Subway train leaving station. People on platform.

To the Stranger Who Doesn't See My 'High-Functioning' Depression


Dear stranger,

You look at me on the subway and you see a tired woman on her way to work. You see someone who looks like everyone else on the subway, someone who is sleepy because it’s 8 a.m. Some days, just for a moment, you may see a hint of something more. Let me share with you what that little something is.

I have hidden my depression for as long as I can remember. I have what some people may call “high-functioning” depression. It is a lovely companion to my anxiety. To the outside world I look like I have it all together. My makeup and hair are always done, I am well dressed, I look put together. It has always been this way. Smiling through the pain, hiding the fact I really just couldn’t get out of bed that morning. I show up, do my part and then go home and crumble.

Going through a day with “high-functioning” depression looks like a lot of smiles. It sounds like “I’m just tired.” Part of this is true because all the hiding becomes exhausting. The pretending is easy some days and very difficult on other days. The weight of hiding how I feel presses down and it gets heavier and heavier until it crushes me. When it becomes too much to bear, it looks like tears running down my face. It sounds like gasping for air, like screams and like sobs. It sounds like me asking why. It’s panic attacks without cause, it’s numbness without a known trigger and it’s fits of anger over small incidents.

The next day you see a tired girl. I sit on the subway and you look at me, you look at how although my makeup is done, I look exhausted. This is my life with high-functioning depression and anxiety. This is my life hiding it all.

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How Andrew Solomon's TED Talk Helped Me Better Understand My Depression


I recently listened to an amazing TED Talk given by Andrew Solomon titled “Depression, the Secret We Share.” Speaking from his own experience with depression, Andrew was able to articulate so well a major part of my experience with depression.

Andrew said:

“You don’t think in depression that you’ve put on a gray veil and are seeing the world through the haze of a bad mood. You think that the veil has been taken away, the veil of happiness, and that now you’re seeing truly.”

Yes. This is so me. My depression does at times feel like a gray veil, a dark cloud coming over me that turns my mood sour. The way I experience depression on almost a daily basis, however, is feeling as if the rose-colored glasses I once viewed the world through have been ripped from my eyes, and I am left staring endlessly out at life as it really is. Depression feels like I am left to exist in a world that is gray, chaotic, confusing, empty and meaningless.

Andrew’s talk didn’t end there, though. Yes, depression makes me believe the veil of happiness has been taken away and I am now seeing truly, but that is not the truth. “But the truth lies” was the exact phrase Andrew used next, and that was a phrase he said he clung to in his fight against depression.

“But the truth lies.”

I began to think about what false truths depression might be telling me. You don’t really matter. Life is meaningless. You are expendable. You are too much to truly be loved by anyone. You are too much for your friends and family. You will always be insecure. There isn’t purpose to anything. Having faith will only bring you pain.

Being a very rational person, I like to believe I know how to discern truth from lies. I trust in my ability to sort out reason from deception. But as I listened to this TED Talk, I wondered if my brain’s great ability to think has unknowingly become a victim to a cunning enemy. An enemy that masquerades itself as reality while it silently steals away all hope and vitality from its prey.

Thanks to Andrew Solomon’s TED Talk, I feel I’ve been given a lot more insight into the enemy of depression I am in an ongoing battle with. I’m still trying to figure out how to keep this enemy at bay while at the same time beginning to repair the damage it’s already done.

I highly recommend listening to Andrew’s talk, whether you are fighting depression yourself or know someone who is. I encourage you to ask the question his talk spurred me to ask myself: What are the false truths depression tells you? And what would it look like to maybe, just maybe, start challenging the lies depression so cunningly says are true?

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When I Can Feel My Depression Closing Over Me


Have you ever felt like you were confined to a casket when you’re depressed?

An awful part about being depressed is when I realize I’m having a depressive episode, but I don’t know what to do. I always feel silly for not realizing sooner that I’m having one. I feel helpless. I don’t know who to go to. I don’t even know what I would say if I were to talk to someone about it.

What would I even say? “Hey, I’m super depressed. Wanna help me?” I am always scared to say anything because of the stigma about depression. I don’t want people to stereotype me.

Right now, I physically cannot get myself out of bed. I’m stuck. Should I eat? I can’t even remember the last time I did. Should I get dressed? Should I go to class?

Questions for me right now aren’t even “should I,” they’re “can I.” Not should I go to class, but can I even get to class? I feel like if I even try to leave my building, I’ll collapse before I get out the front door.

But then my brain kicks into overdrive, and I start to think about everything wrong that would/could happen if I don’t go to class. Even though going to class is really not an option for me. I think about how not going to class will pull down my attendance grade, it’s going to pull down my participation grade, it’s going to completely screw me over in all areas of the class.

