The unseen emotions of her innocence is an acrylic painting, Ink and watercolor on Canvas of a young women crying colors..Sometimes our outward appearances mask what going on inside us.

Please Stop Asking Me to Justify My Depression

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Editor’s Note: If you’ve experienced sexual or domestic violence, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673You can contact The National Domestic Violence Hotline online by clicking “chat now” or calling  1-800-799-7233.

I recently had someone ask me why I was depressed. Mind you, this was not a doctor or trained mental health worker but rather a coordinated care provider of sorts. I met with her as one of many hoops required when dealing with the bureaucratic red tape sometimes needed in order to get treatment and not fall through the cracks.

I was honestly surprised at the question but began to explain the technicalities of my depression from a scientific point of view. Since my condition was discovered, I’ve done a good deal of research and have a much better understanding of why I struggle with depression from a physiological standpoint. She interrupted me a couple times, stating that wasn’t what she meant. I began again multiple times trying to explain from a physiological standpoint why I was depressed, trying to explain everything from different angles.

After my third attempt to explain, she cut me off brusquely, telling me she didn’t want to hear any medical explanations. She wanted to know specifically what I had to be depressed about.

I was beside myself with shock. Here was this woman with no medical or psychological training, assigned to help me with other issues and paperwork, demanding to know why I felt somehow entitled to claim I was so depressed I was struggling to function.

I felt judged, like I was being put on trial, like I had to justify myself and my diagnosis to this woman who had no mental health training whatsoever because she was unable to wrap her head around the idea that anyone could be able to fade in and out of functionality, being able to “deal” with life one moment only to collapse the next.

I found myself bursting into tears in her office, spewing out a long list of what I could only imagine were reasons she might find “acceptable” for why I was experiencing depression, beyond the physiological reason my brain is missing a key substance needed to moderate my moods. I threw out how as a child, I had suffered from physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse, how I was gang-raped at 11, how my world was turned upside down at 16 when my mother shot my father and how I found myself on my own at 17. I listed a myriad of abusive relationships and losses in my life. Sobbing, I continued, highlighting one reason after another I felt my depression was “justified.”

Even after my outpouring of pain and trauma, this woman was still unable to wrap her head around why I was struggling to function. She continued to push and probe for answers. She saw the large stack of paperwork in front of me that I had collected for my insurance coverage appeal and could not understand how I could put so much time and energy into it but still insist I was incapable of doing other things. She insisted that if I put even a fraction of the work I had put into my appeal into other aspects of my life, I should have no issues at all functioning. She had seen me smile and laugh with my children at times and commented how I didn’t seem “all that depressed.”

I tried my best to explain. For every hour or day I am able to function and be productive, I have four times as many hours and days when I just collapse, having trouble to even pull myself out of bed to eat or to pee. I have no control over any of it.  It comes and goes at it pleases, regardless of what might be scheduled for that day. And there are so many more bad days than good. On some bad days, I am able to bolt on a smiling mask, pretend to be OK and manage to go through the motions. Other days, I struggle to do anything at all. There are days I just can’t stop crying, when my world feels like it is spiraling down beneath me and days I’m completely numb and cannot function at all. I tried to explain how I do have good days too, but they’re as unpredictable as the bad. I tried to explain especially when it comes to my children, I hold myself together as best as I am able and paint on smiles because I don’t want my illness affecting them any more than it has to.

Contrary to what some people might assume, I don’t happily skip around, enjoying a life of leisure. I have not made up some imaginary illness to use as a scapegoat to escape any responsibilities. I struggle every single day to simply function. I am not complacent with my diagnosis, either. I am in treatment, working very hard to try to heal, hoping I can somehow one day, function better than I am today. I take my illness very seriously. I wish others would too and be more respectful of my diagnosis instead of passing judgment.

I’m faced by this kind of judgment all the time by people who just do not understand depression. They assume I just need to try harder to be more positive, that thinking happy thoughts will magically cure me, carrying me off like a dusting of pixie dust to Neverland. People assume I’m either lazy or faking it. Clearly nobody could possibly be “that sad” to the point of being unable to function.

Even worse than those who make me feel like I have to justify my illness are the ones who either look at me with pity like I’m some poor, broken, fragile creature or those who back away from me like I’m dangerous or contagious. Perhaps, worst of all are those who feel inclined to throw random motivational sayings my way, as if their reminder to stay positive is all I’ll need to chase the blues away forever. Trust me, if all I needed to cure my depression was to smile more or think positively more often, I wouldn’t be struggling with mental illness. It’s not that easy.

No matter what the judgment is, though, I always prepare myself for one because more times than not, there is one and it rarely is anything positive. Seldom does anyone truly understand and empathize. Again and again, I’m put on the spot, forced to justify what I’m feeling, usually while being reminded someone has it worse or that they, themselves, have managed to get through rough times so I should be able to, too. I’m frequently told I should “suck it up” and “get over it.”

