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Why People Are Usually Surprised When I Say I Have Depression

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It is something few people know. It is actually something only a handful of close friends know. I don’t shout it from the rooftops. But the reality is here, and when people learn I have depression, they’re usually surprised.

Because there is another thing… something actually a lot of people know. I don’t shout it from the rooftops either. But I have shown what I can do. I have proved my worth, and above all, my strength to many.

I am a strong, young woman living with depression, and to most, it doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t match their definition or their idea of what a mental illness “looks” like, as if the two were somehow incompatible. But they are, or at least can be.

I wake up in the morning like everybody, but sometimes my eyes are still heavy from having cried too much the night before. My wrists are bruised and hurting from hitting myself too hard.

I eat breakfast too, but not always all of it. I skip lunch – often – and pretend I never really have lunch and that it’s completely normal and nothing to worry about.

I went to university and have just been awarded a master of arts with merit, but I never filled in an extenuating circumstances form to receive any sort of accommodations, when I could have done so time and time again because I wasn’t getting on with anything or seeing the point of the course itself anymore.

I go to work and freelance now, but I have a hard time finding the focus, energy, and drive, I was so full of once. And sometimes, I also break down in the middle of the day and need to close the curtains to prevent the light from coming in and giving me a headache; I sit against the wooden frame of my bed and tie my arms around my knees, holding myself tight until the tears have stopped falling down and the storm has passed.

In the evening, I like to spend some time with my flatmates and chat about our day and lives, but I more often lock myself up in my cold bedroom, suddenly made absolutely dull, because I crave isolation, because I am easily overwhelmed – even by the tiniest of things.

Sometimes I go out and try to be a little sociable, but I almost always end up in tears, for crowds engulf me in their constant back and forth and flow of unnecessary conventional catchphrases, and it is exhausting.

And I have my friends. I hang out with some from time to time – we go to the movies, to art fairs, or simply to the restaurant. But I like solitude a lot. Partly because of my depression, partly because I’ve always been this way, and a lot of my friends – despite asserting the opposite – have left the sinking boat, or at least keep away from my inner monsters the best they can. And it’s OK – they’re not to blame; it takes a great deal of strength and courage to carry your own as well as someone else’s challenges once in a while. That’s why I am thankful I have a best friend.

I live the daily life of a young, strong-headed woman, with billions of ideas and projects in mind. But I crash down at pretty much any time of day or night. When I wake up, I don’t see the brave and determined girl I am and who others see. When I wake up, I can only see the face of a lost, hopeless soul.

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.

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

Thinkstock photo by thomasandreas

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What You Don't Know About the Class Clown

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People come to me for laughs. There’s no doubt in my mind when I die, the eulogy and comments from my funeral will be, “That Heather sure was funny.” And yes, I am terribly funny on the outside, it’s true.

I used to be a quiet little girl. The fat girl in the corner who was told once on the kindergarten playground, “I am not playing with you at school because I don’t want other kids to know I am friends with you because you are so fat.” This was said by one of my only playmates outside of school. I can tell you her first and last name, but I won’t because she was five and surely didn’t know the power of her words.

Looking back now, I can feel so sad for myself. How did I get through that? Would I be able to get through that now as an adult? I just don’t know how I built up a survival wall during those early years. But somehow, I did. By seventh grade, I learned to make the joke first before I could become the butt of one. Self-deprecation became a means of survival for me and I was so good at it. So very, very good at it.

Now as a 40-year-old adult, I excel at the sport of degrading myself for the sake of humor. It’s almost like I brainwashed myself. I cannot take a compliment, because I truly don’t believe them. What once started as just weight issues has now turned into full self-esteem issues. I have zero confidence, I think I am inferior to just about everyone, but by God, I can still make people laugh. How did I get here?

I honestly cannot say I would change things, because my humor has made many people smile through some really tough times in their lives. It’s like that scene in “Steel Magnolias” where Claire says, “Here! Punch Ousier!” and everyone winds up laughing at the cemetery. The world needs people like me, people who make themselves forget their own sorrows and struggles. However, inside of me, the struggle doesn’t go away. To feel loved. To feel accepted. To feel worthy of anything.

