A male face with a taped mouth and a red cross on it.

When Depression Steals Your Voice


No matter what else was going on in my life, I used to have words. Even through the worst of my depression, the words spilled out of me, tumbling into rambling journal entries and poetry, into essays and memoirs. I could always reach inside and come out with raw emotion that bled onto the page, pulsing, aching and harsh. That emotion could be frightening, but at least I could see it. I could share my experiences. And in that way, I wasn’t alone.

I don’t know what to do now that depression has stolen my voice. I poise myself over a blank page, clench a pen and notebook in my hands, and nothing comes out. My brain is full of white noise that drowns out anything I might say. It’s like a switch has been flipped. Where there used to be words, there is emptiness.

All I find are a swarm of thoughts that say nothing matters, nothing ever mattered. I find thoughts that tell me I have nothing to say, I’m no one and there’s no point in even trying. I don’t know what to do now that I’ve lost the only comfort I’ve ever had. I’ve lost the ability to write. Without words, I can’t express what’s going on inside of me. I can’t reach out for help. I can’t do anything except watch television and movies, allowing myself to get lost in voices that can still speak.

Depression isn’t always an abundance or an outpouring. It isn’t always tears, sobs and screams. Sometimes it’s a silence where there once was noise. It’s a frightening absence of something that used to be there. For some, it’s a loss of passion or interest. For me, it’s a death of words.

My body isn’t numb. I still feel pain and sadness. I still feel fear, anger and defeat. Those things haven’t been lost, as much as I wish they were. My ability to express myself has retreated instead, leaving months of wasted time, of blank pages, of voicelessness. So much of my identity is wrapped up in being a writer, someone who’s been able to capture her experiences, to share them and connect with others through them. Without that, I don’t know who I am anymore. A huge part of who I am has been stolen from me.

I don’t know how long this will last. I hope it’s something that will eventually pass. However, if I know anything about depression, it will have ebbs and flows like everything else. Some days, I might find my words again, and others they’ll vanish like they were never there.

In the meantime, I try to be gentle with myself. I let the silence settle over me and don’t force words where there are none. I do my best to keep the hope that this will someday pass. The words will return to me, and I’ll have a flood of new stories to tell.

Image via Thinkstock.

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Kings Cross station wall visited by fans of Harry Potter to photograph sign for platform nine and three quarters with trolley

How the Harry Potter Books Saved My Life


I first discovered the Harry Potter series when the “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” movie came out in 2001. I loved the idea of a world with magic, and when I saw the books in my school library I naturally wanted to know what happened next.

Editor’s note: The below features spoilers.

Within the next couple months I was diagnosed with depression. I was suicidal and receiving treatment and counseling, but I think the one thing that helped me most at that time was Harry Potter and his friends. Reading Harry’s adventures and imagining a world where magic is real, where good will always defeat evil if you have love and never give up, gave me what I needed in my life to keep going.

You see, at Hogwarts, Harry discovers the only reason he is still alive, the reason Lord Voldemort did not succeed in killing him, was his mother’s love. When he goes to Hogwarts from his aunt and uncle’s home, where he lived in a closet (literally), he finds his friends Ron and Hermione, and together they defeat Voldemort every year in one form or another until their final year, when Harry must face off with Voldemort alone and fight him one last time.

Looking back I see these books as an analogy for depression: you cannot face it just once and have it be gone. Depression rears its ugly head again and again in your life and you have to fight it again and again. Depression is not an easy thing to get rid of, much like Voldemort.

When I was first finding out I had depression, I went to J.K Rowling’s most famous books, and I read. I read when I was not sure what else to do. When I wanted to die, I distracted myself with her world of a young wizard boy with round glasses, a witch brighter than her age, and a scrappy red headed wizard with a pet rat and an R knitted into his sweater. I went to the books when I was scared, when I was tired, when I was confused. Every time I had trouble, I read.

