5 Times J.K. Rowling Got Real About Depression

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J.K. Rowling is best known for her beloved Harry Potter series, but there’s a side to her that some Muggles might not know about. Rowling, then in her 20s, wrote the first book in the series while caring for her newborn daughter and dealing with the aftermath of her recent divorce. She also dealt with depression during this time and experienced suicidal thoughts. It was difficult for Rowling to adjust to her worldwide attention, but she’s since told The Guardian that she’s now disengaged from the pressure.

Rowling has been vocal about her mental illness. In May, the author responded to a tweet from a fan about failure. “This may get lost in the noise…” the fan’s tweet read. “But what wold you say to someone who has failed to find meaning and wants to finally give up?” Rowling first responded with a few photos:

Then Rowling really opened up, writing: “And I’d say, the world is full of wonderful things you haven’t seen yet. Don’t ever give up on the chance of seeing them.”

We’re always grateful when people in the spotlight don’t shy away from discussing difficult issues. Below are four other times Rowling was candid about her depression. We hope, if anything, her words can help someone struggling realize they are not alone.

1. “It’s so difficult to describe depression to someone who’s never been there, because it’s not sadness. I know sadness. Sadness is to cry and to feel. But it’s that cold absence of felling — that really hollowed-out feeling.” — J.K. Rowling

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2. “Depression is the most unpleasant thing I have ever experienced… Sad hurts, but it’s a healthy feeling. It is a necessary thing to feel. Depression is very different.” — J.K. Rowling

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3. “[My depression] was characterized by a numbness, a coldness and an inability to believe you will feel happy again. All the color drained out of life.” — J.K. Rowling

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4. “I have never been remotely ashamed of having been depressed. Never. What’s there to be ashamed of? I went through a really tough time and I am quite proud that I got out of that.” — J.K. Rowling

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If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

 

 

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I Thought I Was Too Much of a 'Man' to Ask for Help

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I didn’t ask for help. I couldn’t. An independent man doesn’t need help. A real man doesn’t call for or accept help. I couldn’t believe there was anything in my life I couldn’t do alone. Mistakes were equally unacceptable and I demanded perfection of myself. Too heavy to lift? Watch me. I didn’t need anybody for anything. Admitting otherwise was to admit I was less a man, and the very definition of who I was would suffer. In retrospect, it’s no wonder I became such an emotionally stunted and broken person.

I can’t remember a time, even as a child, when my pride would allow me to ask for help. Through school and into college, I didn’t need it. Helping others was perfectly OK. Getting help for myself was admitting a level of defeat I couldn’t bear to shoulder. When I’d find something I struggled with (like long division in fourth grade), I acted out in frustration.

My parents are not to blame. Somehow I internalized this version of what it takes to be a man, that real men found a way to get it done no matter the consequences and whatever it was. My dad is a good man and didn’t display the “go it alone” attitude I do. If not directly from him, then where did I get it?

I abused myself, my relationships and my body in my efforts to prove to everyone not that I was better, but that I didn’t need them. To me, the behavior was proof I was growing into manhood. I was just fulfilling my vision of what it was to be a man. Now, however, I look back on those behaviors as just rampant stupidity.

Nine years ago I had what I call a nervous breakdown. I worked a third shift out of necessity, so my wife and I could work opposite each other and never need child care. Again, I hated asking for help. We did what we felt we had to do. I hated the job, the demands on my time, the stress it caused, my boss and just about everything about it. However, I was too proud to admit the harm it was doing to me.

I slept in three- or four-hour spurts and knew levels of exhaustion I’d thought impossible. One night as I woke up to prepare for my shift, I was crippled by fear. I don’t mean that surge you get before a roller coaster or the mini adrenaline rush after a near miss to a car accident. I was absolutely frozen. I cried my eyes out over dinner and couldn’t move from the chair when it came time to leave. I resigned that night and felt as if a huge weight had been released from my shoulders. Rather than ask for help coping, it was easier to just quit.

The pattern repeated itself once more a few years later. I often say I wasn’t self-aware enough to realize I was depressed, but I don’t know if that’s the best way to describe it. Tunnel vision kept me from awakening to what was wrong with me and what it was doing to those around me. Why though? Why have I spent my life too proud, too stupid or too sick to simply ask for help?