One of the worst parts about missing class because of my depression is having to explain to my professors why I missed their class. I try to brush it off as just not feeling well, but I can only use that excuse so many times.

I feel like I’m suffocating, but no one knows except for me. Not only does no one know, but I feel like even if they did, they wouldn’t understand. Unless you’ve been in the same “casket,” I don’t believe you could possibly understand. No textbook can explain what depression is. Not in the way experiencing it would.

I’m so angry and frustrated with myself. Often I just ask why? Why am I like this? Why do I have depression? Why am I, in short, so messed up?! And then I start to think about everything being my fault. I turn it all onto myself. It’s my fault I’m not in class right now, it’s my fault my grades suck, and it’s my fault I can’t talk to anyone about my problems. Right?

I feel like the longer I wait to talk to someone, the closer my casket comes to closing. But when I’m finally thinking about talking to someone, my brain says it’s already too late and no one can help me. And then the casket closes.

I always try to get out before it closes, and I usually can. But when I just don’t make it out in time, I stay there for a long time. I am then stuck in my depression for weeks, if not months.

I know I need to talk to someone before the casket closes, but it’s really hard.

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30 Things About My Invisible Illness You May Not Know


I first filled out this questionnaire as part of a therapy session a few years ago. I wish I could locate it to compare the answers.

I decided to fill it out again this year and make it public. I thought it might give you a little insight into me!

1. The illness I live with is:

My usual answer is fibromyalgia, major depression and anxiety. However, I also have irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), borderline personality disorder (BPD), polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis. I have a thyroid condition, mitral valve leaks in my heart, migraines, have had two partial pneumothoraces. I am also very lactose and MSG intolerant.

2. I was diagnosed with it in the year:

Every year? Always a comorbid condition with fibromyalgia.

I was officially diagnosed with depression in fifth grade at the Children’s Hospital, with major depression episodes throughout my teens and adulthood. I was last diagnosed with antidepressant-resistant major depression and anxiety in 2009. My fibromyalgia diagnosis was first discussed in 2011 with treatments starting in 2012 and an official diagnosis after seeing multiple specialists in 2015.

3. I’ve had symptoms since:

My entire life! I have 40 years of unanswered questions, 40 years of never “feeling well.”

Different complaints over the years I now see in hindsight, backed up the fibromyalgia diagnosis. With the depression, I don’t know what it’s like not to have it. The severe anxiety wasn’t until 2009 and it sucks.

4. The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make is:

Making room for all my pajamas and comfy clothes.

Seriously, not being capable of working has been a huge adjustment. It means not having any financial independence. There is daily structure, interaction with others and comfort when working I miss most days.

5. Most people assume:

Who cares? If they can’t support me, they don’t matter!

I don’t know what most people assume. I know I am unreliable. Not knowing how I will feel in the future is a coin toss. No matter how much I want to do something, I have no way to know if I will be able to that day, leading to cancelled plans and hurt feelings.

6. The hardest part about mornings is:

Waking up when you never want to!

Some mornings I wish I had never woken up again. It can take me an hour to slowly loosen up, give my body a chance to ease out of the nighttime pain. And if my body is cooperating, my head may not.

7. My favorite medical TV show is:

I don’t watch a lot of TV. It’s boring!

Used to love “House,” these days I like the Chicago ER one. They mix with the police and fire department.

8. A gadget I couldn’t live without:

My laptop! It keeps me connected to the world. I can read news, communicate with others, educate myself, distract myself from the pain and online support groups!

9. The hardest part about nights is:

Sleeping!

Knowing no matter how much sleep I get, I am going to be exhausted. Knowing I have to wake up to another day like this causes anxiety. My nausea is the worst in the evenings.

10. Each day I take __ pills and vitamins.

A handful! Something for my depression, something for anxiety, something for fibromyalgia, something to help me sleep, something for my thyroid. Medications seem to always be a work in progress.

11. Alternative treatments?

I use medical marijuana (legally).

I have tried massage, physio, chiropractor, prolotherapy, counseling, diet changes and lifestyle changes to name a few. I want to try “floating” next.

12. If I had to choose between an invisible illness or visible I would choose:

My illness isn’t invisible, I am.

I got to experience the “visible” vs. “invisible” in the last year. I broke my ankle and was in a cast for 10 weeks. People were nosy and asked how I broke it, but I was also “seen.” I noticed more doors being opened, sales clerks offering assistance without having to ask and generally more smiles and chit chat. In comparison, without the cast, (although I do sometimes need a cane). People don’t hold doors, they don’t offer assistance or smile. In fact, when I park in a handicap spot (legally), I wait for the comments.

