When It's More Than The Blues
"Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change." -Brene Brown
I had a more entrepreneurial blog slotted to share with you this week.
Then, I logged online the other day and saw it was World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10th).
I saw a few posts, registered it, and thought, great someone else can talk about this. It’s good people are talking about this - I don’t have to. I proceeded to brush it under the rug.
I’m calling BS on myself because I very much have something to say about mental health. I’m part of the statistic.
So, next week we’ll talk some business-y, entrepreneurial stuff.
Today, I want to share my experience for anyone who might need to hear it.
(Rather watch and listen? Join me in a Facebook Live below!)
Mental health disorders are stigmatized, misunderstood, and in the world of positive psychology (which I fully subscribe to), there also seems to be a message of buck-up and positive your way out of it.
Except it doesn’t work that way.
I talk a whole lot about mindset and there’s a big reason I’m driven to learn more about the brain, am fascinated by how it works, and am simultaneously excited and relieved that it’s been shown we can rewire our brain.
While I haven’t had a brain scan, I’m pretty sure I’m neurologically wired for depression, anxiety, and who knows what else. But, I refuse to let it win or for that to be my entire story.
But it was very much was my story for a long time.
The first time I remember feeling depression was in middle school. Not really an opportune time to get hit with feelings of apathy, lethargy, emptiness, sadness, and general lack of enthusiasm for life.
I remember having to trudge my way to school through what felt like mud and thinking it was a normal way to be.
I somehow how found myself on the cheerleading squad and it was an exercise in sheer determination that I made it to practice and plastered a fake smile on my face.
I forced myself to social activities that left me hollow.
I participated in reckless activities because I didn't care what happened to me.
Hear me, I’m not looking for sympathy or empathy. Today, I’m an incredibly happy and fulfilled person who feels joy, flow, excitement, contentment…as well as very normal sadness and anger.
I do want to open your eyes to a very real medical disorder that gets stigmatized, misunderstood, and misdiagnosed.
I distinctly remember sixth grade when my mom took me to a doctor, a licensed, medical doctor. She looked for the usual red flags: divorce, substance abuse in the home, physical abuse...and when she found none, she told me to "snap out of it" and told my mom I had nothing to be upset about.
Depression isn’t being sad, though sadness can be a symptom. Depression is also not a choice.
Thank god I have an incredible mother and father who persisted and sought help elsewhere. Not everyone is as lucky as I am.
I wasn’t old enough to know better. I wasn’t equipped with the self-awareness and tools I have now. I didn’t have Google to search for symptoms and treatments.
I was young, chemically mixed-up, and speeding down a dead-end, back-alley about to crash.
I was hurting myself in more ways than one.
Yet, a very educated and well-meaning doctor looked at me and decided I had nothing to be upset about and that was almost that.
Depression and mental disorders, in general, aren’t rational. Depression isn’t about being upset about something. It isn’t about needing to buck up and cheer up (and, oh, does that to this day make me want to scream when I hear it).
If it were that simple, we wouldn't need mental health awareness. It would simply be "keep calm and carry on."
Someone with depression also can’t just “snap out" of it. That’s akin to asking someone with high blood pressure or diabetes to snap out of it. It’s ignorant, insulting, and frustrating.
The exact cause of depression is murky. There’s evidence of a genetic predisposition and chemical imbalances. Science hasn’t quite come to a conclusion, but I’m a big believer in Dr. Amen’s work which says, “Anxiety and depression are not the result of character flaws or personal weakness; they are the result of biological problems in the brain that can be balanced.”
Depression (and other mental disorders) aren’t a motivation problem or a result of someone being too lazy to “fix” things.
Often it isn’t about something being “wrong”.
I remember not knowing why I felt the way I did. I didn’t understand why getting out of bed felt like a herculean effort or why making it through the day was absolutely exhausting. Why outings with friends that used to be fun felt like sleepwalking.
I do remember wishing there was something wrong so I could explain it and erase the guilt and shame I felt.
I also remember finally finding someone (well, my parents finding someone) who properly diagnosed me with the worst depression they had ever seen and giving me medication and therapy.
The medication wasn't a candy-coated cure-all. It didn’t work for a while. They kept having to change and up my doses. The side effects I wonder about to this day.
When it did finally work, I remember thinking, “Oh, you mean it doesn’t have to feel so hard?”
I didn’t necessarily feel “happy” because I wasn’t unhappy before. I remember feeling even and clear for the first time in a long time.
I would still get upset. I would still cry. But for a reason. Because I was sad about something that had happened instead of empty for no reason. I’d still be tired if I didn’t sleep enough, but I no longer wanted to sleep the day away.
I’ve cycled through this a few times in my life. It came again in high school, in college, and in early adulthood.
Each time, though, it got easier. The depression became less crippling because I knew what was going on. I can now catch the symptoms as they attempt to sneak in and strangle my grip on life.
I no longer need medication (I’m not against it). I’ve got a giant toolbox I continue to add to and break out the sledgehammer when those symptoms come a-knockin'.
But, I needed help. I couldn’t write you today and tell you this if I hadn’t gotten help. If I hadn’t been lucky enough to have parents who saw that what was going on as more than teenage angst.
When it happened again in high school and college, I needed someone to lift me and point me to therapy. I needed someone to teach me the tools to take care of myself.
In honor of World Mental Health Awareness, I want to share this awareness with you.
Depression is more than being moody. It’s more than a bad case of PMS or the blues.
Depression is serious. One of the deadly side effects is suicide.
According to Mental Health America: the most common underlying disorder for suicide is depression, and suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the US and the second leading cause of death among people ages 15-24.
If you think you’re struggling with depression (or another mental disorder), know you aren’t broken. Know there is help and there’s power and bravery in asking for help. There’s a whole lot of wonderful life on the other side.
If you broke your arm, you’d get someone to help you set it. Don't try to set depression on your own.
You’re also very much not alone.
I find depression to be particularly common with the people I work with: entrepreneurs, artists, and creative types (I believe our brains are actually wired slightly differently, so we’re more prone).
It’s estimated that 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide, so the statistics say you probably know someone suffering from depression.
I don’t have all the answers, but I hope by sharing my story, I can help someone else know there's they aren't alone. If this resonates with you, please make an appointment with a mental health professional.
I know it can feel like the dark clouds will always be your only BFF, but the clouds will part. The sun will come out again. It does pass and change.
With love and so much compassion,
P.S. I’m not a doctor, so don’t take this as medical advice (which I’m not legally allowed to give, consider this my disclaimer).
P.P.S. Know someone else who might resonate with this blog? You have my blessing to share it with anyone you think it might help.