I’ve got a couple of ideas, but most reflect poorly on what we’re taught as growing young boys.

1. The traditional notion of manhood and masculinity. Can’t do it yourself? You’re worthless.

2. Pride and shame. Asking for or accepting help somehow was a character flaw. I was ashamed if the topic was even brought up. Of course I can do it, what am I? A wimp?

3. The illusion of strength: I’m strong enough to do it myself. I don’t need the help.

4. My own mental illness. In my mind, nobody cared enough to help anyway. Any offer was just for show. They didn’t really mean it.

That fourth one there? It belongs in the chicken and egg category. Which came first: Was it the mental illness causing my inability to admit I needed help or did the pressure I put on myself contribute to the mental illness? Whatever the cause, it nearly killed me. Twice I pondered suicide so seriously I was ready to pull the trigger. I can tell you the taste of gunpowder and the cold steel of a Smith and Wesson aren’t things I choose to experience again.

So what. One guy couldn’t handle the stress of life and nearly punched his own ticket. Who the hell cares, right? If it were just one guy it might not matter. But there are thousands of us, each waging a war with himself and doing it alone. We don’t realize the damage we’re doing to ourselves and those we love by isolating them from our war. There is no shame in needing help, but too many of us don’t realize that until it’s too late. No human can go their lives without needing help, and it’s unhealthy and even deadly to believe otherwise. Eventually, many of us just snap.

I am no less a man because there is an obstacle too high or wide for me to cross. I am no less a man because I may weep openly. I am no less a man because I fear. I am no less a man because I am mentally ill. I am no less a man because only I get to decide what it means for me to be a man. I will not be defined by a label. Instead, I choose to define the labels applied to me.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

This post originally appeared on The Good Men Project.

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To the Parents and Step Parents With a Mental Illness

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Parenting is perhaps the most difficult journey most of us will ever embark upon. Step-parenting adds a degree of difficulty often under-appreciated and certainly overlooked in the annals of modern parenting. Step-parenting with a mental illness is akin to herding cats blindfolded in a rain storm amid an avalanche of catnip infused yarn balls during a laser light show.

There are a plethora of step parents out there wading through uncharted waters and doing the best they can. Knowing the statistics on mental illness, many of them are having similar struggles and they feel alone, isolated and like a failure. I know exactly what that feels like.

I’m not sure when my depression started. Knowing myself and my behavioral history, I have to assume it was in my teens. I simply wasn’t self-aware enough to realize I had a problem. In my mind, I simply hadn’t found anything in life to make me happy. I drifted from one thing to the next, from college to college, major to major and job to job. It’s difficult to have drive and motivation when you essentially feel dead inside.

Fast forward a few years and I met the woman who is now my wife. I was still not seeking treatment or aware that I had a problem. My mood swings were the stuff of legend and my temper equally so. Still, I was sure they were caused by other people and just “part of who I was.” I loved my wife, and despite everything, she loved me back. I’d frequently joke that my family was like a Kool-Aid Packet. Dump in pitcher, add water and voila! The reality is that it’s been far from simple.

I’ve never done anything but my best for my step-children. Never. From the beginning and as we grew to tolerate, then like and finally even love each other, I believed every move I made was in their best interest. I was frequently wrong, but my intentions were pure. Early on, I still hadn’t realized I had a problem. They bore the brunt of my mood swings, and my son especially knew just how to push me over the edge. Despite my intentions, I was often a terrible parent. Not only didn’t I know my children, but I didn’t know myself. I had no idea who I was, and I’m now convinced that you can’t be an effective parent in that situation. My relationship with my wife grew and regressed at occasionally alarming rates. Through my depression I’d emotionally isolated both us and the kids. Still, I didn’t realize I had a problem. As the disease progressed and my ability to function as an adult and parent regressed, I began to realize the issue was me all along. There was no overnight change. In fact, my efforts at change were so misguided that I slipped further and further from the man, the parent and the husband I wanted to be.

I knew I had a problem but refused to acknowledge that I needed help. I’ve documented my struggles here, here and here, so I won’t rehash them. My own warped sense of masculinity, pride and ignorance to the reality of depression led me astray. The more I struggled, the further I slipped. The further I slipped, the more I struggled. My ability to parent was nullified by the disease and my stubborn insistence that I “handle it” on my own. There was my wife and the kids — and me, off to the side. I couldn’t be included in much because there was no telling how I’d react. I imagine being around me was akin to finding a box of old dynamite. You pretty much stay the hell away. I was never happy or smiling, but at times I was tolerable. One misstep however sent me into an explosion of either anger or despair.