13. Work and career?

I never had a career, I had jobs.

I ever had the education for a career. But I loved retail management. I spent five years as a receptionist for a company that refused to try and accommodate my mental health issues. Instead, they fired me on January 1, 2010.

14. People would be surprised to know:

I have no friends.

How alone you can feel, even in a room full of friends or family! I won’t ask for help most of the time, so if I do, I really need it.

15. The hardest thing to accept about my new reality has been:

That it didn’t come with superpowers!

That it controls me, not the other way around. It is hard to battle your body and your mind when they seem to want to scream at each other instead.

16. Something I never thought I could do with my illness that I did was:

Spend the last few weeks of my dad’s life with him, supporting and helping care for him. I didn’t think I was strong enough, even while doing it. I still don’t and he’s gone!

17. The commercials about my illness are:

People watch commercials?

I have no idea but “mental health” seems to be trending right now…

18. It was really hard to have to give up:

That the life and future I envisioned for myself is impossible. This wasn’t in my “life plan.” I didn’t make a “back up” plan.

19. A new hobby I have taken up since my diagnosis:

Annoying my hubby with my forgetfulness.

Nothing I can think of. When my body feels ready to tackle something new, my brain says “nope” or vice versa.

20. I could have one day of feeling “normal” again I would:

What’s normal?

I would knock off a few fun “bucket list” things.

21. My illness has taught me:

It is my personal fight I have with myself on a daily basis. My illness is my problem.

22. What’s your secret?

Just because I am smiling and seem fine, doesn’t mean I am. I am battling my own mind and body to be present, engaged and involved. I may need to excuse myself from a crowd, don’t know how long I will be able to stay for and don’t know if I will have it in me to explain why I left.

23. One thing people say that gets under my skin is:

“But you don’t look sick.”

Or

“Have you tried ______?” from a non-medically educated person. Just because your neighbors, granddaughters, babysitters, moms, sisters and friends “cure” themselves with ______, doesn’t make it a cure or even safe!

24. I love it when people:

Remember me!

Include me, even if I can’t be involved. It hurts to hear about the fun after it’s over. Who knows, I might have been having a good day. At worse, you end up having the same experience you are now and feelings aren’t hurt.

25. My favorite motto, scripture, quote that gets me through tough times is:

“Not today.”

I use it all the time! “Not today” can be a mood or it lets me know it is OK to put myself first. It lets me put “feelings aside” for the moment because it isn’t the time to address it. That it’s OK to say “no.”

26. When someone is diagnosed I’d like to tell them:

Be patient, it takes time to adjust to a new you, a new life, a new reality. Have patience with those around you, they are learning too. It is also OK to remove those “toxic” people who drag you down.

27. Something surprising about living with an illness is:

My sense of “time” is out of order. I may feel like I just saw you when in reality, it might have been three or four months ago. I didn’t know!

28. The nicest thing someone did for me when I wasn’t feeling well was:

Left me the hell alone!

The simple things are the most appreciated and they doesn’t cost a thing. Clean the kitchen or bathroom, wash and clean my car, vacuum, take my dogs for a walk or do poop patrol, run a load of laundry. They understanding I don’t have it in me and do it without being asked because I probably won’t ask!

29. I’m involved with Invisible Illness Week because:

I want to stop self-shaming myself and I want people to treat others with more respect, regardless if you can “see” the disability. I am willing to stand and say “I have a mental illness and fibromyalgia and it’s OK!”

30. The fact that you read this list makes me feel:

Thankful.

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The Advice No One Tells You After You Start Antidepressants


 

Someone recently asked me about antidepressants and my views on them. This person had just commenced a course of treatment and was feeling worse after two weeks. It really saddens me that people are not given adequate support and advice about how you might feel after starting antidepressants. You do not instantly feel better. The period after talking to your doctor is when you need so much tender loving care and support, but sadly some are not told this. 

I realized maybe more people needed to know this, so I wrote out my advice.

This is a post about the things that should be said when you first start antidepressants, yet never are. There are far too many people in the world who find themselves knee deep in depression or anxiety. One of the hardest steps is to accept you are not feeling right, and then opening up to the doctor and asking for help. If you’ve done this, massive well done. Unless you’ve been there, you never fully appreciate how much strength it takes to book an appointment with your doctor and openly discuss how you’re feeling. This is the first step, and you’ve done that.

