A Road Less Traveled

~ notes from an uncommon journey ~

My Depression: #WhatYouDontSee

Yesterday I saw on Twitter that it's Depression Awareness Week and that an organization called The Blurt Foundation was launching a social media campaign called #WhatYouDontSee. It's a genius concept because...that's the thing about mental illness: You literally cannot see it. In some cases (like when someone self harms, for example), you can see evidence of it. But you cannot see the illness itself. And as a result of that (and many other factors), misunderstanding and stigma abound. And these things only make it worse for sufferers. The Blurt Foundation said they were "determined to challenge the stigma around what depression 'should' look like, and show the world that ANYONE can be affected by poor mental health." So am I.

So during my lunch hour, I started tweeting and Faceboking (simultaneously, thanks to the Selective Tweets app) some of the ways that depression affects me. My first post announced that I was participating, and then another early post shared the link to Blurt's Huffington Post article about the week and the campaign.

Click on the image for Blurt's campaign announcement.

One thing I noticed pretty quickly: It was crazy easy to come up with examples. I found that to be quite telling.

But the other thing that happened was also telling. Because of the way Facebook works, some of my friends didn't see my first post or the one sharing the article. So they assumed I was posting about what I was going through right then, and they responded with care and concern. And of course, that's lovely. I certainly wouldn't want them to respond any other way. But what I'm betting a lot of them don't realize is....

I live with that shit every. damn. day.

And—that's sort of the point too, isn't it? I live with it all the time, and many in my life have no idea. Or at least...that is how it often seems.

Now, to be fair, some days are better than others. And, with the way my depression tends to work, some parts of days are better than others. It's not equally bad all day, every day. (And thank goodness for that.)

But depression (in a similar way to grief, actually...though the two are different) can rear its ugly head at any moment, and then I'm experiencing one or more of the things I posted about—or any of a myriad other things; it just depends.

Here are the majority of the campaign tweets I've posted in the last 2 days so you can get an idea of what this is like for me. (Keep in mind that others' experiences can and do differ.)

It's time we normalized the experiences of those with mental illness. In fact, it's way past time. And by "normalize," I mean: to help others living with it know that the things they experience are normal for their condition. And it's past time we helped those living with it know: You are not alone. And it's past time we corrected the many misconceptions that are out there, like...it's just a bit of sadness, and one could snap out of it if they wanted to. Nothing could be further from the truth.

These are the reasons I'm sharing so personally this week.

With sharing comes greater awareness. With awareness comes greater understanding. With understanding comes a greater capacity for connection and empathy. Both for those suffering and for others around them. (And as Brené Brown says, in the RSA video The Power of Empathy, "...rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.")

If you're living with depression and want to participate in the campaign, you can simply talk about it on social media, and use the hashtag #WhatYouDontSee.

If you're struggling with depression or think you might be, and you could use some help, start here.

When Grief is Not Enough

In the years since my loss and in the grief that came after it, I have heard many a message about seizing the day, about living fully—because life is short, and we don’t know when our own will end. And, hello—a loved one's death drives that home. Except…when it’s not enough to fully drive that message home.

Wait,…what?!? You mean the love of your life died and your most-cherished dreams shattered, and that's not enough for you?!?

How could it possibly not be enough to do that?

When depression is your other constant companion, that’s how.

If I’ve learned one thing about depression from my own experience, it’s that, contrary to popular belief, depression is not just about being sad. It’s about being so sad that you are de-motivated. For anything and everything. Even things you supposedly want. (Well, that’s my layperson’s definition, anyway. I’ve just…lived it is all.)

And having survived the death of the person I loved (and love) the most has not, in itself, flipped that on its head. In fact, it was the cause of a lot of it.

See, grief and depression are not the same thing. They can often feel the same, but they have (at least) one giant difference: Grief can ultimately motivate a person to live fully, to embrace the now…since you now realize, like you never did before, that you don’t know when there won't be any “now” left. Depression…has the opposite effect. And when you have both (oh, along with a history of a host of other traumas)...well, they can "play off" each other, make each other worse, and just pull you even further into the fucking pit.

I'm not as far down in the pit as I once was. The early years of grief were a hell on earth of wanting to die but not wanting to kill myself. It's not that bad anymore, but there is still a giant element of "just going through the motions." A giant element of only "motivated" sometimes to go to work because I want to avoid having to rely on others for financial support. And I do go out socially, and I can and do have a good time.

But the undercurrent of depression is always there.

Sure, hope matters. ...Not that I have any.
(OK, I'm exaggerating. But not by much.)
So—you can tell me that Hope Matters. You can tell me about kicking the shit out of option B. Or you can exhort me to, instead of thinking of life post-loss as plan B (and therefore inferior) at all, think of it as creating a new plan A. You can encourage me to put it all in a virtual cement mixer, to become fodder for a new foundation. You can even remind me—with good reason—to wear the damn watch!

And you'd be right. It's just that I'll be over here, going...Look, I get it. Life is short. So. fucking. short. But for all of my "getting it" mentally, I'm still without sufficient motivation or energy (physical, too) to do much of anything about it. I mean, living out my life as it is now tends to take all of my energy out of me. And I've tried so. many. things. to improve my physical energy. And I guess some of it has helped. But it's still not...well, enough.

One thing I am doing is learning about shame and its antidote, empathy; wholehearted living; vulnerability and courage; and the process of rising after falling—by reading the books of Brené Brown and by taking her online courses, the Living Brave Semester (which covers the content from her books Daring Greatly and Rising Strong; FYI, this course is offered every January) and The Anatomy of Trust (FYI, this course is offered all the time and is free).

One of the biggest realizations that the Living Brave Semester course has led to or reinforced is that I need to learn how to love myself. It's not like this is a brand-new thought, but only recently has it truly become a priority. Because it has finally sunk in: You cannot pour anything out of an empty pitcher. In other words: you can't give any more love to others than you have for yourself.

In fact, we recently finished the Daring Greatly content, and one of the exercises for the last lesson was to write a manifesto. ("Manifesto" probably gets a bad rap. I mean, it can bring to mind extremist individuals or groups. But it simply means, "a written statement that describes the policies, goals, and opinions of a person or group.") Anyway, since I'd already realized the importance of self-love, what my manifesto needed to be pretty-easily occurred to me.

So...will learning to love myself "work"? Will it give me enough "juice" to finally  Live Large?

I certainly hope so. ...See what I did there?
© A Road Less Traveled

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