This one’s for you, men. You are amazing people. You can be providers, supporters, fighters and lovers. You are fathers and grandfathers, brothers and sons. Yes. But you are supposed to be strong and show no signs of struggle or weakness? No. You are human. You hurt, you feel, you emote and you break. And after you do that, you are still a man. You are not immune to mental illness and you are entitled to support and help if it strikes.
It really pains me to see men feel like there’s stigma around taking care of their mental health. Male suicide rates are high, and often they wait too long before seeking help.
Well let me tell you something: The strongest men I have ever seen in my life, who were physically, mentally and emotionally strong, I have also seen cry. I have seen them worry, seen them sick, seen them experience mental illness and seen them ask for help (reluctantly ask for help, but ask for help nonetheless). I don’t want men out there to feel as though they need to fight on alone. Be an army, not a lone ranger!
I want you to think of this: When babies are born everyone in the room waits to hear that first cry. That first cry says “I’m alive.” When you cry as a child it means “I’m hurt,” “I need help,” “I need attention,” “I’m sad” — you can still cry as an adult male. A strong man will tell us when he’s hurt, needs attention, feels sad and needs help. It’s OK to let someone else support you every once in a while. You can be a tag team fighter rather than stand in the ring alone against a army.
One of the bravest and most courageous things I’ve seen a very important man to me do was soldier on through mental illness brought on by experiences no one should ever experience. This gave me hope, too. If someone so strong can fight a fight that hard, then I could too. If that big, strong man can cry, then this little girl can cry. If that amazing man can fight like that, then he truly is a hero.
If this isn’t enough to show you how amazing you are, and convince you it’s OK to show emotions, then I will end on this — and yes, I am going for the sex sells approach. If the one crying happens to be my man, my husband, although it breaks my heart to see it… it’s bloody sexy, too!
Lately, I’ve been going through a Depression (capital D for much respect).
I think one of the hardest parts about it has been that oh-so-common question from others (and often myself) of…“Why?”
You see, people often associate Depression with something situational. Something must have happened, must have gone wrong. And when nothing has happened, nothing has gone wrong, when I have nothing outside me to blame, I feel like there is something just fundamentally wrong with me.
That feeling is judgment rearing its ugly head, as it often likes to do. This compounding of a negative feeling with a negative judgment is what Buddhists call the “second arrow,” the not-so-helpful criticism and blame we tack on to an unfortunate unpleasant situation or feeling. It’s such an irrational (albeit human) thing that we all engage in this kind of judgment. It’s counter-productive; it doesn’t help anybody, and well, arrows– they’re pointy and made to hurt.
However, as many who experience Depression know, it can often be a biological thing with no cause to point to or bad situation to blame it on.
But truth is, my life (situationally) is pretty damn good: I have a hot, smart husband who loves me and treats me well; I have amazing friends who I can call up and cry to when I feel like shit; I have a job that pays me well, keeps a roof over my head, food in my mouth; I have art and creativity and a strong healthy body and a really cute cat and an adorable dog and… really, I could keep going with the gratitudes and the positive thinking, and sometimes that’s all I need to get by on any given non-Depressed day. Positive thinking on a daily basis keeps my mood in check. (Note: I am a big fan of daily positivity by the way… proof here).
“Why?” is one of the hardest questions in the world, because, oftentimes, in so many aspects of my life, I just can’t answer it. It’s hard not having the answers. And honestly, I don’t want to keep dissecting this uncontrollable thing that’s just happening in my brain right now.
But I will show you a picture of a depressed brain and a not-depressed brain. In the not-depressed brain, you see mostly yellow. In the depressed brain, you see very little yellow and mostly blue.
See, a lot of my yellow lights just aren’t shining. There’s no point in asking why because it just is.
So, I’ve decided to stop with the why and just accept what is. And what is right now… is that I feel like poop.
I’ve been going through this Depression for a over a month now. The first week was rough: crying till I was numb, lying on my floor (my dog Zelda joined me – see right), oversleeping, loss of appetite, unable to leave the apartment, not reaching out (feeling like no one could help, so why bother?) and just that overall sense of hopelessness.
If I were to characterize Depression in one feeling, it’d be that one: hopeless.
Nothing helped. I did all the things I’d been told to do, all the things I’ve read in books:
Meditation – check
Offering help to someone else, a.k.a service – check
Running – check
Talking about it – check
Affirmations – check
Journaling – check
And then there was the ever popular reminder that this too shall pass. A lot of well-intentioned people said that to me: “Rebecca, this too shall pass.” And I love each and every one of them for trying to help, but I did not want to hear nor could I believe that this too shall pass.