People should be given extra support during this time. Every aspect of care should be explained, and the person should be given all this information in written format, so they can take it home and digest it. Also, this way they can let family or friends read it. Spouses, friends and other people in your life need support, too. They need to know what’s happening to their loved one and how they can help.

Some doctors are super and some are rubbish — this is with every illness, not just illness in the mind. So if you got an unsympathetic one who simply handed out the medication with no empathy at all, it is more a reflection of their lack of education — do not take it personally.

You may find family, friends and people at work think, “Oh, they’ve been to the doctors and were given medication, so now they’re fine.” It doesn’t work this way at all. Holding the box of tablets in your hand for the first time does not instantly make you cured.

When you’re on antidepressants, you might find everyone suddenly becomes mental health experts, telling you about how bad antidepressants are. This isn’t always the case. This medication has helped so many people reclaim happiness. You are not alone!

The best advise I could offer anyone with depression that has just started medication would be accept you are unwell and allow yourself the time to heal. This is not going to be a fast process, so accept you are in it for a long haul. During this time it might be best to put any major decision on hold — you need to focus on you. 

When will I be well enough for work? When will the cloud lift? Will I ever feel “normal” again? In my opinion, you shouldn’t worry about these questions when you first start. You simply must focus on recovery and rest.

If you had the flu would you get up each day, get dressed and function like you would? We hardly ever push ourselves to unrealistic expectations with “real” illness, but depression and anxiety we are expected to jump out of bed, brush ourselves down and get on with life. 

For the first few weeks set yourself mini goals and targets, like taking a bath and getting some sleep. Remember, you need to give your body time to heal. 

When starting medication you may feel sick for the first few weeks. This is normal and you just have to allow your body to adjust to the new balance of the medication. Give it time. It’s not like taking a pain killer. It can affect your sleep patterns, can make you feel lethargic or nauseous. In those first few days, it might be helpful to have meal replacement shakes to help you eat. 

The first few months, think of yourself as a caterpillar in a cocoon, resting and getting ready to emerge. It is so important you keep on telling yourself this will pass and you will have happier days again. Hold that thought in your mind and never allow it to slip, as it is during this time your mind plays tricks on you and makes you feel like if you’re not instantly better so you must be a failure. 

Communication at this stage is so important. Loved ones feel left out and want to help, they want to talk, but if talking drains you, write little notes to each other. Use any method to express yourself and make sure they know that sometimes when you’re quiet, you are just healing and need that quietness. 

You may also find you want to talk over and over, and that’s fine.

Accept that tasks and hobbies might be hindered, so trying to relax by reading may become a massive stress. It is OK. Read small passages and take notes about it so you do not forget the story plot. 

Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor for further support during this time, that is what they are there for. But also don’t feel the only care is through a single tablet — as it is not. Medication can be just one part of the jigsaw to becoming well again. 

But for now, it’s OK to just allow yourself to breathe and allow yourself to heal.

Go back to your doctor as many times as needed, that is what they are there for. Make an appointment with the nurse to discuss medication further, or even ask to be referred to a dietitian to discuss nutrition. Ask if there are any support groups in your area — it’s good to talk to others in the same situation. Never feel you are alone, there are millions of people just like you and there are so many pathways of care that are there to support and help you.

Love and gentle hugs.

Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication.

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 The Advice No One Tells You After You Start Antidepressants
The author

Why I'm Celebrating 'Keep It Real' Day


So, Happy Keep It Real Day! (I made that up.)

Just a reminder to everyone that I have days that are less than awesome.

No makeup, didn’t do my hair and got myself together enough to get to the store. Had to at least do that. I would have preferred pajama pants and slippers, but I was going with my incredibly handsome hubby. Even though it was Walmart, I wanted to at least look like I came with him.

No worries — I’m actually having a decent mental day, it’s just that my body isn’t up to much of anything.

I just needed to keep a reminder out there that there are days when just getting up and getting dressed are difficult tasks. Whether it’s with my depression, a migraine or just overall being rundown, like today. These days exist.

If you know me, you know I try to keep myself put together. Actually, I want to keep myself put together, look decent and go out there to do amazing things… but sometimes these are the days that work their way in. Just a simple reminder I don’t always look put together; I’m not always happy-go-lucky and full of energy all of the time.

It turns out, I am actually human.

I have these days when I’m just here. Not by choice, but because my body cannot get motivated enough to do anything else.

And it’s days like this that make me appreciate the days that are better than this: when I’m motivated, full of energy, looking to be put together and ready to take on the world to do amazing things. Today is not that day.

And, so, I wanted to keep it real.

Happy Keep it Real Day.

This piece originally appeared on Experience: LIVED!

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