sad girl sitting on the floor in corner of a room with her head resting on her folded arms

What I Want My Loved Ones to Know When My Depression Makes Me 'Disappear'


I know my depression has returned full-force when I start to triage my life.

The simplest tasks overwhelm me, so I begin to make silent, irrational deals with myself.

“If you can get out of bed and make it to work on time, you don’t have to check the mail. (And obviously you never have to make the bed.)”

“If you show up for your friend’s birthday dinner, you don’t have to go to the work happy hour.”

“If you shower Monday through Friday, you can stay in bed all weekend.”

My mind goes into fight or flight mode, and any outside stimulus seems to be a threat. That text from a friend? They might need energy from me. The call from Mom? She might have bad news. The email from someone I haven’t seen in months? They might be able to tell I’m not doing well. The meeting with a client? Fine, of course I’ll go to that — but that’s all I’m doing today.

When my depression returns, I live by a spoon theory of effort, keeping most of them locked away. Just in case. I’ll do what’s required to stay employed, but once I leave the office, my energy leaves, too. At that point, I make no promises that I’ll be responsive to the outside world.

I search for tasks I can postpone or eliminate to conserve energy and simply make it through the day. I don’t share my plan with my loved ones, making life harder on myself. And them.

When they follow up after the third, fourth, fifth unanswered text or email, I get upset that they need anything from me. But really, I’m mad at myself because I know their frustration and hurt is my own doing. I want to let them in, but I need to stay closed off to make it through the week.

Avoidance becomes my preferred method of communication.

I disappear into a world of my own making that’s safe, contained and predictable. New information is overwhelming, so I turn to what I know. I re-watch episodes of “The West Wing” that inspire me. I listen to my favorite albums. I crave one-on-one interactions and avoid overwhelming crowds.

Glennon Doyle Melton tells the story of the canary in the mine, sent ahead of the miners because canaries are delicate enough to detect the poisons humans don’t even notice. The canaries save the miners, but they pay the price. They are the first to absorb the poisons of this world.

What I want my friends and family to know when I’m in triage:

I love you with a depth that’s hard for me to even process, much less explain. I feel in extremes, so when I disappoint you, I devastate myself, too.

I’m not sitting at home crying and ignoring you. I’m at home healing, trying to regain the energy to interact with the world again with compassion and authenticity. And light. To me, the world is a toxic mine, and I’m a canary who’s afraid she’ll be poisoned.

I’ve read all the articles suggesting we should forgive people with depression for disappearing for a while, excusing the flakiness that accompanies minds at war. I ask for grace when I’m at my worst, but I also demand you feel your feelings. I ask you to hold me accountable. Tell me when I’ve hurt you. Tell me how my non-responsiveness made you feel. I’m locked in a chamber of torment inside my mind, and the worse and darker it gets, the more selfish I feel I become, for self-preservation. Help me remember who I used to be, and please remind me that you need my time, too.

Help me remember I’m not a canary on a dangerous mission. I’m a canary who was put here to fly free.

Image via Thinkstock.

Follow this journey on Between Grief and High Delight.




The Power of Crying During Depression


I sat on the bed and cried. Tears fell down my face and onto the crisp white sheets, leaving a stain. I tried to wipe them away, but they kept falling. I was having a power cry, and there was nothing that was going to stop it — I value the power of tears.

I am a highly sensitive and emotional person. I find myself crying often. I used to hate this about myself. I would try to hide the tears or will myself to not cry. It wasn’t until I realized what a powerful gift the tears were that I began to embrace my propensity to weep and began calling them power cries.

In working through my current season of depression I have found myself crying more often. Sometimes for no apparent reason, other than tears are the only response I can muster at the time. I have learned quite a bit about the power of my tears.

Sometimes our tears are healthy ways to process a situation or circumstance. Emotional tears are cleansing and healthy, especially for those going through a depressive episode. There are actually several benefits to crying for physical, mental, and spiritual health reasons.

Physical Healing Power of Tears

The tears we cry enable us to literally see. Healthy eyesight depends on the lubrication of our eyes beneath our eyelids. Babies sometimes have blocked tear ducts after they are born and have to be treated so they can produce tears to help protect and clean their eyes.

Tears are actually nature’s antibacterial soap, as they can kill up to 95 percent of living bacteria within minutes of contact. How’s that for self-sustaining healing powers?

In addition to being bacteria killers, they also help the removal of toxins from the body. In a recent study, it was discovered that emotional tears contained more toxic byproducts than tears caused by irritation of dust in the eye. Tears caused by pain or grief  remove toxins built up in our body from stress.