When I would finish a book I’d then have something to look forward to: the next movie and the next book I could get my hands on. I got to know the characters and felt as though I had made friends while reading. I knew every bit of information I could find about them in the books. I felt happiness and relief when they defeated that year’s challenges, I felt sadness when characters died, I felt pride when Harry won his Quidditch games. I could imagine the castle, and Snape’s crooked nose, and Luna’s radish earrings, and Neville’s stutter. I had a home away from home.

The books lasted me about a year total, but the movies lasted much longer. The last one came out in 2011, and I now have a new movie from the Harry Potter world to look forward to, and the script from “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” has just come out. Now every time I am depressed I can go back. I don’t think J.K. Rowling knew what it meant for some of her fans when she said, “Whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home.”

Thanks to Rowling, I had a way to escape my own mind. I had a way to forget about what was happening for even a brief moment. Thanks to her I had something to cling to, a mystical, wonderful world that taught me all I needed was love and people who support me and determination to keep myself going, and that helped me more than I think anything else at the time besides my medicine. Her books saved my life, and I could never thank her enough for that. Because she decided to write down her ideas and then to keep going to publisher after publisher to get that writing out there, people like me are still alive. I credit her (along with my friends and family who helped me through when I wasn’t reading, of course) with me still being alive today. I hope she knows what she’s done for her fans. She hasn’t just created some good books and helped create movies based off those books, but she has shaped lives.

I still believe in magic, Joanne, Thank you.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

Image via Thinkstock.

A woman holds her hand toward her face.

When Depression Stalks Your Mind


Since I was a child, it has stalked me. Even with practice, I’ve never been fully prepared for its visits. I learned, quickly, that replacing my locks, barricading furniture in front of the door or luring it into homemade booby traps wouldn’t keep it away. Somehow, it found a way to hide inside of me. My only saving grace was realizing life was less complicated when it slept.

However, I never learned its patterns. I feared the moment it would wake up, dedicated, with its mission solely being me. It tormented me for days, weeks or months at a time. It’s dedicated. It’s ruthless. It’s victims should not underestimate its physical and mind-controlling abilities.

During my teenage years, instead of making friends and building self-esteem, I was forced to fight my own mind. There’s no weapon available for that, nor are there instructions on how to win this battle. When requested to identify my assailant to family and friends, I had no idea of where to point other than to my own self.

Eventually, no one looks any further than depression’s victims. It morphs into us, seamlessly. You might be half-dying at the dinner table, while everyone eats mashed potatoes. No one is aware inside you are being held captive. It laughs, knowing it’s deceived everyone who loves you.

Fighting depression appears completely different on the outside than it does on the inside. On the inside, I’m the most powerful slayer of all time, skillful, patient and dedicated. On the outside, I’m exhausted, unable to smile and all physical energy is gone. In fact, it’s a miracle to have survived at all.

Imagine a soldier leaving a war, and the only comments he/she hears afterward are: “Smile! What have you got to be so tired about? Snap out of it! Don’t you think it’s time to grow out of this phase?”

After living with depression for most of my life, I understand much more about depression than I did back then. First, the bad news:

1. There isn’t always an easy cure.

2. Depression is only half the fight. Constant side effects of medication have been a sideline battle.

3. Stigma is extremely prevalent.

Now, here’s the good news:

Compassion and empathy are contagious. One kind act can change the world. Although, there is no easy cure for depression, compassion spreads like wildfire. As humans, we have a responsibility to love, care and be there for others. I believe this to be the cure for the most difficult part of my battle against depression, stigma.

Whenever you are out, look at every passing face as though it’s on a “Help Needed” sign. Do this until the world becomes a place where each victim, stalked by depression, no longer has to face stigma. Instead, they will, openly, and without shame, display a “Help Needed” sign.

Mature Man Taking Golden Retriever For Walk In Countryside

5 Ways Depression Can Make You a Better Person


It’s really easy to list all the ways depression can ruin your life, so instead I’m listing some of ways depression has made me a better person. Here is my list, in no particular order.