Though this may be the first time that specific person has inquired about my condition, no one ever takes into account how many others have intruded on my mental health and demanded answers even when they had no right to do so. While some might mean well and ask out of concern, very few use tact or compassion in their inquiries. I’m almost always put on the defensive, made to feel like I have to justify how I feel.

Even after I do my best to explain everything — though I don’t quite understand it all myself — I am met with doubt, suspicion and accusations. I am treated like I’m lying or lazy, exaggerating or broken beyond repair. I’m looked at as a monster or unbalanced and crazy.

I beat myself up already more than enough for not being able to do as much as I feel I should be able to do. I already feel every single day I am failing everyone around me, failing my children and myself because I honestly want to do more, feel I should be able to do more and cannot understand why I cannot seem to be able to do it. I hate that I crumble and fall apart so easily and am not able to do all the things I feel I should be able to do. I have judged myself far more harshly than I should ever have done and have been trying to be kinder and gentler with myself. I don’t need anyone else’s judgments on top of my own.

Everyone says they want to understand and demands answers, yet very few are supportive when I try to give any. It is exhausting to have to explain everything again and again, mentally preparing myself each time for the responses and judgments to come. I often isolate because it means fewer people to put me on the spot, fewer people I have to defend my diagnosis to in the long run. I paint on a smile and reassure people I’m fine, pretending everything is OK even as I’m sobbing inside because it is easier to lie than it is to have to defend myself for having an illness I have no control over.

In the last year, I have begun talking more and more about my own struggles with mental illness not because it is in any way easier or takes a weight off my chest, but because I am completely exhausted from having to justify and defend myself. I am tired of the stigma attached to my diagnosis. I am mentally ill. Doctors have diagnosed my condition. I should never have to justify my diagnosis or defend myself over how my symptoms present themselves. I am tired of being made to feel like I should be ashamed of my diagnosis or have done something wrong in some way because I am ill.

I am speaking out because things need to change. I am tired of being judged.

This story originally appeared on Unlovable.

If you or a loved one is affected by sexual abuse or assault and need help, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 1-800-656-4673 to be connected with a trained staff member from a sexual assault service provider in your area.

If you or a loved one is affected by domestic violence or emotional abuse and need help, call The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

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Thinkstock photo via BruceStanfield.

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When Depression Starts to Feel Like Home

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It comes it waves.

You try to build a wall to stop it from swallowing you up. The wall isolates you from everything, your friends, your family, the world, sometimes even yourself. You don’t even know what is going on. When somebody asks how you are, you say, “…I’m fine.”

It often feels like depression takes everything away, including feelings. You feel numb. Nothing can seem to make you happy. Everything seems pointless, even the things that perhaps a few days ago you said you’d live for. But now… what’s the point?

Depression doesn’t always mean sadness. That’s where people misuse its name. We throw it around as if it’s nothing serious, as if it’s that disappointed emotion you feel when something didn’t go your way. But depression takes lives. It’s this empty space where nothing else exists but you. You feel like you are screaming for help, and you wish upon the stars just to feel. But it’s just a shout into the void.

Life with depression is like watching people around you breathing, yet your pale blue lips inhale words of self-hatred. You know you should be able to fill your lungs with fresh oxygen, and you want nothing more than to just feel OK, but you can’t. And sometimes it hurts so much that you feel as if your chest is caving in under the sadness. The only thing that stops it from happening is the gasps of air you take in between the tears.

But how can somebody be so full of life and then be empty?

Where does it all go?

Many people don’t want to end their lives; they want to end their pain. It’s so sad that some people aren’t waiting for their happy ending anymore. They don’t expect anything to happen worth waiting for. They are just waiting for the end. I used to wish upon dandelion puffs and shooting stars, hoping to feel something other than nothing. I looked up at a sky of fireflies, and I begged them to stay, I prayed for them to guide me on this hopeless journey we call life. I feel like I’m living in a shell of a body that fights to survive. And it gets to the point where I think… maybe I was born to be sad.

Depression is this never-ending feeling of wanting to go home, but then you realize you are home. It’s one of the worst feelings in the world. Depression feels like home; happiness is just a place you visit. When I was a kid I never imagined I could feel so empty. I never thought I’d know what it’s like to want to die or how it could hurt to smile. I never thought I’d know the feeling of trying to fit in when really I’m just a lost puzzle piece that can’t find its place.

But somebody needs this puzzle piece. They need it to solve something, to make them feel complete. I decided to stay put in this place we call home because somewhere, somebody needs me. My family needs me to stay strong when they can’t do it themselves. I need to be here for my sisters, my nieces and my nephews. For my friends. For my future.