Sometimes in life, we see people we feel we are kindred with. The minute I heard comedian Robin Williams struggled with depression, I knew he was one of my people. It is such a dichotomy to show the world one persona, but know the other one inside your own brain and heart.

So today, I ask you give some love to the funny people of the world. We need it.

Follow this journey here.

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Thinkstock photo via nuanz.

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How I'm Turning My Depression Recovery Into a Business to Help Others

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If you would’ve asked me three years ago if I’d ever start my own business, I would have laughed in utter disbelief. Three years ago I barely felt like living. I was so depressed and suicidal. I was embarrassed about my illness, and I didn’t wish to seek help, but after a while, I got tired of being down and out. I grew tired of depression beating me down, so I decided to get help for myself. I’ve been in recovery since 2015.

In that time I became a mental health advocate, self-help book author of “A Fight Worth Finishing,” and I write blog pieces about mental health for major media websites. I have become passionate about helping those who are still ashamed of their illness and feel like they don’t have a voice.

I’m taking my efforts further by launching a business dedicated to helping the lives of those battling depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. The name of my business is “Keep Fighting Life Coaching.” I want to be an affordable mental health resource for the people in a field still lacking health care.

I decided to name my business “Keep Fighting Life Coaching” because depression is truly a battle, a hard, long, ongoing battle. Many get tired and feel defeated during this battle. I’m starting “Keep Fighting Life Coaching” to help people to keep fighting.

What is a depression life coach?

The job of a life coach is to stand on the sidelines of their clients’ lives and offer support, encouragement, guidance, information, and assessment. A life coach who also offers depression coaching can provide plenty of help for clients who are experiencing sadness or temporary bouts of depression, grief, or loss.

They provide a safe place for clients to speak about their grief, loss, or potential causes of their depression. They provide friendly, supportive sessions with someone who will listen, give feedback, and offer informed suggestions for improvement and enhancement. They help clients clarify and define those areas of life that need improvement and help contribute to finding recovery.

A depression life coach also helps take the client out of their past and has them analyze their present and look forward to their future.

I want to help others realize that while depression doesn’t have a cure, recovery and a better life is still possible. Your depression may be a battle, but I want to help you fight it.

To learn more about “Keep Fighting Life Coaching” you can visit my website. Coaching slots will be opening starting in April. You can start emailing now to inquire about reserving a spot.

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.

Jasmin Pierre is a mental health activist, motivational speaker, and author of “A Fight Worth Finishing.” She is from New Orleans. Jasmin is constantly fighting for the rights of those with depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. She is a future life coach and aspires to continue writing, speaking, and encouraging others to never give up.

Facebook: A Fight Worth Finishing
Twitter: @afightworthfin
Instagram: @afightworthfinishing
Website: www.keepfightinglife.com

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The Voices of Perfectly Hidden Depression

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It has been almost three years since I wrote my first post on “Perfectly Hidden Depression.”

Since then, I’ve received hundreds of emails from people from all over the world. They’ve taken the questionnaire, they’ve listened to my podcast or want to help with my research. I’d have to stop seeing patients myself to have the time to talk to each and every one.

What is Perfectly Hidden Depression or PHD?

I thought you might like to hear the answer from the people who’ve written to me. Their words are no longer my words, describing a syndrome or condition I’ve called PHD. These are actual people who are creating a facade of the perfect life while hiding loneliness, exhaustion and despair. Some are well aware of what they’re doing. Others are beginning to realize, perhaps for the first time, that they are growing more weary of keeping the secrets that haunt them. The stories I chose aren’t the most dramatic examples I’ve heard, where people have described considering some way of killing themselves before they finally reached out for help. Yet these wonderful people speak clearly of the vast difference between what the world believes and what they know, in their quietest of times, about themselves.

I found them compelling in their simplicity. (I’ve also changed the details to maintain their anonymity.)

