One of my dearest, most beloved high school friends lost his father last week. A devastating loss exacerbated by the fact that my friend’s father — after a lifelong battle with depression — chose to take his own life. Left in his wake are shocked, grieving, devastated, angry family members and friends, trying to make sense of what doesn’t. A wife, kids, grandkids…
It is no secret that depression has long been one of my demons. For most of my adult life, I have fought depression and anxiety, kept it at bay with medication, exercise, and a partner who keeps me balanced with love and grace and wisdom. He knows just how much to let me hide, knows just when to pull me back into the land of the living, understands that what happens inside me is not a choice, but a diagnosed medical condition — a hormonal, brain chemistry-related imbalance that leaves me continually adjusting my diet, exercise, social, and work options to keep the teeter-totter as level as possible.
There are many moments I question my purpose on this earth, my contribution to the world, my worth, my reason for being. Often, I get lost in swirling “what ifs” that leave me paralyzed with fear and incapable of forward movement. I’m melancholic, easily brought to tears, overwhelmed by the injustices of the universe. Although I have no scientific basis for my belief, I think extra-feely humans probably have more issues with depression than others. Any moment, any situation, any experience can leave me wrung dry, begging for mercy, running for the safety and escape of my pillow and sleep.
I used to think everyone felt this way.
After I had my first baby and sat bawling inconsolably while friends and family came to gaze upon his chubby, smiling perfection, I attributed my state of being to hormones. Looking back, it’s easy to see I was in the throes of PPD, but at the moment, I thought it was the way every woman felt after gifting a new human being to the world.
Recently, I posed this question to my husband: “How often do you feel sad?” I was shocked by his response: “Very, very rarely.” I thought an abundance of sadness was a shared experience, a common response to a world that’s often too bright, too complex, too mean, too much.
I’ve had well-meaning friends ask, “Don’t you want to be free of medication?” Of course I do. And so, I’ve taken myself off — time and time again — with disastrous results. Perhaps I’m a slow learner, but I now understand that medication will always be part of my life. A biological imbalance is not a choice, it’s a fact. Depression does not equal weakness, and both caring and advocating for yourself is the epitome of strength.
Statistically, 1 in 10 Americans suffers from depression, and 80% of those who meet all the criteria for clinical depression receive no treatment. Those are sobering statistics, friends. Especially when this particular ailment can be treated effectively with medication, homeopathic remedies, psychotherapy, and support. Prolific sadness, hopelessness, anxiety, suicidal thoughts — these are not normal modes of existence. They are warning signs, and they must be heeded. We need to recognize them in ourselves, our kids, our friends, our family members. We were not meant to go it alone on this earth — be both the village you need and the one others need you to be.
I am one of the lucky ones. With much trial and error, I have learned how to manage my depression with a range of treatments. I have an incredible support system in my family, my friends, my loved ones. I’ve had kind, understanding physicians who have explained what’s happening in my brain, who have given me options for treatment, who have supported the path I’ve chosen. (I’m strengthening my trusses, H.) Like so many other diseases, depression is manageable, but it’s a conscious choice.
Don’t wait, friends. Your life is too important. Your contribution to this world, too precious. Make the call today — to your physician, a trusted advisor, a beloved friend.
You are not alone.