This is for anyone who has a difficult time understanding what all the “fuss” is around mental health. For those who might feel uncomfortable sharing their story. For those who think these stories are not worth sharing.

In the past few years, there have been extensive campaigns to get the word out about mental health – its prevalence, severity, and treatment. Yet somehow despite the great efforts across the country, people still do not feel comfortable explaining their illnesses.

Obviously, most discussions about health are very personal, often making it difficult to share. I don’t quite enjoy discussing my cardiac surgeries or my severe depression.

Yet a key distinction between enduring these two conditions – one physical and one psychological – is the support I expect upon sharing these diagnoses. 

The former – most react with surprise and optimism, reassurances that I’ll be in great hands, followed by a comment of how easily I will recover. 

The latter – I expect surprise, along with a great dose of pity and awkwardness. 

No one quite knows how to react to the news that I’ve been living with depression, most likely because I constantly mask my symptoms behind a smile. Many people apologize and offer support. Several friends have blamed themselves for not having noticed before. Few continue not quite believing my diagnosis is serious.

So why would two health conditions elicit such drastically differing responses? 

In my opinion, we have been raised to believe mental health challenges can be overcome on sheer willpower. Some people unfortunately think it’s the individual’s fault for not being able to get better. Or that it’s their fault they are even in that situation. Jokes are frequently made that belittle the seriousness of depression. TV shows make light-hearted jokes about suicide, making depression an everyday word – but not in a supportive manner. Somehow this translates into friends sarcastically joking that someone “would rather die” than root for the Yankees or that “we should just kill them now” because they anticipate failing an exam. These jokes are completely inappropriate, unwarranted, and almost always facetious – yet we hear them on a daily basis, not just on TV.

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So why did jokes about suicide somehow become funny?

How did these jokes become funny?

By making depression a laughing matter, it has perpetuated the stigma around mental health. These comments essentially tease anyone for having suicidal thoughts because humor makes these sentiments too ridiculous to believe. You never know whom you may be hurting when making a joke about mental health. Personally, all of this discourse has made me feel as if my thoughts should not be concerning.

Since my diagnosis in October 2015, my friends were alongside me through the year’s roller coaster of depression. And for a while, they had no idea how to help. This is with no offense to them – I also had no idea what to do. We just have never had learned the proper mindset about dealing with mental health. Although they have the greatest intentions, they don’t fully understand the disease. So that’s why I was told to “just cheer up already” and that I was simply “blowing everything out of proportion.” When my depression reached its lowest point – I even heard how I wasn’t being a good friend anymore. I learned (too late) that some felt pressure to always be strong for me, not expecting me to capably reciprocate, thereby limiting our relationship. Soon I became sick of pretending to be happy, so I lost interest in spending time with others. I didn’t want to be a burden on anyone.

Struggling with the loss of my grandfather, the closing of our family-owned store, my parents’ divorce and my own relationship ending, I felt as if my problems were insurmountable. Several counselors told me that time and time again I was trying to mend a broken heart. Unlike my cardiac surgery, there is no set solution to this diagnosis. I started doubting the pieces could be put together.

My friends tried to comprehend how my disease restricted my thoughts and actions, but they couldn’t fully connect. I think this was primarily because the emotions surrounding depression are unfathomable unless you have lived with this disease. 

Never before had I understood hopelessness until I felt it. Never before had I genuinely believed I was incapable of healing. Never before had I wanted to let go…

The outward manifestations of my cardiac and mental health recovery were surprisingly similar. Both conditions left me either wide awake at night in great agony, or asleep too early, worn out by pain. With heart surgery, this pain was very visible – after all, my sternum was broken and I still had drainage tubes in place (disgusting, I know). However, the pain in depression is not at all visibly noticeable, only through its symptoms.

In both circumstances, I had lost a great deal of weight and strength – both times due to immobility and lack of eating, yet for vastly different reasons. 

After heart surgery, I was physically immobilized for several weeks and constantly nauseated from painkillers. 

Through depression, I have been mentally immobilized. There are evenings when I am completely unable to get off the floor because I am either uncontrollably crying or stuck feeling nothing at all. I slowly stopped eating because my medication and mindset gave me a constant stomach ache. I rationalized that eating is not worth the imminent stomach ache. I rationalized that eating may not be worthwhile because I am not worthwhile. I wished my cardiologist could fix me once again – because this broken heart of mine was becoming more painful than ever.

Neither of these situations are easy to discuss. But what is it that makes mental health so much more difficult to discuss? 

Why haven’t I shared more about this? 

