Why My Depression Is Not a 'Choice'

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Trying to find a way to fit depression into your life when it rears its gnarly head is a difficult thing. Depression isn’t a friend you want to invite over for slumber parties or let it know when it has something between its teeth. Why would you want to? Why would you choose to sleep in the same room with a darkness that only you can see? Why would you choose to give depression the attention it doesn’t deserve? The thing is, those of us who have experienced depression learn this condition is not a choice.

On the days the illness holds me captive and I sleep the day away, the weight of depression doesn’t give me the choice to sit up in bed. Sometimes depression doesn’t give me the option to get out bed. Depression often doesn’t allow for the everyday routines most people move through without thought – brush teeth, shower, commute, work, laugh, talk, live.

It took over 10 years of living with depression before I realized my depression wasn’t something I chose. Because it’s an invisible illness, people who silently live with depression tend to self-stigmatize. Why can’t I just get over this? It’s been weeks. Why am I not strong enough to pull myself out of this? What’s wrong with me?! Thoughts like these circle my mind seemingly endlessly, and the negative thinking keeps the wheel of depression spinning. How do you explain depression’s nastiness and persistence to people who don’t have firsthand knowledge of its social numbness?

Something I believe we can all understand — whether living with mental illness or not — is that every moment is a gift and ought not be wasted. A person sans depression can be reminded to not take [insert a word indicating something special to them here] for granted, but as a person who has been living with depression for over 20 years, I have come to acknowledge and treasure the moments when I feel OK. Feeling OK is special. As someone with depression, feeling OK is a privilege.

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Zelda Williams' Take on Happiness Is Super Relatable If You Have Depression

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Zelda Williams says she’s always been open about her mental health, even before her father Robin Williams’ suicide — it’s just that most people weren’t listening, she told Teen Vogue this week.

In an interview that covered social media, prioritizing mental health and what it was like getting messages from adoring fans after her father’s death, Williams spoke truths anyone with depression will probably relate to — and we’re so proud of her for speaking out.

About the outpouring of support after her father’s death:

Dad was someone that a lot of people thought they knew. That’s a wonderful thing. There was a lot of joy in that. Then when they keep at it, they start wanting you to know how hard that was for them. That’s a lovely sentiment. It’s also difficult. It’s also difficult to have people cry to you, and [tell you] how much your dad meant because you’re sitting there going, ‘I’m trying not to cry.’ I’ve learned to navigate that, and I don’t resent it at all.

About how being happy is a full-time job when you live with depression:

I work very hard at reminding myself that happy is a job. There are people who it is very easy for, and who will never understand what that suffering is like — and that’s arguably part of the discussion about mental illnesses… In the same way that there are people who are happy, and it’s just easy, you have to work very hard at being happy when it’s not how you’re programmed to be. It takes therapy, or you take medication. It can take a lot of work. I try and tell people that as hard as it can be, it’s a lot harder to work at being happy, than it is to just be sad. I really hope they continue to work at it, and take the time.

On advice for her teenage self:

I would probably say, ‘you’ll be fine.’ It’s not even so much that I would have changed anything because I like the person I am now. I wouldn’t want to change those formative years because I wouldn’t be the same person. But I’d say you’ll get through it.

This isn’t the first time Williams has offered wise words about depression after her father’s death. Right before the one-year anniversary, she wrote in an Instagram post, “For those suffering from depression, I know how dark and endless that tunnel can feel, but if happiness seems impossible to find, please hold on to the possibility of hope, faint though it may be.”

You can read the full interview here.

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. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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8 Songs That Have Helped Me Through Hard Times With Depression

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Music is powerful. It has helped me go through the hard times when my family and friends weren’t there for me. I have used it as a remedy. It’s not a pleasant feeling when I go to bed and can’t sleep because another depression episode just kicked in, or when I wake up but am just not ready for the day. Most likely I am going to lie down on the bed for the entire day. It can be quite hard with all the sadness and thoughts of worthlessness. What I do to get through it is using music. So, here are some songs that have really helped me through my depression:

“Liability” by Lorde

 

“So they pull back, make other plans; I understand I am a liability.” This song states every thought and emotion I have when I feel I am not interesting enough of a person for my friends. I can’t really explain those feelings when I hear another person sing my thoughts and emotions. It’s like knowing my feelings are not “crazy” and it makes me not feel alone.

“Ease” by Troye Sivan

 

“Take me back to the basics and the simple life; tell me all the things that make you feel at ease.” Everything about this song is so amazing. The words, the feelings, the rhythm and the intensity of this song are beyond good. This song has made me cry and feel calm at the same time.

“The Scientist” by Coldplay

 

“Nobody said it was easy, no one said it would be this hard; oh take me back to the start.” This song was definitely written from a different perspective but for me I always close my eyes while listening to this beautiful melody and imagine myself saying these words to the person I was before depression. These words hit me right in the feels and I burst into tears because I can relate to this so much.