Emotional Healing Power of Tears

Most often we link crying with the cause of and worsening a depressive mood, but crying can actually elevate your mood. Because of the release of stress toxins through our tears built up in our body over time, our mood actually improves after an emotional cry. Just another reason to let the tears flow.

Actually, holding back tears heightens our stress levels. This is due to extra hormones produced when we try to suppress a natural emotional response to a problem or physical response to trauma. Crying actually is our body’s way to help equalize our hormones for us to have healthy emotional responses within our relationships.

Crying actually helps us process grief and keep our hearts open and softened to new possibilities rather than closed off and hardened. Crying is an incredible gift which sets us apart as human. Crying is liquid strength. It is wise to embrace the emotional benefits of crying.

Spiritual Healing Power of Tears

Feelings were created to be felt. Our tears are veritable gifts. From our tears springs joy. Just like during childbirth pains we may cry in pain or frustration, but the end result is joy with the arrival of a new babe. Tears cleanse our souls.

Crying in public is often a fear for many, but in actuality, tears create community. There is a certain level of intimacy shared when we allow others to see our tears. It is an invitation to say, “me too,” which most often produces the most genuine and authentic relationships.

There are many benefits to crying. Power cries allow us to become strengthened through many different angles physically, emotionally and spiritually. When we give ourselves permission to cry we give ourselves an opportunity for growth and healing. Our tears are not wasted — they are purposeful and powerful. Do not be ashamed of crying, for it is your strength.

Image via Thinkstock.


The Problem With Referring to Depression as the 'Common Cold' of Mental Illness


Depression occurs so frequently within our population that it is often referred to as the “common cold” of mental illness. Everyone may at some point be affected by depression or know someone close to them who is, with approximately 6.7 percent of American adults affected by major depression.

But how does this comparison make those living with depression feel? For me, it trivializes the condition. It makes me feel like depression is something I should just suck it up and get over. No one wants to know about it, and certainly no one wants to hear my complaints.

I have both anxiety and depression. Because these are commonly known, it sometimes feels like I don’t have the right to feel bad and struggle with my conditions. I should just pull myself together. I wish I could.

Comparing depression to the common cold can seem a bit demeaning to those who struggle with these feelings every day. I feel it can somehow make it worse by bringing guilt into the equation. Like we don’t have enough of that already.

To me, comparing depression to the common cold is a bit ridiculous. One is something you can catch, will last a few days, and with a good rest and some medicine, you’ll probably be fine before the week is over. The other can last for years or even a lifetime. You can’t catch it, it takes several weeks for medication to kick in (if you’re lucky enough to get the right one on the first try), and it can be completely debilitating. The only common factor may be that most people will probably be affected by both these conditions at some point in their lives.

There is no real comparison here. I believe trying to make out like there is just adds to the stigmatization of mental illness, which is the last thing society needs.

A version of this post originally appeared on The Nut Factory.


When 'Better' Feels Like a Mocking Mirage


Robin Williams’ death from suicide hit me hard. Like most, I was stunned and confused as to how he could’ve gotten to that point in his life, even though I have spent much of my life fighting ideations of death and myself have been on the proverbial ledge on several occasions. His death is a sobering realization that no one is exempt from the ravages of mental illness, not even those who seemingly have everything. Mental illness transcends sex, race, creed, nationality. In the days that followed I discovered two articles that continue to resonate with me to this day. The Huffington Post article “There’s Nothing Selfish About Suicide” and the PopChassid Robin Williams Didn’t Kill Himself. Both eloquently point out how death by suicide can affect anyone at any time for many reasons.

Mr. Williams’ death by suicide was one year before my own plan was almost executed. One year before my own hospitalization. One year before my proper diagnosis of bipolar disorder II. One year before I started this long and tiring road to recovery.

For many years I was doing my part to break the silence and stigma around mental health. I was determined to help tear down the walls of stigmatization by being open and honest about my own lifelong fight and struggle with depression and anxiety. Yet, during that time spent being “open and honest,” Robin Williams reminded me I stood at that same brink many times. It revealed that my attempts at being open and vulnerable were also attempts to diminish and hide the severity of my own pain.

While experiencing my own suffering, I was writing from and speaking about the very same eye of the storm I myself was standing in, attempting to hide and ignore. Those two articles inspired me to write my own response as an act of mental health advocacy. In hindsight I realize it was also another attempt to minimize the darkness in which I stood by bringing light to that of another’s battle.

Here is an adaptation of what I wrote.

Imagine standing at the precipice of perpetual darkness, a vacuous blackness that promises to soothe your pains and ills, a cool balm for your aches and bruises.

Behind you lies a burning desert, a raging maelstrom of dark dust and sand. Roiling thoughts and emotions rend your mind and spirit. You search frantically for simple respite from the pounding deluge, a brief tranquil oasis, a meager moment of calm. It appears sporadically and abruptly, but never stays for long. You beg that it visit just for a day. A week would be paradise. A month is a myth. In the end you realize it’s but a mocking mirage.