I can believe it now. But Week 1 of Depression? I was not hearing it. You know what else I wasn’t hearing? You are responsible for your own happiness. No one actually said this to me because, thankfully, I have friends that know better. But I heard it in TV shows, read it in books and heard it on podcasts.
You guys, just a tip — don’t tell people who are Depressed that they are responsible for their own happiness. You are essentially telling them it is all their fault, and they are already feeling shitty enough. Let’s not add a layer of judgment to it (remember that pointy arrow and how it hurts?).
However, hearing that phrase often enough did help me to enter Phase 2 of Depression: Anger, a.k.a. a general F*ck You attitude. And I was pretty cool with that because at least I was feeling something.
And then something wonderful happened.
After about a week of mostly isolation — I don’t think I even bathed most days because when I feel awful the first thing to go is hygiene — I finally left the apartment.
I had to go to therapy.
I totally wanted to cancel but inner adult Rebecca, who really wants what’s best for me, convinced me to just put one foot in front of the other and take a shower. It was my first small victory in seven days.
I made it to therapy. It wasn’t so bad. I’m not going to go into the benefits of therapy because that’s not what this story is about. But after therapy, I was hungry– my second tiny victory, seeing as eating is second to bathing in the things that go out the window with Depression.
I went to a Pret a Manger and grabbed myself the most comforting thing I could think of: chicken soup. As I went to pay, I got a call from a friend. I picked up. In hindsight, that may not have been the best place for a conversation, but in that moment, I really needed to talk to someone.
I put my headphones in to free my hands and pay for the chicken soup. My friend started asking me how I was feeling. I was on the verge of tears as I spoke because that’s just my general state these days.
I got up to the cashier and I was not at all paying attention to her because I was on the phone. In the back of my mind, I was also very busy judging myself for being so rude as to not acknowledge the person right in front of me helping me. My self-judgment knows no bounds.
I got my wallet out only to find I had no cash, no debit card and no credit card. Score.
I looked frantically through my bag. The cashier said something to me. I assumed it was the price. I said, “One moment,” and continued looking. My friend on the phone asked if I was OK. I said, “I can’t find my card!” The cashier said something to me again. I didn’t understand. Suddenly, a crowd of about eight or nine tourists swarmed in and up to the counter. I continued to frantically search. I felt a thousand eyes on me in that moment. I looked helplessly at the cashier and said, “I’m sorry. I can’t find my card. I need a moment.” I stepped aside.
I continued to look and my friend said “Are you OK?” and I said “No, I think I was robbed. I will call you back.” I hung up. I looked at the cashier who still had my soup in front of her and was assisting what now seemed like 800 tourists. I called to her, “I can’t take the soup. I’m sorry,” and began to walk out.
On my way towards the door, I called my husband. He was at home so I asked if he saw my card anywhere. I stopped by a table before I left and continued to rifle through my bag. My husband looked for the card and asked me if I was OK. I said, “No, I’m hungry.”
If you guys can’t tell by now, I was about to lose my shit in the middle of Pret-A-Manger.
I said again to my husband on the phone, on the verge of tears, “I’m really, really hungry.” My face got all hot, and I felt barely able to keep myself from blowing up into a billion pieces.
Suddenly there was a tap on my back. I turned around. The cashier was standing in front of me, holding a tray with the chicken noodle soup on it. I reminded her, “I’m sorry. I can’t pay.”
She tapped the table next to me and said, “That’s OK. Sit. Eat.”
And that is when I proceeded to lose my shit, but in a totally different way. I cried (OK, maybe you could see that coming) and then I hugged her. I said to her “Thank-you-I’m-having-such-a-hard-time-and-you’re-so-kind-thank-you.” She laughed and did this adorable little bow of her head that indicated, “You’re welcome.”
My husband, still on the phone, heard it all. I could hear him smiling. I smile cried and got off the phone. I sat and began to eat the soup.
A moment later, one of the tourists came up to me and said, “Oh, good, you got the soup. I was going to get one for you.”
I cried again and said to her, “Why is everyone being so nice to me?” She gave an awkward laugh and walked away.
But that question was rhetorical. I didn’t need to know why. All I needed to do was eat the chicken soup.
The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. 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.