From Casey, a woman in her 30s:

I am almost embarrassed to be depressed. I feel like if I went to a therapist it would be wasting their time — there are people out there carrying much heavier burdens than I am, certainly. But I am starting to think I need help. My sadness is sort of a constant thing that I deal with (like a low-grade headache that you can forget about sometimes) and some days I feel great. But then something will happen to tip the balance and I am lost. Ever since my dad passed away in July it’s been so much harder. I want to sleep all the time. I don’t want to take care of my house (but I do since I don’t want anyone to see it messy). I don’t want to go out with friends (but I do so they don’t think I’m ignoring them). I even feel angry a lot over silly stuff — I have never, ever been an angry person. But I don’t want anyone to know it (I almost can’t make myself not be happy around others, if that makes sense?).

I feel like I am wearing a mask when I’m out in public. I work with high school students and most of them spend a lot of time in my office because I’m really good at letting people talk (no judgment or advice, just an ear). I think most of my friends and family like me for just that reason. They like Casey the Listener, Casey the Sympathizer, Casey Who Doesn’t Make Fun of You. But they have no idea how there is this constant ache in the pit of my stomach or how tears are right there behind my eyes. I don’t think they would even want to hear about my problems… they like to talk about themselves and 99% of the time I am ok with that.

From Jordan, a man in his late-40s:

It’s like a constant undercurrent, invisible to most casual observers. It doesn’t seem to characterize me. I’m a smart-ass life-of-the-party and all that. But it’s still there. And when it comes out from time to time, people around me are shocked.

I’ve achieved far more in life than I expected. I’m 47. I was the first member of my family to graduate from college.
 
Two failed marriages. Both were results of hidden despair. I mean the marriages themselves were the byproduct of my despair. I wasn’t emotionally close to either wife. I thought I could be successfully married while managing the relationship in some rational way that would let me remain strong. Or at least seem strong. And I didn’t want to be alone. I wanted the negative to go away. I denied it.

I have secrets I’ve kept from everyone. I’ve never trusted anyone enough to fully confide in them.  I keep myself distracted with adrenaline feeds from triathlon training.

It’s still there. This thing. Always

I find I need to constantly shift my focus away from death. I’m fixated on it as a target. I don’t plan to hasten its arrival, but I’m not doing much to keep it away, either.

And in my darkest moments, I realize I’m not that special. I believe there are millions more just like me.

From Robin, currently a student:

So you know a little of my past. I am the daughter of a drug addict. My mother did pills all of my childhood, and it was what many would say very traumatizing. I still have a problem believing this because I always seen this as “normal” and would tell myself things were not that bad and I was just being sensitive, and went on with my life. I always worked hard in school to have straight As. I also have a habit of caring for others and trying to make sure they accept me and think I’m great. As irrational as it is anything less than perfection makes me hate myself. Yes, I’m the student who got a 104 on a biology exam and was upset that I missed one bonus question. I would cry in my bathtub over getting a B on a math exam, and even hit myself when I got a low B on a statistics exam. If I’m not excelling in school I feel worthless, pointless, and frustrated. I can honestly say at this point in my life I don’t love myself. I love only the part of me that is capable of achieving great success, the part of me that is responsible and can take care of others, the part of me that is put together.

You may know these people. Maybe she’s your kid’s teacher, your buddy, or your classmate.

Maybe you are just like them.

Maybe you also hide by trying to look put together, focusing on others, avoiding painful emotions or vulnerability, and being the person who is successful at whatever you try to do.

You don’t have to.

The people above wrote to me because they felt understood. They were either thanking me for writing about PHD or wanting to help in some way — so others wouldn’t have to live the life they were living.

During one interview, I was laughing a bit and describing the difficulty of trying to get my ideas published. The woman had been calm and engaging, and suddenly, I heard her voice crack. I realized she was crying. “Please don’t give up.”

I’ve worked with too many people just like Casey and Jordan and Robin to give up.

Their real stories need to be heard. Their wounds need to be healed.

And if you have PHD, maybe it’s time for you to reach out — and be known.

If you’d like to take the PHD questionnaire yourself, it’s appeared here on The Mighty. Click here.

You can now listen to Dr. Margaret as she talks about PHD (Episodes 3 and 4) and many other topics on her new podcast, SelfWork with Dr. Margaret Rutherford.

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.