To each side vast seas of emptiness and loneliness encompass you. Waves buffet your bones as you are pulled beneath the waves of Poseidon’s fury. You claw at the water and climb for the sweet relief of air. Your lungs burn as they fill with wet darkness. Your face intermittently breaks the water’s surface. You take a quick gulp of air, sometimes glimpsing the soothing silver of the moon peering between breaks of storm clouds above. The moment is fleeting as you return to the depths below.

Imagine being caught in a cycle of despair, rage and loneliness. Imagine the frustration of wishing you had control, knowing the battle inside is irrational and senseless. Imagine the guilt, the sense of burden felt towards family and loved ones. Imagine sailing along that precipice where the waters fall into the dark chasm of chaos and rage. Empty of guilt and pain you cling to desperate hope that a place of quietude can still be found.

Now, you may begin to understand the battle that many of us with mental illness suffer daily — the constant suffocating pressure weighing on our chest, fighting the twitching in our limbs, the weighted vice pinching the base of our skull. There is the fear of it all returning, sometimes creeping up unbeknownst, sometimes in a grand Biblical vision. The greatest of fears — succumbing to the dark whispers that echo through our mind and reverberate in our bones.

Robin Williams reminds me that only through empathy and an attempt at understanding can we begin to heal. Find your voice. Break the silence. Join the conversation. Take action.

And remember, we’re all in this together.


When My Mind Tells Me I Don't Have Anxiety and Depression


Sometimes my mind will tell me I don’t have anxiety and depression. It will tell me I’m just being a hypochondriac. It will tell me lots of people, including the people I know, have it a lot worse than me and they have problems to deal with, too.

They do, but so do I.

My mind will tell me yesterday when I was having an extra low day, I was being silly. It will tell me to just get over it and get on with my life because I’m an adult now. Adults are supposed to just get on with their lives and put up with stress. So I should stop being a baby.

This is a part of having anxiety and depression. They will both tell you you’re not being smart. They’ll tell you a lot of things. A lot of things that aren’t true.

My worries are big to me. Some of them are bigger than other worries. Some are more serious than others, but they’re all important to me. The physical symptoms, the mental symptoms, the emotional symptoms. They’re all important, and they’re all very real.

We try to cover our symptoms too often. We make out like we’re fine to people around us when generally we’re not. My boss asked me how I was the other day, and I was so close to being honest. I almost told her before I started work I had a major panic attack outside to the point where someone sat with me because they didn’t know if I was OK or not.

I was not OK. Yet, I said I was, thanked him, apologized to the man and went to work. I then smiled at my boss and said, “I am fine,” with a breathless smile as I turned and walked away. This way he didn’t see my face as it started to crumple and as I held the tears in. I felt as if I was in a box, and it was suffocating me. Yet, nobody but me could see this box. It took a lot for me to get on with my work and not just break down on the spot.

We go to therapy. We learn techniques to try to control and hide our anxiety, our depression or any other mental illnesses we’re struggling with. We always say we are fine because that is what society does. When people say, “Are you OK?” Usually, they’re not looking for an actual answer. If they are, then we lie anyway.

I’ll admit. I was messaging my friend yesterday to say just how bad I was, but this was because I was distracting myself before I got into work. My friend is the best as she understands and listens to me even when she doesn’t want to. I was losing my mind and honestly didn’t know what I was doing. Then, I made a joke and said I would be fine when I knew 100 percent I was lying. I went into work and I did my job to my best ability, and nobody noticed anything different about me.

We become the best actors when we have a mental illness. We become great at saying we’re fine. We become great at putting a smile on our face when inside we feel anything but happy. We become great at acting like other people do so we blend into society when all we want to do is curl up in our beds and cry.

All we really want is to be happy and is to be able to feel. We want to properly feel emotions that aren’t just emptiness or crushing. We want to wake up in a morning and struggle to get out of bed because it’s 7 a.m. and we want to stay in bed, not because we can’t face the outside world. We want to be able to smile and have it reach our eyes, not smile and know it is partially forced.

Now, we can have good days. We can have days when we really belly laugh, and we smile and joke with our friends. We aren’t permanently “doom and gloom.” It is just something we have to deal with a lot of the time.

So I am currently sitting in the bus station, waiting for my bus to work and writing this blog on my phone to post when I get home. If I sit and do nothing, then the anxiety becomes unbearable. The depression becomes smothering, consuming me and overwhelming so much that I feel as though a set of weights are on my chest.