You’re trying, trying, trying so hard to keep it together. You had hoped today would be better, but you woke up feeling the same sense of dread and panic. You know it won’t last forever, but it’s getting old. And it’s getting worse.
You can’t stay in bed, although your body is screaming for it, because you have three kids to take care of. So, you drag yourself out of bed and perform your duties like they’re hardwired into your brain. You think a cup of coffee might give you some energy, but instead it makes the pounding in your chest worse.
Kids fed, check.
Diapers changed, check.
Is this all I’ll accomplish today?
You’ve tried self-care, deep breathing and being good to yourself, but nothing is working. Your 5-year-old’s squeals and 1-year-old’s cries pierce your ears like a siren. You try not to shout, but find yourself doing it anyway. Then you get angry at yourself for being “that” mom. You know it’s not their fault. Your toddler doesn’t know your skin feels raw and your senses are on high alert, so she climbs on you, pinches you and pulls at your clothes. She doesn’t know that today her play feels like torture.
You leave your 7-year-old in charge and retreat to the shower — maybe there you will get some relief. At least here, with the noise of the water, you can cry. You fight the urge to turn the water on too hot and scald your skin. You try to focus on your breathing and the sound of the water — try to be here in the moment, but your mind won’t allow it. It screams at you in a hundred voices. Your mind is a crowded room with a locked door.
You take a deep breath and go back out to your kids. One wants a snack. One wants to play a video game. The youngest has taken off her diaper and peed on the floor. All you can manage is a weak sigh as you get a snack, clean up the floor and re-dress your toddler.
I can’t do this! I can’t do this! Please help me! your inner child pleads. You give in and allow your kids to play video games and watch a movie so you can have some quiet. Then scold yourself again for being a failure as a mother. Snap out of it! You wish so badly that you could. What’s wrong with you?
You have depression.
And although you have been in remission for several months, your symptoms like to pop up every now and then like a cold sore, reminding you they will never really leave. You cancel outings you are meant to attend, (by text and Facebook, because you can’t possibly face a telephone call at this point) making up excuses. The excuses seem necessary because stigma still exists, and you can’t possibly just tell people “I can’t cope right now, so I won’t be able to make it to the playdate.” What would they think of you if they knew?
You spend most of the day on the couch. When your husband gets home from work, you are finally honest and tell him you’re in pain and struggling to cope. He hugs you and strokes your hair, because he’s your best friend. He reminds you how much you’ve been through together and that together, you will get through this, too.
You feel a bit better and turn to one of the coping skills you’ve learned over the years. You make a list of reasons why you are awesome. At first it seems forced (“I read to my kids every night”), but by the time you get to “lived with depression for over two decades and I’m kicking it’s butt,” you begin to smile.
The Mighty is asking the following: Write a love letter to another person 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.
I’m you at 37 years old, and I finally got through another year. This year, I have learned so much I want you to know.
There will be people who will look at you and see you for your illness, and you need to know you are so much more than just depression. The very people who are supposed to love and care for you will tell you who you are, and what you feel and how you act. Ironically, you may do just that because it’s what they expect you to do. Do not give in to them — distance yourself if you must, or tell them to stop. When you do your own thing, you will find you are truly strong and can still overcome the bad days and celebrate the good ones.
Always be good to your friends who have invisible illnesses, because they will love and support you as you grow strong during the good days and help you get back up on those bad days. Do not forget that depression lies to you, and that these friends truly do love and care for you. Never, ever doubt or forget that.
It will also make you want to hide from the world or make you feel that you are not worthy to be in it. Not true! You have a purpose here, even if you don’t see it yet. Lives will be touched in ways you would have never imagined, and this will require your words and actions. Your uniqueness is what will make the difference in those very lives, so you are required on this planet right now. You just wait and see! It’s OK to be a little less than humble, I promise.
You have a long and hard road ahead of you, but never give up. There will be others out there who will need you as you have needed others. Depression is not a disease of one, even if we feel it is. We must help each other survive and hope, because there will be good days we just have to work a little harder to get to.
When we do get them, we have a bigger reason to celebrate and not take them for granted.
With much love,
A happier you
The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with 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.
Facing the world each morning can be difficult when you live with a mental illness. Depression, specifically, can make everyday tasks seem daunting. Getting out of bed and out the door can be a major accomplishment. And although music can’t cure depression (we wish), it’s scientifically proven to reduce stress and even depressive symptoms.
So, each week, we ask our readers what songs and lyrics have helped them through depression. If you need an extra boost this week, hopefully some of these can help.