Recently it’s become apparent to me how infrequently I share that I have depression. As previously mentioned, I’ve lost weight due to this illness, and in the past several months, people have commented on “how great” I look. Every time I hear this comment, my stomach churns and I wish I could explain that the weight loss doesn’t mean I am healthy. After all, for my physically broken heart, it would have been easy to correct someone by pointing to my scar from surgery. So through these emotional heartbreaks, I wish I could scream that I’m not doing well.

But I don’t do that.

Because by doing so, I am a burden.

At least that’s what I’ve come to feel through sharing my diagnosis. Those with whom I am not as close feel awkward by the situation, embarrassed for themselves. They take pity on me. My closest friends have been overwhelmingly supportive – yet it is apparent that none of them can “fix” me, so, in turn, I feel like a stressor in their lives (even though they are too kind to admit it).

But that’s the key — I shouldn’t expect my friends to “cure” me. This should not lie on them. 

Why should these two conditions be viewed so separately that for one, I need to see an esteemed cardiologist, but the other I’m just supposed to fix on my own or through friends?

After all, in both situations my heart needed mending. Mental health has become too much of a sensitive topic that many are wary of seeking help, so we end up falling back on friends for support. Even after seeking help, I realize I’m still not as open about this condition as I had been about surgery – even though both are life-threatening.

Why is it that while recovering from surgery I received mountains of teddy bears and flowers, but for depression, many of those aware often avoid bringing it up altogether? Why is medication expected post-surgery, yet unwelcomed for mental conditions?

Why is it that through one heartbreak, my hand was held in many doctors’ offices for consultations and procedures, but for the other, I’m left to find my own clinical help? Why is it that since the pain I feel from depression is not visible, that people assume that it has vanished?

Mental health should be more openly discussed to acknowledge its severity and eliminate the differing perspectives between physical and psychological health. Heartbreak is heartbreak.

Just because this pain exists in my mind does not mean it is not real.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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Depression can make you feel like part of you is missing. That feeling of emptiness is the subject of Janelia Mould’s photo series “A Girl Called Melancholy – A Story Of Depression.”

“I tried to capture the lack of being,” Mould, a self-taught photographer from South Africa, told The Mighty. “I am always looking for topics or themes to express myself through. I try to convey some sort of message through my images and was inspired by my own life-experience for this series. The images are a very subjective to my journey with depression.”

9. illusions - cheekyingelosi

Illusions 

Each photo in the series is missing its subject’s face, a purposeful exclusion Mould said helps magnify how empty and hopeless depression can make you feel.

“The character in this series has no face and sometimes has missing limbs, firstly, so that anybody that either suffers from depression or has dealt with it in some way, can identify with her.” Mould said describing her series. “Secondly, its keeps the viewers’ attention on the feelings often experienced through depression, like emptiness, vacantness and not recognizing oneself anymore.”

woman without a head laying on a mattress with her feet up in the air.

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Jaded 

Mould also includes quotes from famous figures to unknown authors alongside her photos. Her photo “Barren” (shown below), features a quote from an unknown author, which poignantly complements her photo.

Some days, I feel everything at once. Other days, I feel nothing at all. I don’t know what’s worse ― drowning beneath the waves, or dying from the thirst.

Woman without a head standing under an umbrella in the rain.

Barren 

Mould hopes her photo series will help others understand what it’s like to live with depression. “If you are suffering from depression, you need understanding and patience from others, not a quick fix,” she said.

Woman without a head wearing a dress hanging on a clothes line. Dangling 

Her series currently contains eight photos, but Mould may add more with time. “I have not decided how many more photos I will add or when it will be finished,” she said. “I guess I will take more inspiration from my journey ahead and see where the road leads me.”

You can view the rest of the series below or on Mould’s Facebook page and website

6. forgotton - cheekyingelosi Forgotten

4. uninhabited - cheekyingelosi Uninhabited 

photo of a dress in a suitcase with legs sticking out Withering Away

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It’s Complicated


For me, a combination of anxiety, depression, and physical illness has given me a negative perception of myself as a person and what I deserve in life.

I am a firm believer in karma and sending good energy out into the universe. You get what you give. What goes around comes around. But what happens when you only give negative energy and thoughts to yourself? What are you left with to give out to the world if all you tell yourself is how unworthy you are?

Self-worth, self-love and self-care are all intertwined. We are told, for both mental and physical health, the importance of taking care of ourselves. Our bodies and minds need rest, nutrition, space to breathe.