This is when I start to lose it. This is when I nearly turn my back and go home to hide out in my room. Then, I have to explain to my parents why I’m suddenly home on this lovely Saturday morning when I should be at work. I’d have to explain to my boss why I haven’t turned up for my shift. Reality hits me like a ton of bricks and I drag myself into work feeling like lead because I don’t want to be there. I want to be in my room with some nice music playing distracting me from reality.

However, I can’t do that. We can’t do that. We have to get on with our lives. We have to go to work, bring up the kids or go to school. We have to participate with other people. We have to try to act normal.

This is why I wish there was less stigma and more knowledge around mental health. I wish people understood if I do say I am feeling anxious, then please give me a minute. I wish people understood that saying, “Just get on with it and stop worrying,” is not going to solve the issue. It makes us feel worthless.

I wish people would stop saying, “Smile. Stop thinking negatively. Just stop thinking about it and think of something nice. Just man up and get on with it.” It hurts and it is annoying. I’ve tried to think happy. My gosh, I have. Yet, when you’re spiraling downward there doesn’t always seem to be something happy to think of. Saying  things like, “Aww, it’ll be fine,” is all fine and dandy. We know it’ll probably be fine, but that doesn’t stop our overactive imagination from imagining all the worst case scenarios possible.

I just wish people would understand us a little more. I just wish we were taught about mental illnesses like we are infections and bacteria. I just wish people would see us as normal. Most of all, I wish people would be more understanding of us and stop the stigma.

Image via Thinkstock.

This post originally appeared on Fish Out of Water 96.


Dealing With Isolation When You Live With a Mental Illness


In the last 20 plus years of struggling with depression and in the last 10 years with anxiety, I have come to learn a lot about both illnesses. When I was diagnosed, I delved into researching these two illnesses, learning causes, symptoms and treatments. I went through many medications and therapies.

I have become a huge mental health advocate and a big help to others. I like to consider myself an expert, just not a medically trained one. Yet, now I have been blindsided by a trait of these illnesses I never thought possible — isolation.

I’ve read several articles about people isolating themselves because of social anxiety. Of course, I know the isolation that come from the stigma around mental illness. What about the isolation we can cause ourselves? The isolation we aren’t sure is actually real? The isolation these illnesses bring?

I’ve always considered myself lucky. From my first diagnosis decades ago, I have had a strong support system. Although I was told never to talk about it in the beginning, my parents always stood by me and got me the help I needed. My husband, having dated me for eight years before marrying me, knew from the beginning that his wife was a bit “atypical.”

He has never left my side even though I have told him numerous times to leave. My oldest and dearest friends, ranging from childhood through college to now, support and love me. I have never felt lonesome.

Then, why do I feel so alone, ignored and at times disliked? Being a part of a small but close group of friends has in ways saved me. There have been times where we have gone out, and I did not want to go because depression was rearing its ugly, lying head at me. From my years in therapy, I knew socialization is a must and I always forced myself to go.

Most of the time, once there, I had an great time. They accepted me and my “flaws.” Lately, something has seemed to change. Of course, being a person with anxiety, I am worried it was me.

What did I do? Did I say something wrong? Am I discussing my illnesses too much? Did I offend someone? This change started toward the beginning of summer. Text messages became less. Social media “likes” dissipated. Summer gatherings were few. And then, then, it culminated with one recent event and no invite extended to only myself.

The isolation I was feeling already, grew. Like a building in an earthquake, I crumbled. Tears streaming down my face, I felt so alone. I worried I would succumb to depression again because this branch of my support system was breaking. I worried they had “disowned” me. Most of all, I worried this isolation was caused because I had a mental illness, something that was never an issue before.

I tried to create answers for myself:

They’re busy. We all are. I only discuss my illnesses on my blog and other websites so that can’t be it. I haven’t been great at inviting people over to my house (because, honestly, I am embarrassed by it.) Maybe my daughter said or did something to one of theirs. No, stop, do not even go there.

I must have done something to lower myself down a few rungs on the friendship ladder. Now, I am alone, abandoned to my worrisome thoughts, questioning over and over what I could have said or done and always fearing the worst. I have now isolated myself, letting these negative thoughts control me, too shy to outright just ask or nonchalantly bring it up.

The days that have since followed have been days in thought, deep thought. Taking what I’ve learned in both cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing therapy (EMDR). I have sat with these thoughts more logically.

Did I say or do something? It’s possible, but I don’t think so. I am an excessively loyal and kind person, always there to listen and help. Do I discuss my depression and anxiety too much? Most of the time when with my friends, I don’t say anything. I am the listener. So, probably not.

In the end, we are all busy. For now, I am trying really hard to not be hard on myself while I wonder what happened with my local social group. It’s still a bit of a struggle, and I still feel isolation.

Image via Thinkstock.


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