How Sharing My Depression Story Has Lessened My Shame
A year ago as I lay in bed, cheeks still tear-stained from crying myself to sleep, I typed a short Facebook post about my battle with depression.
I’d made vague mentions of it before, but mostly just to those in my inner circle. I didn’t usually share some of the darker specifics – like how sometimes I thought it might be easier if I just weren’t here. I felt damaged and ashamed. I’m an optimist who paints with shades of melancholy, and the contrast confused me. So I kept them separate. My in-person persona was deep and transparent, to a point. My online persona was intentionally surface level – light and fun. But on that morning last year, leading up to Mental Health Awareness month, I was tired of the shame. I felt a pull to share my story. So, I did. I cringed and crawled back under the covers as I clicked “post.”
Throughout the course of that day, something surprising happened. People started sharing my post. First friends and family. Then strangers. And finally, online sites.
When friends and family shared my words, I felt supported. When strangers shared, I felt confused. Dumbfounded. But they don’t know me? Why would they share my story?
My thoughts turned to some of my favorite writers who frequently shared their struggles. Authenticity was their currency. I was hooked on their transparency because I felt less alone. I realized these strangers weren’t sharing my story to offer me support. They were sharing to say: “me, too.”
When I realized my battle with depression was about to become very public, I panicked. I called and emailed my bosses to let them know, worried about what my clients might think if they ran across my article. You see, even though I was talking a big game about authenticity and transparency, I still bought into the stigma that my depression somehow made me “less than” professionally. Their responses were nothing short of remarkable, and I realized the biggest battle before me was simply addressing my own shame.
Those 10 minutes of darkness spent writing my story have changed the course of my life. I started to feel less alone. That doesn’t mean I automatically felt less lonely, though. But it does mean I took comfort knowing I wasn’t the only one struggling.
From a creative standpoint, I found an outlet for my pain. And from an advocacy standpoint, I found a purpose for my pain. For so many years, shame had kept me from sharing my story. But once I was honest – with myself and those around me – the shame began to disappear.
Shame loves isolation. It thrives in secrecy. It would prefer you keep the room dark, the blinds drawn, so it can have you all to itself. Brené Brown says this about shame: “When we are in shame, we don’t see the big picture; we don’t accurately think about our strengths and limitations. We just feel alone, exposed and deeply flawed.”
Alone. Exposed. Deeply Flawed.
That’s exactly how I felt when I kept my depression to myself. There’s never been a better time to speak out about depression. Movements like Okay to Say in the US and Heads Together in the UK raise mental health awareness and fight the stigma. Ending the stigma lessens the shame. Sharing is scary.
Sharing you have a mental illness can be scary.
Sharing you have a mental illness and sometimes aren’t sure if you want to stay alive can be really scary.
But seeing others share their stories on those sites – and this one – has helped me remember I’m not alone. A year later, I’m openly sharing my struggles with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and grief. Sharing my story slowly takes away the power of my illnesses. While the struggles are still there, the shame isn’t.
“If we can share our story with someone who responds with empathy and understanding, shame can’t survive.” — Bréne Brown
Sharing your story doesn’t have to mean blasting your condition all over social media. It can mean that, if that’s what’s right for you. But it can also be as simple as sharing with a friend or loved one saying something like, “Hey, something’s felt off for a while and I think I need to talk to someone.”
We’re not meant to battle this alone.
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 Kudryashka.