This letter is dedicated to all those who suffer, battle, and overcome in silence. You are not alone. You are not unseen. I see you. And one day I hope we can all see each other, too.
I am a survivor of depression, but I don’t seem like one, and I want to explain why.
I need to first address the misconceptions, the preconceived societal notions that only make someone like me feel more out of place, isolated and terrified to share the truth about my struggles.
I don’t blame you for what you can’t see. I don’t hold you in contempt for the one-dimensional beliefs instilled in your mind by a lifetime of convulsion. Often blind ignorance exists not out of malice, but out of a lack of understanding. A world where we all actively try to understand each other, both by sharing and by listening, is a state we should all strive for.
You may think you know depression, what it looks like and how to spot the people it haunts. But I want to challenge that idea because I don’t think it’s very accurate.
What do you think of when you envision a person who lives with persistent, prolonged, and serious depression?
You may think if I were someone who regularly clawed her way out of the darkest depths of her own mind, you’d notice. You’d take note of me, like there were a visible marking upon my chest, a scarlet letter that clearly indicates who I am and the cross I bear.
You may think if I were someone you loved, heck, even just liked, you’d know something was wrong with me. I couldn’t possibly have serious depression and maintain a normal, even exceptional, life. Things like family, friends, career and a vibrant ferocity of the soul must be unattainable for someone who self-destructs, self-deprecates and self-harms due to internal psychosis.
You may think you can only find serious mental illness in a certain kind of person.
But that isn’t true. Sometimes, it’s hidden in the people you’d least expect.
People like me.
I am the picture of happiness to everyone who knows me. I’m wildly outgoing, articulate and comfortable. I’m ambitious, confident and extremely high-achieving. I connect with others easily and have a wide circle of strong interpersonal relationships with people who love me openly and without relent. I’m self-sufficient and brave, generous and honest. I have a healthy body and a pretty smile. I’m naturally photogenic and athletic. I’m well-read, well-spoken, well-traveled and well-liked.
But I’m not well, at least not always, or even most of the time.
And the people who see me from a distance, envy me at arm’s length and watch me like a character on a TV show, don’t see that part of the story. They see all of the other stuff, the glamorous parts of me, sure.
But very few see the dark parts, in me or many people that struggle with depression.
You don’t see the scars, on my heart or my skin, the ones I cover with long sleeves and a loud laugh.
You don’t see me sitting down in the shower, with scolding water pouring over me as I heave and throb in pain from a brokenness I can’t control or explain, punishing myself for the frailty of my own brain.
You don’t see the days I can’t get out of bed or even open up the blinds to look at the sunlight. Because everything hurts, everything takes from me, and I feel like I don’t have any more to give.
You don’t see me hiding in public bathroom stalls to sob in secrecy when I have nowhere else to escape to.
You don’t see the goodbye letters I’ve written on late nights when the thoughts of death fog my brain so deeply that I can’t see myself getting through it. When I believe that someone like me, someone so weak and twisted, could never possibly survive. When the pain is unbearable.
You don’t see how fearful I am, how scary it is to sense my own ending dangling over my head like a grand piano tied up on a thin string.
You don’t see the way mental illness has ripped me away from the people I’ve loved. How I’ve had to live with the overwhelming shame of the things I’ve done when I’m in an episode, the words I didn’t mean, decisions I’d never make, and person that wasn’t me, that the people I love had to meet.
You don’t see the rejection. How on separate occasions men I cared for told me they couldn’t be with someone that struggles like I do, how seeing me like that made them fall out of love with me. You don’t see me squeeze my eyes shut every time I think about how devastating and soul-crushing it has been to show who I really am, only to be renounced and abandoned.
You don’t know how much bravery it takes to be vulngerable and real to another human, instead of the cut-out, cardboard caricature of the perfection I try to emulate. You don’t know how much it has broken me to then find out so many people only wanted the cut-out anyway.
You don’t see those things. You don’t see the fear, conflict and rejection. You can’t feel the tears, the blood or the flood that washes over me and drowns me in desperation and devastation. You don’t see the pain I carry, underneath.
You also don’t see the everyday battle that I have to wage in my own life.
You don’t see the plethora of medications. One after another for the last ten years, working through headaches, nausea, insomnia, exhaustion and a myriad of other side effects to find the combination that at least quiets the darkness to some extent.
You don’t see me sitting in a new therapist’s office, with shaky hands, feeling defeated because I thought I’d moved forward, to what others would deem normalcy.
You don’t see me do everything in my power to recover from a depressive episode; all the calls to loved ones, long runs, cups of coffee, motivational playlists and journals. Every trick, article, book, podcast and exercise that I’ve tried. But there is no quick fix, and that is something that a person with depression knows well.
Because you also don’t see how courageous and resilient a person has to be to live with a disease they know they’ll never fix, cure or silence in its totality, and yet still wake up every day deciding to live despite it.
It takes an unbelievable amount of endurance to repeatedly struggle with depression, to rise and fall, to break and mend, to remiss and recover, over and over, but keep going.
And no one calls you a survivor for it, even though you are just that.
No one says to me, “YOU are a survivor. Your brain told you over and over again to hurt yourself, and you didn’t. Your brain told you over and over that you deserved to die, but you fought to live. Your brain told you over and over to take one more drink, one more hit, one more pill to take away the crushing pain you feel in your whole body, but you resisted. You SURVIVED. And you keep surviving, every.single.day. You are a true survivor.”
How incredible would it be to hear that? But people don’t say that.
And you know why? Because as much as we like to claim there is no longer a stigma around mental illness, there is.
Enough so that many feel like they have no other socially acceptable option but to suffer in silence. These are people like me, desperately trying to live a normal life. And for that reason, they have to live in fear of people finding out the truth. People really seeing them.
Many also keep their pain in a place invisible to the naked eye, because that eye has seen them before and hurt or shamed them.
So, how do we fix this?– By sharing.
If you struggle, share yourself with people who you love and trust. Share your bravery in the sunlight for others like you to see. Take small steps. Take long breathes. Take a risk, and I’ll take it with you. Because we don’t deserve to feel alone or disguised.
People who know someone who struggles, or even if you think you may know someone, share your love. Share your understanding, your patience, your listening ear and your open arms. Put all of your judgment, fear and preconceived notions to the side, and really try to see others for who they are. Reach out. Open up. Pull people in, and let them know you’re there.
And all, share this letter. Share this message. Share this creed.
Share the notion that there are parts of everyone around you that you can’t see, unless you’re open to see them.
Let’s open our eyes, open our minds and open our hearts to each other, my friends.