“Moment” by Nate Ruess

 

“God give me a reason, show me that you love me. I don’t want to let it go, just to watch it fly.” Whenever I hear this song, I think of my parents, siblings and every other person in my life who has left me or thinks less of me for who I have become. It also feels like a prayer to God to show me He still cares.

“Miracles” by Coldplay

 

“Believe in miracles.” These words sound so magical and beautiful that every time I hear them. I just want to believe them.

“Fix You” by Coldplay

 

“Lights will guide you home and ignite your bones and I will try to fix you.” This song reflects all the emotions and raises hope in the soul. “But if you never try, you‘ll never know what you are worth.” The emotions, feelings and every sensation related to this song are pure. It is an outstanding, sadly beautiful perfection.

“Love Myself” by Ed Sheeran

 

“And all the ones that love me, they just left me on the shelf. So before I save someone else, I got to save myself.” Every word of this song is sadly beautiful. It promotes the self-love all of us need and deserve.

“Harsh Light” by Nate Ruess

 

“We all got scars.” This song makes me step towards life with my illness with no shame or guilt at all.

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Thinkstock photo via michaelpuche.

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Why I Decided to Try Electroconvulsive 'Shock' Therapy

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“I’m basically getting my brain fried with electricity,” I told my friend, deadpan.

A shocked (no pun intended) expression crossed her face. I burst out laughing.

“I don’t feel a thing,” I added. “They knock me right out.”

My friend was eager to know more about the procedure, and was genuinely concerned about my well-being.

I then confessed that the night before my first electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) treatment, I’d fallen asleep reading “The Bell Jar.” One of my favorite poets, Sylvia Plath had always fascinated me and I hoped that perhaps “The Bell Jar” could have provided me with the much needed comfort and reassurance needed.

Sadly, that was not the case.

After all, ECT had a not so fine history, and the controversial treatment had not only been banned in some countries, but had also acquired a negative reputation which led to stigma and an array of misconceptions. That night, lying in the dark though, all I could think about was how anxious I felt. I didn’t know what to expect. I lay in bed, unnerved, and wondered what lied ahead. As I drifted off to sleep, all I could think about, clinging to my copy of The Bell Jar, was my deep desire to live, unlike Plath, who died by suicide.

A few days prior to my first treatment, my psychiatrist warned me about the stigma, although he tried his best to reassure me. He admitted that ECT didn’t have the best reputation on the internet and in the media, partly due to Jack Nicholson’s character in “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” I told him I had never laid hands on a copy of the film, and reassured him I didn’t plan on it, either.

My friends were fascinated with the procedure and my parents were surprisingly cool with it as well. The night before my first treatment, I was asked to wash my hair. I was not allowed any food or drink after midnight, and was woken up early in the morning by my nurse, who asked me to change into one of those ugly, blue hospital gowns.

Needless to say, I felt quite exposed and unattractive. Then I was directed towards a wheelchair, where I sat, until the nurse wheeled me out towards the elevator, then down to the third floor, where the post-anesthesia care unit is located. There, I lay on a bed under warm blankets while a different nurse attached electrocardiogram leads on my chest and hooked me up to the different equipment, as well as monitors. It would be my first time getting put to sleep. But first, the anesthetic resident had to find a suitable vein, and after several sharp, prolonged pokes, he finally got the intravenous running. He secured it with a piece of tape, and I thought the whole thing was comparable to a delicate procedure. The psychiatrist then placed electrodes on my forehead, on both temples. I was given an oxygen mask to breathe into, and before I knew it, a muscle relaxant was injected. Then, before I knew it, the general anesthesia was administered.

One moment, I was looking up at the ceiling lights, then the room began spinning, the bright lights became blurry…

And then I was awake. Before I knew it, I had regained consciousness.

The IV was removed, I was given Tylenol Extra Strength for potential headaches, and rubbed peppermint oil on my temples to ease the pain. I was then wheeled back upstairs to the Mental Health Treatment Unit where I was quizzed on the date and time. For some, ECT can cause confusion and disorientation. Later during the day, I complained of a killer headache, and told the nurses that my head was basically on fire.

What prompted my decision to give ECT a try was mere desperation. After a trial of medications, serious suicidal ideation and two hospitalizations, I was desperate for a solution, and ECT might just have the potential to provide me with some relief from this crushing depression. After seven years of active symptoms, a counselor, two social workers and family doctors as well as seven psychiatrists, I was finally figuring my mental illness out. And if brief therapeutic seizures were needed to give me a respite from my mental illness, then so be it.

Although at first, I hesitated. I had my doubts. I wondered if electrical shocks to my brain could really provide the much desired relief. But the truth is, as bizarre as it sounds, sometimes when electric currents are passed through the brain, they have power to alter brain chemistry.

