’t want anyone to mistake my words for a medical diagnosis. But I do want people to grab some courage to go and seek a diagnosis from a professional if any of this is sounding familiar.
La La La...I Can't Hear You
My stubborn, hippie dad has a weird lump on his neck. And I have asked him repeatedly to go to the doctor and have it looked at. Do you know what his answer has always been? “No, I don’t want them to tell me it’s cancer.”
Imagine me with a deadpan look on my face right now. Or that emoji with straight lines for eyes and a mouth. How does that make any sense? If you’re afraid you have an illness, not being told about it won’t make it not be there! And while the majority of us will clearly see the ridiculousness of my dad’s stance, most people do the exact same thing when it comes to mental illness. They don’t want to be told that they are depressed or bi-polar or struggling with anxiety. They don’t want to be labeled. They think if they don’t get the diagnosis, it’s somehow going to just eventually go away. It’s not. Even if the lump gets smaller or harder to notice, it’s still there and it could still be cancer. Or it might not be. Wouldn’t it feel great to find out it’s just a benign lipoma instead of dreading cancer for years?
Most people would say yes. Most would go to the doctor if they found a strange lump. But for some reason, when it comes to emotional and mental pain, we are taught it’s weakness to ask for help. That we need to just buck up and try harder. As if it’s some sort of failing on our part.
But it’s not. Let me repeat that. If you are depressed (or anxious or unable to control your emotions), it’s not a failure or something you’ve somehow caused. It’s not your fault any more than an aneurism or a blood clot is.
Clinical Depression is a Medical Issue
I’m not going to go into all the details on the medical diagnosis of depression because I don’t want to pretend to understand the intricacies of mental health and illness from a doctor’s viewpoint. But I do know it’s very often a matter of our brains not getting the right combination of chemicals where they need to be, when they need to be there. (How’s that for a technical definition?)
I’m not saying the solution is simple or one-size-fits-all. I’m simply trying to persuade you that it’s okay to get help. Telling someone how you’re honestly feeling can feel so scary. But being vulnerable is the first step to being healthy. And I’m not saying it will be easy. Getting better is hard work. But it’s worth it. It’s worth it to live your best life and it’s worth it for your family or friends or loved ones to have the privilege of knowing you as a healthy person.
You’re worth knowing. You’re worth loving. You’re worth saving.
That too, bears repeating: You’re worth knowing. You’re worth loving. You’re worth saving. And you may have to be the first person to do something loving for yourself. I’m rooting for you and I know you can do hard things. Because you’ve been doing something hard for quite some time now...all that treading is not easy. You’re not weak. You’re incredibly strong—but you’re worn out. You just need someone to throw you a line. Stop treading water, friend because you’re not alone. Be brave; Be courageous: Reach out to someone you can trust, and get healthy.
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