5 Things I Wish People Understood About My Depression

I’m pretty sure my battles with anxiety began in preschool, but I don’t really remember experiencing depression until I started middle school. Two decades later, I’ve finally come to grips with the fact that mental illness will probably be a lifelong struggle.

Depression affects every aspect of my life – my health, my family, my career and my friendships. And, even though we’ve come a long way as a society in recent years, in recognizing and treating mental illness, I still encounter stigma surrounding depression on a regular basis.

In many cases, it seems mental health is either ignored altogether or put on a back burner to physical health. This is both dangerous – as the two pieces are intricately connected – and demeaning, as dismissing mental illness can actually fuel its negative effects.

Here are five things I wish other people understood about those of us with depression and anxiety.

1. I didn’t choose depression; it chose me.

I want, more than anything, not to be anxious or depressed. It is something ingrained in my genetics, my experiences and the wiring of my brain since early childhood. Medications can help, diet and exercise can help, and counseling can help, but they don’t erase depression and anxiety. Trust me, if I could turn off my mental illness, I would.

2. Depression affects every area of my health.

More than 80 percent of people with depression report a change in sleeping habits. The lack of sleep can impair my immune system, making me more likely to catch viruses and less likely to fight off infections on my own. I’m prone to frequent headaches and fatigue and chronic sinus infections.

3. I am more tired of my depression than you are.

I know my mental illness exhausts the people around me; it exhausts me, too. I want to be able to “fix” me as badly as you do. I don’t use my struggles to get your attention; in fact, I usually hide them because I am ashamed and keenly aware my mental illness affects everyone around me. The only reason I share my struggles with depression and anxiety is to hopefully encourage others in the same boat.

4. I need your patience and support in my depression, not your criticism and dismissal of my feelings.

I am already anxious about having anxiety and depressed about being depressed. Your dismissal of my feelings and criticism of my ongoing struggles with mental health only push me further into my downward spiral of guilt and shame. I need you to listen, extend grace and ask how you can help instead.

5. Believe it or not, I’m doing the best I can.

Mental illness makes me feel like I am constantly failing at everything I do, but I keep trying anyway. I fight an uphill battle against depression and anxiety each day because I want to be a loving and attentive mom, wife, friend, daughter, granddaughter and sister. I don’t do everything perfectly, but I’m giving you my best effort and asking God to cover my shortcomings in his strength and forgiveness.

Image via Thinkstock.

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