My children wanted little to do with me. That pain drove me further into the abyss and kept my family at arms length. My suffering was mine alone — at least that was how I felt. The battle was for me to wage and affected only me. That misguided thought process was not only selfish but self destructive. I often remarked to my wife that they treated me like a handyman and not a member of “their” family. I realize now how hurtful that was and that I was projecting my insecurities onto them. I was slowly becoming aware that I had a problem but still stubbornly believed I could handle it.

Almost two years ago I nearly attempted suicide. Despite isolating myself emotionally and often physically from everyone, I still needed them nearby. When everyone went to see family for Christmas I stayed behind. I sat alone on the couch one night and tried to decide between life and death.

I haven’t mentioned much about parenting so far and with good reason. I wasn’t a parent. As the disease progressed, I was less a father than just some guy who lived here. Sure, I played taxi occasionally, but I had no real connection with my kids. My son and I were constantly at odds and spent weeks without speaking. My emotional withdrawal was a pseudo abandonment to my daughter, and my son moved out just to get away from me.

Around this time last year I finally realized I needed help. I spent another night alone contemplating suicide and finally broke down. I knew the damage I’d done and was still doing. I knew I had little time to make things right. Most of all I knew I needed them more than they needed me. I didn’t have the luxury of trying to “just be happy” myself. I knew the man I wanted to be, the man I had to be and to get there I finally had to admit I couldn’t do it alone.

That brings us to the present. I’m not quite getting all of the help I should, but for now it’s enough. My mood swings are for the most part under control. I smile. My daughter and I get along better now than we ever have. Given that she’s a teenager, I’m considering that a huge win. We’re moving to a new town and the stress of the move hasn’t yet triggered a new depressive episode. I’ve invited my son and his girlfriend to move into the new home with us. We’re all excited about the future and its potential.

To the parents and step parents battling a mental illness every day, you aren’t alone and there is hope. Get help, and don’t stop until you find something that works. Let your family assist you on the journey.  Finally admitting you need help isn’t a sign of weakness. Just the simple act of acquiescence and acceptance takes courage and conviction. Bring your family back into your circle. Try to understand it isn’t just you suffering the effects of your mental illness. Everyone around you and close to you is affected as well. Make the necessary changes and reap the benefits of a more full life.  It won’t always be easy, and you’ll sometimes take a step back. As Dory says, just keep swimming.

This post originally appeared on The Good Men Project.

If you or someone you know needs help, see our suicide prevention resources.

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

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To the Husband With the Wife Who Has Depression

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Dear Husband,

I love you dearly, more than anything in this whole world. I think you already know this. I know you love me too, I just forget sometimes. Depression clouds my mind and fills me with horrid thoughts about how unlovable and worthless I am. Sometimes I believe you, sometimes I believe depression.

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I know you prefer the good days when I’m happy and not anxious or snappy, and I wish I could have these days every day. But I can’t. I feel the cloud approaching and it petrifies me. Sometimes I tell you and sometimes I don’t. Please, if you notice the cloud before I tell you, just hug me tight and tell me we’ll fight it together. Please don’t ask me if I’m OK — my automatic answer will be yes. In reality, it’s a big no. You see, depression can make you feel ashamed.

I know sometimes I overreact about the smallest things and get angry, but please be patient with me. Forgetting the bread will not be the real reason. It’s that I feel like I’m losing control over my mind. Depression is very clever, you see – it builds up a wall of anger piece by piece, and you never notice it until it’s so big it begins to topple over. I’m sorry you get the brunt of my anger on cloudy days. Please forgive me. Please. Just tell me you love me and leave me to calm down.

I know it’s hard to help somebody through depression if you’ve never experienced it yourself. I understand. I totally get it. Just listen to me and ask about the cloudy days. I can’t just bring it up in conversation. Depression clouds your mind. I need you to break the silence.