Although ECT is considered by many to be a form of horrific torture, the traumatic depictions of the treatment haven’t accurately represented it, in my opinion.

When I asked my psychiatrist if he could recommend any good books that portrayed ECT accurately, he shook his head.

“You’ll have to write the damn book,” he joked.

I told him I would, then walked out of his office, easing the door shut behind me.

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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What I Need From You as a Person With Anxiety and Depression

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Dear people who do not live with anxiety and depression,

I do not expect you to understand. I know you perhaps don’t know what it’s like to question everything — every decision, every single thing you’ve said, every facial expression. I know you don’t know what it is like to wake up so exhausted every single day, to go through life with what feels like an invisible weighted blanket on top of you. I know it is hard to fathom the never ending barrage of doubt and self-hatred, and the ever-nagging question of whether the people who tell you they love you actually do. I don’t expect you to know what it’s like to lie awake every night, compulsively thinking over every moment and every detail of your day, only to then begin thinking of the interactions with the people during that day, to then start thinking about all the other interactions you’ve ever had with those people, and so on and so forth until you only have three hours to sleep before you start your day again.

I don’t want you to know these things. I don’t want you to feel the sadness that feels like a black hole in your chest slowly sucking all of you inward, to the point of worrying about completely losing yourself in it. I don’t want you to know how it feels when people who claimed to love you throw your illnesses in your face to hurt you. I don’t want you to know how it feels when someone you gave a portion of your heart to, for them to keep safe and love, tells you that you’re “crazy” and you clearly can’t be successful in life.

I don’t expect you to understand how I feel or what my life experiences are. I don’t wish for you to understand, because for you to understand, it means you also live with it. And I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

What I would like is a simple acknowledgment that you and I live (and love) differently — that there is something that makes us not the same, beyond what you can see. I know it is difficult to understand what you cannot see. I know you are only taking my word on how daily life is a struggle. I know you also have struggles, and feel anxiety, and feel sad or down.

I know it is asking a lot for you to just give me the benefit of the doubt that I am doing the best I can. I know it is frustrating because you are perhaps capable of handling situations with more grace and with more control and calm than I. But I ask you to have patience. It is like you are a sea turtle and I am a land turtle; we are both turtles but our capabilities are different. I am what I am and I can do what I can do. Just because you are made differently — wired differently — does not mean I can be forced into being like you.

Know I do cherish any laugh I have, any smile I make, any moment where just for a second the weight of anxiety and depression is slightly lessened.

Please just love and accept me, though I am different from you. I need that love, I need that acceptance, more than I could ever verbalize to you. More than you could ever know.

Sincerely,

Me, who lives with anxiety and depression

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How I Stay In Touch With Who I Am When Depression Strikes

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In January, after a year of feeling depressed with chronic stress at the workplace, I had what most would consider a “nervous breakdown.” My psychiatrist put me on medical leave and I was placed in an intensive outpatient program. The program included daily group therapy, weekly individual therapy and doctor sessions.

Everyone’s depression looks different, so I will describe mine briefly here.

When I am depressed I stop showering. I stop doing laundry. I’ll eat fast food a few times a day, which makes me feel worse. I can’t cook, exercise or leave the house. I feel a physical burden that overwhelms me, and the depression makes attempting the tiniest bit of housework seem like I’m climbing a mountain. I lay down too much. I watch sad movies, like “The Hours,” repeatedly. If left unchecked, I’ll begin to consider suicide as an option. I don’t let it get that far. Not anymore. I call my doctor immediately.

It’s important to recognize one’s kind of depressive behavior. It’s also important to recognize one’s “happy” behavior. Which is what I want to talk about here.

I am a high school teacher. I am required to be “in my head” each day, thinking, reading, writing, creating lessons, anticipating students’ responses and then assessing their answers. It’s very cerebral. That is why at the end of the day, I like to make things with my hands. I enjoy cooking meals, baking, soap-making, candle-making, playing with clay, snipping herbs from my garden and petting my poodle. I “make” my dog happy when I pet her. These activities are my kind of creativity. They keep me in touch with the Earth, on the ground, where I live. Touching stuff of the Earth makes me feel alive.

I don’t do these activities when I am depressed, but these activities are my bright beacons to happiness in a raging sea storm called depression. They are reminders of my true self.

I tell my story not to encourage soap-making or baking cookies, but to share what I’ve learned about my mental illness, my bipolar disorder. I have learned when I use all five of my senses — when I use my whole body to make something — that is who I truly am. I am not the depression, and the depression is not me.

In depression, it’s so difficult to remember what I love and what I love doing. So, when things are going well, I create something meaningful to my life. I leave clues around the apartment, on tables, on counter tops, in the fridge. Because when depression strikes, I’ll forget who I am. I’ll forget that I’m on the Earth, that I live and belong here.

I hope you find something that keeps you here and reminds you of who you truly are.

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.

Unsplash photo via Jared Sluyter.

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