But when I am dealing with a bad anxiety day or a day full of physical symptoms, instead of acknowledging that I need and deserve a break, I agonize over something I might have missed because I wasn’t feeling up to it. I beat myself up if I think that I made a mistake at work because I wasn’t feeling well.

When I do allow myself the space and time to supposedly relax, I worry I am not being social enough or that there is something else I should be doing. I think I have not “earned” my time to just be. This is not conducive to a mindful lifestyle.

It can become a vicious cycle, one I am still learning how to break. I am trying to have more positive thoughts about myself so when I do need to step back I can allow myself to do so without thinking that I do not deserve it.

Part of this has been saying and thinking positive thoughts about myself and to myself. I have adopted a mantra I learned from one of my yoga classes, and it has gotten me through some tough situations: (Inhale) I am (exhale) OK.

Acknowledging I am OK when I feel anything but OK is important. But now I want to be more than just OK. I want to feel that, despite my challenges (and we all have them, even if it doesn’t seem like it on the outside), I am worthy of truly thriving.

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For now, even though I am not 100% comfortable saying these things to myself, I will say them to you:

You are worthy.

You deserve love.

You deserve to be happy.

You are allowed to ask for help.

You are more than you think you are.

You are a fighter.

You are strong.

You are enough.

And I will continue to say these things to myself until their truth sinks in.

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My therapist, Dr. Mary Ann Goodwyn, is my hero. She’s the kindest, most thoughtful, loving and genuine person I’ve ever met.

Or she was. Until cancer took her from us.

Let’s back up. My first memory of Dr. Goodwyn was when I was in fourth grade. That year, I punched a bully in the face, in what was, looking back, probably my first panic attack. My school told my parents I could either go to anger management classes or I would be expelled. My parents opted for the first option.

Dr. Goodwyn was a family friend. She was the same age as my dad and they had known each other for quite a while. So I started seeing her every week. Fast forward a few months and I had learned how to control my emotions better. It was good enough for the school. No more punching bullies, got it.

Over the next few years, I would run into Dr. Goodwyn a few times a year. Most of the time, I would either see her at the bank or at an art show. She was a huge fan of the arts, namely pottery and abstract paintings. When we saw each other, she would always ask me how I had been. Not the kind of in passing “How are you?,” but a genuine question. We would talk briefly and she would remind me it was OK to need to see a therapist, if I needed to.

My freshman year of high school was the first time I admitted to needing help. The depression had finally set in after years of bullying. I was self-harming and experiencing suicidal thoughts and actions. I needed help. So who did we turn to? Dr. Goodwyn.

I started seeing her twice a week, for six months. It was a trying time for my family. We all had sessions with her. My parents were learning how to love me despite my mental illness. It’s not always easy to love someone who has depression — though they do a great job and always have. Dr. Goodwyn fixed our home life. She saved my life. I wouldn’t be here typing this out if it weren’t for her hard work, love, kindness, thoughtfulness and servitude.

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A year later or so I went through another episode and started seeing her again. After about three months, I was well into my recovery and was doing better. Life was going well.

The last time I saw Dr. Goodwyn was on Christmas Eve. My family and I went by her house to visit her after an evening church service. This was the night I found out the truth about her. She had a brain tumor and she’d had it for a while. She, in the months leading up to this encounter, had not only gotten worse, but had stopped going to chemotherapy. Our encounter that night was brief. Her brother was there with her, taking care of her. She was feeling very sick that night, but she fought through it to see us. One last time.

About a two and a half weeks later, she passed away. There was a celebration of life service. My parents went, but I was too distraught. They said it was beautiful and it showed how many lives she touched.

It’s taken me five years to really process what her life meant to me. Mary Ann was a truly incredible person. She was kind, thoughtful, brilliant, loving and cared for not only her patients, but for our community. She touched more lives than I think she even knew. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about her and her work. Her work is summarized well in an article in a psych journal, but let me tell you how she has impacted my life.

She fought for my life while actually fighting a losing battle for her own. She did everything she could to keep me afloat while she was in extreme pain. She showed me how important it is to reach out for help. She taught me the value of genuinely caring for others and especially for a community. She showed me what it meant to be kind, how to be thoughtful in words and actions and how to touch lives. She taught me what it means to work in the mental health realm.

I wish I didn’t have a mental illness. But I’m forever thankful for Dr. Mary Ann Goodwyn. Be like Mary Ann. Strive for kindness, love, thoughtfulness and to reach your community. That’s what I strive for.

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Photo via Louisiana Psychology Times. 