1. Gratefulness

Depression has a way of stealing the little joys and happiness from your life, but one thing I’ve learned is to be grateful for those moments when something goes right or a friend brings some hope into my life. Moments like these can be easy to miss, so it takes some practice and self-reflection to realize what you can be grateful for, even during the roughest of times. For me, practicing gratefulness is essential when life gets heavy and I need to fight the darkness.

2. Patience

I am much more patient now than I was before. Depression has forced me to realize that I’m only in control of so much, and sometime I have to sit back and wait. This doesn’t mean I am an expert, but I have learned to accept that some things take time, and rushing only guarantees poor results. Let the process do what it may and learn to be patient with yourself and your surroundings.

3. Compassion For Others

It’s awfully hard to go through the hell that is depression and not be at least somewhat understanding and supportive of someone else’s trials and tribulations. Empathy and sympathy are often formed during the lowest of lows – at least, that’s been my experience. Being open about my mental illness has helped me make friends in the mental health community, where we encourage one another with our struggles and victories.

4. Perspective

Depression lies and tells me I’m alone, that no one would understand and no one could possibly have it worse than me. If you have spent any time in group counseling, like I have, you’ll quickly develop some perspective. Even  worst of days I can challenge those intrusive, depressive thoughts and realize that I’m not alone, that people do understand and there are people fighting battles I can’t possibly imagine. Mental illness likes to hide, but there’s some victory when you can get it out in the open and gain some perspective.

5. Forgiveness

Learning how to forgive is hard, but forgiving myself and others has been an essential part of my healing journey. Once you learn how to forgive yourself, you can also forgive others. If you have a mental illness, you will face stigma and misunderstanding. You need to expect that to some degree. I’ve learned how to get rid of the frustration and bitterness in my relationships, thus allowing me to grow and heal. Forgiving yourself and others might not change your circumstances, but it changes the way you view the world and how you interact with those around you.

Those are just a few ways depression has made me a better person. What’s your story, what things have you learned on your journey?

Woman crying

4 Questions to Ask Yourself If You're Afraid to Admit You Have Depression


There’s no question about it. Admitting you’re struggling with depression is a hard thing to do. Even after all the highly publicized struggles about depression of beloved celebrities like Jon Hamm, Ashley Judd or Owen Wilson, there is still such a stigma regarding those who struggle with depression.

The stigma of depression is mostly due to the negative nature of the illness. I get why so many are afraid to admit they’re struggling with depression, but you are not alone.

I am one of those people. I haven’t been ready to admit I am experiencing depression. Depression lies to you, and you feel like you are all alone. I have struggled in silence for far too long, thinking I was hiding and protecting those I loved. In reality, it was obvious to those who loved me that something wasn’t right.

My husband has felt the difference as I stopped engaging in intimacy. My children experienced the desperate hold depression has had on me as I stopped wanting to go out and play with them. My body was negatively affected because I stopped going out and enjoying the fresh air. I remained inside for days on end sitting, sleeping and sometimes rarely showering.

I haven’t been ready to admit it is depression, until now.

Here are things that might be holding you back from talking about your depression.

1. Do you think your depression is a choice?

The symptoms of a mental disorder aren’t voluntary. No one chooses to feel sad, numb or perpetually stressed to the point of living days on end in isolation. No one chooses to sleep all day, have their body ache in pain and miss living life with their family. No one chooses to go days without showering or eating.

These are all behavioral symptoms of depression. Your depression is not a choice. Yes, you have the choice to overcome each of these in the moment by moment, but sometimes it is too much to do alone.

2. Do you think you can handle it all by yourself and it will just go away?

Depression is not a phase that just goes away on its own. Most people who struggle with depression the first time have a difficult time realizing they are depressed. Sometimes, it has to be pointed out by someone close to them. In order to successfully remedy depression, it first must be identified.

While there are different kinds of depression, which require different levels of treatment, all usually require the intervention of psychotherapies or personal interaction with an unbiased and trained counselor. For most individuals, if you have had a depressive episode, you are more likely to deal with another in the future. We need each other to help identify and encourage appropriate treatment for this highly treatable and common disorder.

