What I Learned From Opening Up to Family and Friends About My Depression

Almost a year ago, I did something I never thought I was going to be able to do: I opened up to my family about my mental health issues.

My therapist has called it dysthymia, a mild but chronic depression. As far as I’m concerned, I’ve faced elements of depression, anxiety, obsessive thoughts and hypersensitivity.

There have been occasions when I would be afraid to leave the house over a debilitating fear something bad may happen. There have been occasions when I’ve cried myself to sleep. There have been occasions when I felt as though I didn’t want to live. There have been occasions where I’ve felt unloved and I put a smile on my face even though I was not smiling on the inside. I was isolating myself and pushing people away. I was unhappy. I was anxious. No one around me even knew — at least, I think they didn’t know.

Late last year, it reached a point where I was at risk of losing my relationships. So, with the encouragement of my partner, I decided to get help and open up to my parents, my brother and my friends about how I was truly feeling and about how I wasn’t smiling on the inside. Through these experiences, I’ve realized how crucial it is to talk about these things, certainly for my own well-being, but also to become closer to my friends and family.

I found opening up brought down my walls. By being honest and sharing my struggles and vulnerabilities, I was not just opening up to people, I was letting them in. As I’ve begun the process of taking down my wall, I’ve also felt myself becoming closer to my friends and family. I’ve felt my relationships getting stronger as I let people get to know the real me.

I learned my loved ones can help me in more ways than I knew. With their individual experiences and strengths, people can help me in different ways. I’ve realized the power of having a strong network of support —  a network filled with supportive friends, family members and coworkers. I turn to certain people for advice, others for a distraction and some people to simply to listen (a lot of my friends are great listeners). A simple, but supportive “I’m sorry you’re going through that. That sucks” can go a long way. At the end of the day, It’s about knowing you have people you can depend on and people who care about you if you’re simply having a bad day.

I learned the power of reaching out. Now, instead of isolating myself, I reach out to my family or friends if my anxiety or depression is high. I open up about how I’m feeling that particular day. Besides having people I can rely on, I’m also realizing it goes both ways. When you share your vulnerabilities with others, they sometimes share something about themselves in return. Reaching out creates emotional intimacy. In one case, after opening up to a friend of mine, he, in turn, disclosed his own struggles, which further strengthened our relationship.

So, if you’re struggling with something — anything — please talk to someone. It could be a friend, parent, sibling, therapist, coworker or even a complete stranger. It may be overwhelming, but it’s worth it.

I may still be unhappy, but now I don’t keep it bottled up. I have support. And now, I’m closer to my friends and family as a result. If that’s not a good enough reason to open up about our struggles, then I don’t know what is.

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Thinkstock photo via Stefanie White.

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