If you can make it through a lonely night with nothing but depression’s twisted words to keep you company, you have enough courage to make it through anything. People ask me why I am always there for others even though I’m not well myself. And I answer, “because I know what it feels like when everybody looks the other way.” I want to spend the rest of my life making people feel less broken.

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

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When Major Depression Meets the Know-It-All

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The world is full of know-it-alls.

These are the people who give you unasked-for financial advice, who tell you should try another haircut “for your long face” and who interrupt your stories with “Well, this is what I’d do blah blah blah.”

When we are mentally healthy, these people are a mild annoyance: we smile, nod and pretend to listen. When we are mentally compromised, though, it’s a different story.

During a particularly low time, I had to listen to an acquaintance’s meandering story about how she had a horrible sinus infection, but “just pushed through it” and made her trip to Italy. Another told me a variation of this “persevere and overcome” theme: in college 20 years earlier, she was inconsolably depressed by a C on a chemistry test — so she “worked really, really hard,” until she turned that grade into an A. Their message was transparent: if I would apply a little elbow grease, I could triumph too.

And this is why the unasked-for advice of the know-it-all is not just ignorant — it is dangerous.

Take my already-sick brain and feed it less-than-facts, and that brain might start to believe them. Surrounded by such ideas, I began to hate myself for my weakness, sure I wasn’t trying hard enough to get well. The relentless lethargy I felt, which kept me cocooned in my bed for most of each day, wasn’t a symptom of my depression: it was pure laziness. I needed to focus and learn to find the lost joy in tennis, gardening and art again. I needed to remind myself how lucky I was to be alive, instead of dwelling on death thoughts. I needed to stop crying.

Except, depression doesn’t work that way. We aren’t merely sluggish or sad or bore. Misguided pep talks, inspirational memes, a better attitude — none of these will fix us.

I am six months well, and I can easily understand that again. A broken mind cannot always remember, but a healthy mind accepts that clinical depression is not a flaw or an inadequacy. We know that we were sick — and that we may be deeply, painfully and profoundly sick again.

My hope is that if and when that time comes, and when they start suggesting a little more time on the treadmill or a “glass-half-full” outlook, I will be able to smile, nod and pretend to listen. Because there will always be know-it-alls.

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Why My Mental Illness Made Me Want to Be a Teacher

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As a student majoring in education and psychology, all the professors in each of my education classes have asked the class a simple question. This question is, “Why do you want to go into the field of education?”

Most times, the responses are pretty expected.

“I love ____, this subject and I want to teach students about all its topics.” 

“I love children.” 

“I want to make a difference.”

“I love helping others.”

“Why do you want to go into the field of education, Alizabeth?”

A thousands memories flash through my head. “Why,” you ask? See, from the earliest time I can remember I wanted to be a teacher. It’s a career that crosses lots of children’s minds. A lot of us didn’t really understand what careers meant. So, when I say I’ve always wanted to be a teacher it’s true, but I don’t think it really counted until high school.

I’ve been living with anxiety and depression for as long as I can remember. I wasn’t actually diagnosed until my freshman year of high school. This is when I hit rock bottom. By that time, I wasn’t going to school. I barley made it out of bed. I don’t remember eating very much. I didn’t want to be around anyone, so I isolated myself in my room. I started to let myself go. I couldn’t care less about my appearance. When I did look in the mirror, I didn’t even recognize who was staring back. I didn’t see a future, and I don’t think that even scared me at that time.

After seeing a therapist, and starting to get my life back on track. I didn’t want to go back to the same school. I felt like I would go back into a downward spiral, so lucky I transferred schools. For the first time in a while I started to forget everything that happened the year before, but it eventually started to get bad again, even if I was convinced it wasn’t. See, it was like a continuous headache that I would constantly tell myself over and over would leave.

We have all experienced good and bad teachers — ones that encouraged and truly cared for their students. Others picked who they wanted to help. Some teachers see the signs, but chose to ignore them. 

To the teachers that knew, but never did anything to help me — I was good at faking laughs and putting on a brave act, but you could see right past it, just like I could see the pain in someone’s eyes as their smiles turned into a gasp. I mean, was it really that hard not to tell? I guess to some of you, looking the other way was the easier thing to do. Some said I could do anything I wanted, but at that time I just wanted to make it through the day.

I used to lock the bathroom door and turn the water on, just to bury the silence. I buried the sound so no one could hear. I’d stare in the mirror, and wish the reflection could lie to me — that maybe I would be able to recognize the old me. Feeling so worthless made me skin and bones. These bathroom trips weren’t because I didn’t want to be in your class. Somedays I couldn’t handle sitting in a room full of people. I sometimes felt like all eyes were on me. The talking and laughing got so loud. I felt like everyone was living and enjoying life, but I was just trying so hard to just breathe.