There will be lots of times I feel like you’d be better off without me, or that my children deserve a better momma. Sometimes I’ll tell you. Most of the time I won’t. Sometimes I can go for months without those thoughts crossing my mind, and other times I think about them every second of every day for weeks. That’s the scary truth. Depression is vile — a vile, nasty monster. Please always keep an eye on me, but know no matter how many times you tell me I’m worth it I probably won’t believe it on cloudy days – but please never stop telling me. Ever.

I love our children more than anything, but sometimes I feel like a failure. I feel like a rubbish momma. My mind nags me and tells me other mommas do things better and love better than me. I feel like I always fall short. I find it so hard being a momma on cloudy days, but I try so hard to not let them notice the clouds. I hope you know I try.

I haven’t self harmed since February 2010, but the urge often consumes me. When the black cloud is here it consumes my mind. I fight it so hard for myself, my children and for you. I know it’s hard to understand why I crave it, I can’t explain it myself. It’s like an old addiction that comes to hurt me when it smells the dark cloud. One day I hope it won’t ever cross my mind again.

I know I don’t talk about these black clouds often, but I want to. I hate the silence it forces me to keep. There’s a certain freedom when it comes to talking openly about the monster. Help me find that freedom.

Depression makes me feel tired. Sometimes the fatigue is so bad I just want to cry. Every bone hurts. Sometimes I lay awake at night and worry about things that won’t even happen. Squeeze my hand tight if you’re awake too.

Sometimes it takes every bit of motivation to get up in the morning, but I never let you in on this. A new day often scares me. I wonder, will I cope? Will the sky be blue or black? Is the weather nice? Every single morning is hard, but seeing you makes it easier.

I want to publicly thank you for loving me and supporting me. You are the best.

Yours forever x

Follow this journey on Swords and Snoodles.

The Mighty is asking the following: What do you want your past, current or future partner to know about being with someone with your disability, disease or mental illness? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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My Chronic Illness Just Happens to Be in My Head

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I have a mental illness.

Saying that makes me cringe. It’s such an ugly phrase, “mental illness.” And “mentally ill” is even worse. Those terms conjure up unwanted imagery, none of which applies to me. At all.

I’m not crazy. I’m not violent, scary or a threat to others. I’m not drugged out and loopy on high-octane meds. I simply — and not so simply — have a chronic health condition that happens to be in my brain. I use medication to manage it. Sometimes I feel completely normal. Sometimes I don’t.

Lately I’ve been in the not-feeling-normal category. Yes, work has been really, really busy for me. That’s been a big part of it, for sure. 

The last time I wasn’t feeling mentally healthy, I was sad and unmotivated. I dreaded starting each day. This time it’s anxiety that’s kicking my butt, which is weird for me. I don’t normally deal with obvious anxiety symptoms, until I had a panic attack for the first time in many years. And since that night I can’t get rid of the tight feeling in my chest.

I’m irritable, impatient and jittery. I constantly feel like I’ve had too much coffee. I always have this dreadful feeling I’m forgetting something really important. I’m picking apart the skin around my fingernails. And I get lost in unimportant things (like wasting time on Facebook or checking my lists over and over), instead of being productive (like dealing with household chores or focusing on work).

Years ago, I would have just tried to grit my teeth and get through this phase. I’d convince myself it would pass, or that by the time I actually got in to see a therapist, I’d feel better and it would be a waste of time. It would take a complete breakdown to spur me to get help.

Not anymore. This time when I recognized I was in a downward spiral, I set up appointments with my occasional therapist and my doctor. I asked the therapist for strategies to manage my anxiety and stress. I told the doctor what was going on and he adjusted my medication and is monitoring me. I’m writing down which medicines I’ve tried, what side effects I have, dosages and other relevant information.

I’m also taking steps to reduce the stress in my life. I’m gardening more and online less. I’m actually not working this summer. My husband and I calculated due to my successful winter/spring of work I can take a break. Of course, the stress of that success has driven me to needing the time off. But whatever. It is what it is.

This dogged dedication to doing what needs to be done to feel better is a big part of effectively managing my chronic illness. It’s not easy. It would be far easier to hide under the covers of my bed and wish it all away. Or grit my teeth and soldier on, making everyone around me miserable while I suffer. But those strategies obviously didn’t work in the past. What’s that old definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. Yeah. That. I’m done with acting insane.

Honestly, I’m not really feeling better yet. But I have faith that I will. I always do, eventually.