I am depressed. The realization comes barrelling down on me like a truck with no brakes, slamming headlong as splinters and shards slice open my reality. But the doctor isn’t in the office today. And it’s the weekend. And the counselor has no available openings for months. And I realize that I am standing at the curb with my suitcase properly packed and a sign around my neck, but nobody is coming to get me. Nobody.

Logically, I can read the medical studies and understand that a recent neck injury, compounded by a head cold and deadline stress, has created chronic inflammation which produces cytokines which degrade serotonin and tryptophan which results in me sitting on the couch, wrapped in blankets, sobbing for days with no discernible reason. Logically, I understand this is not me, nor is it permanent. Logically, I know the laws of science and medicine have overtaken me.

But logic doesn’t much look after my heart these days.

In the summer I sail a Minifish (a small, one person boat). I am a novice and overly-conservative sailor, hesitant to take on fierce gusts and when I start to pick up too much speed for my comfort, I haul the sheet tight and turn the boat a little out of the wind. Slowing myself down while my heart races ahead, I hold those sails as tight as I can. That’s how I am in this depression–sails hauled, boat steady, terrified of tipping. Slowing down as though there is no wind. Looking around for help and realizing I’m on a one-person boat. Nobody can help me. Nobody.

I scroll past copy paste Facebook statuses about reaching out to those who have depression, because I know people don’t actually do it. Not because of their intentions, but because they don’t even see it. And they don’t actually mean it if you are somebody they expect something of. I have to hide it from as many as possible so I can be a functioning human being who walks and talks, while others are unaware of the immensity of this kind of isolation. The thing about depression is, it is lonely as hell. I am lost, with a flat tire, in the desert. The road is straight and if somebody saw me, I know they would help, but there is nobody there to see it. Nobody.

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With depression, I have no words and the ones that do occasionally bubble up are so replete with self-loathing and disgust, I cannot imagine anyone wanting to be near me. I don’t want to be near me anymore, so I withdraw and people start leaving me alone because it appears solitude is my wishful solution.

The quiet feels like the first ice on the winter lake — glassy, serene, fragile. In the sudden moments when I reach out and a friend doesn’t immediately respond or has to get up and go about life, I feel betrayed. I knew I was alone all along and somehow they tricked me into thinking somebody was there. In a sudden realization, I feel inconsequential. I crack, shattered glass spilling onto a plush carpet to be painfully discovered later on my lacerated hands and knees, picking it up alone. Because nobody is there. Nobody.

In times of adversity, I have always been able to close my eyes and find the pulse that pulls me up out of dark waters. I have been able to square my shoulders and march into battle. I have been able to breathe in the fortitude that blows from brutal north winds. I am strong and resolute, running miles to find my stride, to build my tenacity. But not today. Today I am afraid to run. Lest I split open and all of my insides, all of my pain, fall out of my fragile shell, spilling through my fingers. Like catching water. No, I will not run today. I will not thumb rides. I will not rock my boat. I will not search for broken pieces.

Because today, there is no me to be found. When I most need myself, even I am not there.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741.

We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here.

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Ask me how I am.

Ask me in a way that genuinely makes me feel like you want me to answer truthfully. I know you probably won’t. I know  it’s not because you don’t care about me. It isn’t because you don’t worry about me sometimes. But if you’re honest with yourself, it’s because you probably don’t really want to deal with it.

If you do ask me how I am, you may be hopeful you’ll receive the, “I’m fine, how are you?” standard stiff-upper-lip response because you don’t want to know that this morning, I sobbed in my car on the way to work. You don’t want to know I’m angry because of the experiences I have had in the last few months in an abusive relationship that I’m struggling to process. You don’t want to know I’m also ashamed of what happened to me. You don’t want to know I still feel suicidal sometimes. You don’t want to know I had an anxiety attack at work the other day and had to run upstairs to an empty office so I could stifle my sobs, and it took 20 minutes to pull myself together.

I get it, OK? I know it’s really difficult to speak to someone in pain. You have your own stuff going on. You’ve got a million and one things to remember. You’re dealing with your own crap. And I don’t want to add to that, I truly don’t. I understand that sometimes all you can do is deal with your own life. You get blinkered.

But… dealing with depression, anxiety, etc., — that’s hard too. And while I don’t want to burden you, sometimes I do really need to talk. I don’t like reaching out. It makes me feel uncomfortable, and I really don’t want to take up your time with my troubles. But, once in a while, if you can, please ask me how I am. Ask me if I’m coping. Please make me feel as though you genuinely want me to talk to you. And please be prepared for the response not to be “I’m fine.” Because sometimes, I’m not.

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If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741.

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