3. Are you afraid of being misunderstood, judged or that you’ll receive backlash from friends and family?

Anyone can become depressed. Depression is not a disorder that affects only one part of the population. Regardless, there still often remains misunderstanding from friends and family when you admit you have depression.

Since anyone can become depressed, you do not need to fear the judgment of others as their judgment is unfounded and untrue. Those who make judgments against you are just as likely to become depressed at some point in their lives.

4. Are you are afraid of the changes you’ll have to make to overcome and become healthy?

Even if you have admitted to yourself that you are depressed, you may be dragging your feet in admitting it to others. You don’t want to change the unhealthy patterns you’ve created for yourself while depressed. We lie to ourselves in depression and tell ourselves isolation and eating all the chocolate is OK.

You need others in your life. You need to get out. You need to eat healthy foods and make healthy choices. When we decide we are content with our depressive circumstances, we resist the necessary changes needed to become healthy.

If you can relate to these reasons why you aren’t ready to admit it is depression, then I urge you to reconsider your reasons. Call a friend or loved one and admit it today. Although there is momentary uncomfortableness, you will experience freedom in admitting your struggle with depression. I know I have. Remember, depression is a liar. You are not alone.

Image via Thinkstock.

Screenshots of the Start App

Start App Can Help Tell Whether or Not Your Depression Medication Works


Making the decision to start antidepressants can be tough for people living with depression. Fortunately, Start – an app designed to track the efficacy of depression medication – can help you determine whether or not the medication you are on is working.

“The idea of Start is really to help people decide if their medication is working for them as fast as possible,” Thomas Goetz, cofounder and CEO of Iodine – the company that developed Start, told The Mighty. In the U.S., approximately one out of every 10 people above the age of 12 takes an antidepressant. “There is a one in three chance of a medication, for any given antidepressant, not working on that first go. I think [people] are poorly prepared for what’s to come given how hit-or-miss the medications are.”

Start Starting Screen

Start lets people track and process their experience on antidepressants, Goetz said. Within six weeks of starting an antidepressant, users will be able to determine if their prescription alleviates their depression symptoms. Start begins with a questionnaire – the Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ-9) – that assesses the severity of your depression. The questionnaire is then repeated every two weeks to determine whether or not symptoms have improved.

The program is designed to be six-weeks long, as that’s when antidepressants really show their full effect, Goetz said. “If it doesn’t show its full effect, you should probably go back to your doctor and try something else.”

Start also lets you know what to expect when starting an antidepressant, such as the medication’s side effects and when you should start seeing results. Those who use the app can get personalized progress reports, which can be faxed over to your doctor.

Start Progress Screen

“We try and make it a very easy way for people to determine if they are getting better and whether the medication is helping them,” Goetz said. For users who have trouble remembering to take their pills, Start offers the option to set a discreet reminder, as well as reminders to log your mental health symptoms for that day. The app also offers a tip of the day and uplifting messages. “We try not to make it a lot of work for people. It’s really just about very quick check-ins.”

Start is the first mental health app to use Apple’s CareKit, and is only available for download on iPhones. Update: As of November 17, Start is available for Android devices through Google Play. The app is meant for people with depression, but that doesn’t mean it won’t help those with other mental illnesses in addition to depression. “We can see that people with other conditions – anxiety, bipolar, even schizophrenia – are using the app,” Goetz said. “If it’s useful to those people, that’s wonderful.” According to Goetz, the app has had tens of thousands of downloads, with thousands of people completing Start’s six-week program.

“I think we have one of the richest datasets around of the real experience of depression and the real effect of depression medications – probably the largest ever collected,” Goetz said. The app does not, however, collect names, emails or any other information that would make a person identifiable.

“We’re starting to learn a lot about the impact of the disease as well as which medications might work a little better than others for different people and which medications might have certain side effects or issues associated with them” Goetz said. “We are very aware of how challenging it is to start a treatment for depression.”

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