The Importance of Explaining My Depressive Episode to Loved Ones and Myself
It was only just yesterday that it all clicked in my head: the fatigue, the random tears, the irritability, the nightmares… I am in a depressive state. It’s been about two weeks and I’m not unfamiliar with the physical and mental side effects an episode like this has on me, but I am surprised I didn’t catch it sooner.
What is most frustrating about episodes like this is how my weekly therapy sessions, my yoga and meditation practices, my vitamin regimen, my diet — none of my hard work seems to help my ability to cope with the depression. And I am left in a state of wondering when it will pass and how I will know when it does. Every time this happens to me, I know the simplest answer is time. It will take time for it to pass and time for me to recognize once it has. It’s dreadful knowing I could be in this state for two more weeks, possibly even two more months.
I’ve told my family, friends and significant other what is happening. For the most part, they’ve been supportive. They say “I wish I could help” when I tell them why I was crying in the midst of a sunny 85-degree day, or “I’m here for you” when they are 600 miles away. It’s support but it’s not the answer; it’s not a cure-all. What I need is for them to understand that what they say and what they do will not bring me out of this in an instant. I need them to understand that even I am not fully aware of what is happening to me or why. I need them to understand that this episode does not define me or my future.
I need them to listen.
During an episode like this, the depression comes in waves. I may be fine and productive at work one minute, and then queasy and ready to faint the next. I may be eating a large meal for lunch and not touch a thing for dinner. I may run three miles in the morning and struggle to fall asleep that night. I may feel like socializing one evening, and the next I’ll be binging Netflix with my phone on “Do Not Disturb.” My point is, it is complicated to explain to my loved ones (and myself) the extent of what is happening because it is so inconsistent. I fear it may make them feel like they are on this roller coaster with me and the pressure and speed may be too much for them to handle.
When I am finally better — but what is “better” when you have a chronic illness? — I want to know that the person who I was before the episode, especially in their eyes, is the same person I am after. A short time of low feelings and canceling plans shouldn’t define my character. I carry this illness with me as any sick person does, but I am still me. Most of the time, my depression may be invisible, a silent partner who is always by my side. But when the spotlight is on it, just as it is right now, I want my loved ones to remember I am here, I am not going anywhere, I’m just not “OK” at the moment and that might mean my behavior and mood have changed. But, it is nothing to be afraid of and certainly nothing to run from.
Fearing our own mental illness will only perpetuate the stigma that mental illness is something everyone should fear. That fear can prevent valuable connections with one another, from seeking help, and from educating others about the many ways that mental illness can hurt. If there is one thing I’ve learned about living with this, it is that to truly live with mental illness is to be honest with those we love, even if we aren’t sure about how they will respond. Because in the end, their ability to listen could be the one thing that helps the most.
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Thinkstock photo via iTref