That’s the thing with my “mental illness.” Like many chronic health conditions, I go into remission and have relapses. Back and forth. Over and over. Living with a chronic condition can be exhausting. But I don’t have a choice. So I do it.

“Mental illness.” Yes, I have it. But I’m not crazy. My illness doesn’t define me. It’s one aspect of who I am. And that’s all.

Follow this journey on Honest Mom.

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I Thought I Wasn't the 'Kind of Person' to Get Depressed

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There are two big lies I’ve always told myself.

The first is I could always handle anything, no matter how much I took on.

The second I told my doctor as I sat in his office, trying to explain to him why I didn’t want something “unnatural” to help me return to myself.

“This may sound really ridiculous, but I’m just not the kind of person who takes medication to cope,” I said.

As I said it, I realized I did indeed sound ridiculous. From the amused and slightly pitying expression on his face, he apparently thought so, too.

Because the truth was, I wasn’t the kind of person that went to a psychologist, had an anxiety disorder or got depressed — until I was.

It was October of last year, and I was sucked into the end-of-year rush. I’d taken on far too much work like I had repeatedly done before. Sandra, my business partner and one of my best friends, warned me I was stretching myself dangerously far and was going to snap. I guess you don’t have any concept of your limits until you’re faced with them.

Unsurprisingly, I got sick. The doctor confirmed I had a sinus infection and asked if there was anything else bothering me. Feeling like I might be overreacting, I mentioned I kept feeling like there was a wind stuck in my chest when I went to sleep. It caused me to wake up feeling panicky just after I fell asleep, often triggering a nightmare that I would die if I breathed in or swallowed.

The doctor reacted with a lot more interest than I had expected him to. He recommended I see a psychologist at the practice.

Psychologist — the word was foreign in my mouth and sat awkwardly on my tongue.

I walked into the reception that Friday for my appointment. I mumbled, “I’m here for Karolyn, the psychologist.” I nearly followed with, “Oh, but it’s just because I can’t sleep, nothing serious!” I looked around the waiting room to see who had noticed me, and no one was particularly interested. Then the shame hit me — how dare I be embarrassed? But I was. 

After a few months of therapy, I felt as though my anxiety was basically under control. But something still wasn’t right. My sleep patterns were a mess, I had lost my ability to concentrate and focus and I felt like I wasn’t present in my own life, like I was in a numbed-down state of self.

So after having not gone for a few weeks, I went back to my therapy session. My therapist looked at me and said, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but you’re depressed, perhaps due to burnout, perhaps not.”

I began to cry, because although a small part of my mind had suspected this, I did not want to be the depressed person. I had come to terms with being the anxious person and the patient to a psychologist. Now, I had a new label to wrap myself in, and a new uncomfortable word to roll around on my tongue until it would no longer stick in my throat.

Surely I had no right to claim such a diagnosis. Would I not be diminishing the experience of those who were “properly” depressed? I have a good life. No, a flipping great life. What is someone like me doing owning and accepting depression? I felt like I didn’t deserve to identify with an illness loaded with associations of suffering and dysfunction.

I went home, read up on depression and discovered not all depression is the same, and not everyone will necessarily experience depression in the same way.

Depression isn’t just about feeling sad all the time. You could lack energy, experience loss of concentration and memory and struggle to sleep. And if left untreated, it’s possible to end up in the darkest hole imaginable. Fortunately for me, as I started slipping down into that blackness, I had someone there to grab my hand. Someone who had suspected a low level depression underlying all that loud, shouty anxiety right from the start, and who was already working on it with me.

As it turned out, with a combination of therapy, a prolonged period on natural antidepressants, cutting out most sugar and refined foods, managing work stress, regulating sleep and deliberately removing myself from some ongoing family drama, I pulled out of the dark space very suddenly (although it’s taken a few months to settle), without needing the prescribed medication. 

I was prepared to be very honest with myself, took a number of actions, was in therapy for eight months and worked damn hard to pull myself back to the air. I also now know I have the propensity for depression and will watch myself for the signs, or the denial, very carefully.

I do have the right to be depressed, because it’s something that happened to me, just like any physical illness. And I own it with a deep gratitude for what the experience has taught me about myself.

Follow this journey on Not The Kind of Person.

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