From the cuts and bruises, to the familiar excuses. I could scream, but it wouldn’t make a difference to you. Somedays I would come to school with make up marks down my face. Could you not tell I was crying moments before? There were days that I did scream. I took my anger out on those who I felt deserved it, but I realize they didn’t. I was considered the “bad influence.” I wasn’t. See, I spent most of high school noticing the signs that some teachers turned their heads to. I helped my fellow classmates. Maybe I noticed some of the signs because I was going through the same battles, but others were just so obvious.

To the teachers who encouraged me, thank you. I was fighting with myself. I wasn’t only fighting to prove the other teachers right, but also myself. Most times I didn’t think highly of myself, but you reminded me I was enough, that I could be anyone I wanted to be. I was able to change, and I was smart. I was trying so hard to hide my inner battles; thank you for seeing them and not turning your heads. Teachers like you truly change students. I’m sure not many students have thanked you, but I’m thanking every teacher who has ever encouraged any student.

Thanks to these good and bad experiences, I know that I want to go into the field of education. Teachers aren’t just supposed to teach a subject, they are supposed to be role models for their students, to support and encourage them. It’s a teacher’s job to report any suspicions they have. This includes suspicions of abuse, self-harm, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and more.

Teachers are building students up to become nurses, doctors, business workers, etc. We change lives. We change society. We make change possible. Teachers are important, but some teachers aren’t in the field for the correct reasons. I want to be able to encourage and help my students push through any battle. I know what it’s like to fight with your own mind.

Most importantly, I’m the person I am today because of the faculty members who helped me see their was a future for me. I’m forever grateful, and I want to continue the work they started. Teachers will always be needed because education will always be important.

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.

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Thinkstock photo via TongRo Images Inc

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Thank You to Those Who Stuck by Me During My Depression

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Thank You.

Thank you for your kindness. You will never know how often the smallest gestures made the biggest difference. On days when all I could do was cry, or others where all I wanted was to become invisible, your kindness mattered. Your listening ear, your gentle hug, your affirmation that I matter in this world all changed my outlook, or at least my day. It is in these smallest, quiet moments that my world slowly changes for the better.

Thank you for being there. There have been times when simply your presence in the room made me feel safe. Sometimes, just knowing in that moment I was not alone saved my life. How do I even begin to thank you for something so monumental? The words “thank you” seem so inadequate, and yet they are all I have to offer. You stuck by me when I felt like others went on about their own lives. You did not forget me or my suffering.

Thank you for all you have given up for me. I understand the sacrifices you have made for me. The time and effort you put into our relationship does not go unnoticed. I see the things you give up in order to help me survive and succeed. I know there are times you go without to help me through my depression. I know I can never repay you, but please know I am eternally grateful. Without your sacrifice I would no longer be here.

Thank you for making the effort to reach out to me every day. Thank you for realizing that while I rarely ask, I often need help and support. Thank you for all you have done, all you have put up with, and all you will do in the future. In my experience, few are as faithful as those who stand by your side through depression or other mental illness.

I know how lucky I am to have more than one faithful companion on this journey. Thank you all.

Thank you for everything.

My depression is at bay for the moment and I am able to write this thank you note. Please keep it with you, for it is only a matter of time before depression crashes down on me again. I will once again be too exhausted to speak, too “broken” to move, too ashamed to feel I deserve such wonderful friends and family. When that time comes, please be there. Please hold me. Please stay by my side and please know that even when I cannot muster the courage to speak, I am always grateful.

Thank You.

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.

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Depression Makes Me Think It's a Friend

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You go about your daily life, going to class, attending meetings and laughing with friends. You write down your schedule for the week, meet up with those you promised you would and respond to emails quickly. Everything you’re supposed to do, you do. Daily life becomes a mere routine, something you have become accustomed to and it doesn’t take much anymore for your body to go through the motions without your mind being present.

Through all of the chatter and laughter, there’s a hollowness that reverberates in your chest – a feeling of loneliness you can’t quite pin down. You’ve always known this feeling. It has always been your friend. The feeling you may only be able to describe as a “shadow” follows you as you do normal, mundane activities.

The shadow clings to you closely. During all of your activities, it seems to be whispering in your ear thoughts you’d much rather not have. It becomes a wall between yourself and those you talk to and interact with. You feel the need to tell someone about this shadow, but somehow it seems to know how to distract you from approaching those whom you call friends.

Nobody knows you’re struggling.

Alone, you flail, with only the shadow to keep you company. Your friends think you have your life together, but in reality, you don’t know what you’re doing. You break down when you’re alone, the shadow comforting you and you shake and tremble with fear. You can’t tell your friends. You have a reputation to uphold, a reputation of being strong and knowing what you are doing. The shadow agrees with you, tells you that you can’t show weakness.

The shadow called depression, prevents you from speaking out.

The shadow called depression becomes your only friend.

The shadow called depression is lying.

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