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

Thinkstock photo by jazzmxx

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6 Reasons I Don't Think 'Happiness Is a Choice'

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I love inspirational quotes. I keep my Facebook feed full of these little tidbits of wisdom. Some of them I agree with, others I don’t. I can usually just move on when I disagree with one, but “happiness is a choice” has never sat well with me, and it’s one I can’t let go of.

Here’s why I don’t think happiness is a choice and what I choose to say instead. 

1. Mental illness is not a choice.

I didn’t choose anxiety or depression; they chose me. That means I don’t always have control over my thoughts or emotions, even when I know they’re irrational. To suggest I can simply “choose” not to have a panic attack or depressive episode is absurd, and saying so in the midst of one will make me feel even worse. I was once told, “You can choose to be suicidal, or choose to get help.” My desired response to this could be a post in and of itself. Long rant short, it’s nowhere near that simple, and please never say that.

2. It’s stigmatizing.

I have an illness in my brain that affects my emotions. Would you tell someone with an illness in a different part of their body, “Illness is a choice, just choose not to be sick?” But if I’m anxious or depressed, it’s my fault, I’m throwing a pity party, or I’m not trying hard enough to get better. I’m experiencing symptoms, not making a choice to torture myself. I can do everything right to manage mental illness and still struggle. 

 3. It’s OK to be unhappy. 

When did we decide everyone had to be happy all the time? Part of the reason I think happiness has been turned into a choice is that it doesn’t always come naturally, and that’s perfectly fine. Our other emotions aren’t bad; they’re an uncomfortable part of being human. I have a right to feel and express something other than happiness without being judged, blamed, invalidated, or told I’m playing a victim. 

 4. The phrase is often qualified.

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard people say “happiness is a choice” and then follow it up with a statement that clarifies what it doesn’t mean. That it “obviously doesn’t apply to mental illness” or “It’s still your choice because the opposite of depression is health, not happiness.” If you have to qualify a statement that’s meant to stand alone, there’s probably a clearer way to say what you mean. 

5. It minimizes painful processes.

Whether it’s acceptance, grief, or change, I’ve found a lot of people who say it have gone through some kind of difficult or painful process. When we’re going through something like this, it’s normal to look to those who have been there. But when someone who has had years to work through something says on day one of your similar journey that “happiness is a choice,” it can come across as dismissive of your current feelings and the true difficulty of what you’re facing.

6. It’s stated as universal truth.

No matter what you’re talking about, you’ll often hear that “everyone is different” and “if you’ve met one person with (fill in the blank), then you’ve met one person.” If you’re going to acknowledge that no two people are the same, then you have to accept that different things work for different people. So, before you tell me to “just choose to be happy,” remember that not everyone finds this “choice” empowering, or even possible.

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.

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

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My Depression Is...

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Depression is lying with my face covered by the quilt, not moving.

Listening to the phone ring and ring and then hearing the voice of a dear friend on the answering machine and not picking up.

Hearing in that voice the strength and care I know I need and not being able to move.

It is thinking the rent is probably due sometime soon and not really caring.

Thinking the rest of the world is able to go on just fine without my input.

It is going to work daily and putting on a pretend face and returning home to crawl back beneath the covers.

Depression is telling whoever might break through the demeanor and ask about my feelings that I am just hibernating and will come out in the spring.

And then spring comes… it is wondering why I said that.

It is a knowing people are fearful of mortality, fearful of real feelings, confused and so befuddled by what they think might be expected of them that they pretend also.

They make believe a person heals in some specific amount of time from a loss.

And because they are afraid, they say nothing, and then I begin to think they do not care.

Depression is what it sounds like — a dent, a literal depression in the heart.

It is sometimes so deep that only many years of work will begin to fill in that chasm.

And it may take my admission that I need help.

That, “OK, doc, I will take those meds.”

That, “Yes, please, friend, do some energy work on me.”

That, “I may need a therapist to just hear me out and be a guide.”

I may even have to accept that help.

I may have to admit I am not superwoman after all.

I may have wonderful laughing days followed by tears and then complete oblivion.

And I will have to keep telling myself, “I am not crazy.”

But, first I must pull the covers back – back from my face, my mind, my heart.

And get out of bed and answer the phone and listen to someone who cares.

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.

Thinkstock photo by RadulePerisic

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