How I Came to Admit I Had Depression

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Like many others, I am independent, stubborn and strong-willed. Despite being a very candid individual, I’m also fiercely private. Those things combined can make opening up and saying “I need help” very hard.

To contextualize that, 2.5 years ago — prior to my depression diagnosis — I ended up in hospital as I’d ignored a growing problem. The change had so been subtle over a prolonged period of time that I convinced myself it was OK. It wasn’t.

Similar story last year. I’d been having a tough time at work, a few personal challenges and I knew I wasn’t in great shape. However, I was working through it and trying to take care of myself — or so I thought.

The challenges stacked up, got bigger and then a real family crisis hit. I thought I had myself in check. I didn’t and instead, I capitulated further into despair.

It wasn’t until the third bout of vomiting, diarrhea and full body aching and a conversation with my wife that I admitted self-help wasn’t working.

That was a really hard conversation. Frankly, it sucked. I cried a lot and it hurt. It may sound cliché, but admitting I needed help lifted a weight. This kickstarted several months of assessments, doctors appointments and starting therapy.

Each of these conversations hurt. They filled me with dread, real physical and emotional pain. I’d feel terrible before and during, I’d be exhausted after, but each time a little more weight was jettisoned.

I cried a lot during this time. I almost felt like I was sinking further, but actually, all I was doing was admitting what I’d been denying for months. It sucked, but it was important. It put me on course to start addressing what I realized was a lifelong issue with anxiety and depression.

At this stage, I told a few friends, colleagues and family members and every time it was the same — it sucked. But it made a difference, it helped me make peace with myself and created a network of knowing and supportive people.

And the more I have done it, the easier it has become. Sure, it takes a lot of strength and bravery and it is emotionally draining, but it really helps and I know I’m not alone.

I hate that I’m reliant on doctors, medication and the support of some wonderful people, but I’m proud of myself for allowing it and grateful to all of them. I still have a lot more soul searching and growing to do, but I’ve come a long way and talking has been key to that.

So yes, talking about depression sucks, but it’s important — really important. So, stay safe and speak up.

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Thinkstock photo via KatarzynaBialasiewicz

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Why I Talked to My Son About Depression

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I recently had “the talk” with my son. No, not that talk (although I have had that discussion many times with him). I mean the talk about mental illness — and my mental illness to be exact. It went quite well actually, beyond whatever expectations I had for the encounter. He was attentive and seemed to understand what I was telling him — at least the best a 12-year-old can understand. But then again, why would it have gone any differently? And why was I more apprehensive about this talk than any other I’ve had with him? Is it possible I worried about the stigma of mental illness and the ever-so-familiar silent judgment from my own son? Probably, though it pains my fatherly heart to think so.

My father wrestles with depression. His depression manifests itself mostly in feelings of worthlessness, guilt and shame. And his father struggled with depression as well, though as children growing up we just thought he liked to take long walks by himself or be alone for hours tinkering in his workshop. It’s only been recent that these generational challenges have been discussed — somewhat openly, yet guardedly, as though it’s the big family secret no one is willing to admit to. I don’t know how far back our family tree this predisposition to depression runs, but three generations worth of evidence suggests my own son will likely deal with it as well. So I decided two things have to happen:

One, I have to be the chain-breaker.

Previous generations avoided talking about — and even giving full credence to — mental illness. Depression was a character flaw, a nuisance; merely one of life’s obstacles that must be overcome by hard work, prayer and perseverance. To admit to having a mental illness was to admit to weakness. “Life is hard, so just work harder” seemed to be their mantra. It is only in recent years that finally, finally, people are beginning to view mental illness differently. I believe our generation has the opportunity to finally break the chain of stigma; to end the silence and embarrassment surrounding mental illness; to bring enlightenment, understanding and acceptance to a world previously paralyzed by ignorance and fear. And this transformation has to begin in our own families. I will not allow the silence of my father, and his father, to be perpetuated any further. I will not carry on the family façade of so-called stoicism in the face of real and difficult mental challenges. I will not sit back and watch my children struggle the same way I struggled. I will shatter this link of the chain and not allow it to be perpetuated any further.

Two, I have to prepare my son.

Chances are very good that at some point, probably within the next 3-5 years, he’s going to start noticing signs of depression in his life. Like me, he’s going to start feeling the weight, the darkness, the numbness and the pain that accompanies it. Like me, he’s going to doubt his worth and struggle to find his place in the world. But unlike me, he’s going to be prepared. He will know that what he’s feeling are the same feelings his dad feels. He will know he’s not “crazy,” or different and certainly not alone. I hope he will feel comfortable talking with me about it. Depression feeds off isolation and containment. Trying to hold it inside only makes it grow stronger. Eventually, after years of suppression, it can become so deeply-rooted, so solidly entrenched, so massive and so black it is nearly impossible to extract yourself from it. Believe me, I know. And you can bet I will do everything in my power to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen to him.

I will not allow my son’s identity to be interlinked with any form of mental illness. I will not allow his past to be held against him, nor his future to be held captive, by depression. I will not stand by while his self-worth and confidence are beaten down. Of course, there is only so much I can do — I can’t live his life for him. But, as his father, I am committed to doing everything I possibly can to prepare him for, and help him through, whatever may come.

So we talked and will continue to talk. Mental health will be an open topic for discussion in my family. No taboos, no stigmas, no judging. Mine will be a family where these challenges are met with understanding, openness, acceptance and unconditional love. This is the legacy I hope desperately to pass on to my son – a new link in our family chain.

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Thinkstock photo via Olga Lyubkina

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The Challenge of Running When You’re Depressed

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Hot on the heels of the London Marathon, I’m sure many of us are feeling spurred on to either begin running or to get back into it. I’m no different. I used to run years ago, but unfortunately I let it slide. I could blame this on depression and how it makes me want to sleep my days away, but it’s also about just getting plain lazy.

Once your fitness goes and the weight piles on, it’s really hard to contemplate exercise. Starting from the beginning is always tough. It’s even harder when you’re fighting depression and anxiety. The negative thoughts tell you it’s not worth the hassle and you will only fail, so why begin? On bad days, negativity wins and the cushion fort of the sofa becomes a refuge.

Unfortunately, I have a propensity to comfort eat when I am depressed. I understand many people lose their appetite when they’re in that dark place, but not me. I have been known to put on quite a lot of weight from trying to find solace in carbs-laden and sugar-heavy foods. This has done me no favors in further despising myself.

I have been reticent about exercising. I will confess that a brisk walk or negotiating a flight of stairs has led to me being a little out of breath. Hardly a catalyst for wanting to do something more strenuous, is it?

Then the other day I watched a show on BBC 1 called ‘Mind Over Marathon’: This involves a group of 10 people, all with mental illnesses, committing to training to run the London Marathon. They have a range of illnesses and many have never done any form of running. I found myself relating to those who find running hard because they are battling anxiety and depression.

Like some of these individuals, I am petrified at the idea of running outside where others can see and potentially judge me. Not only do I worry about small things such as whether I’m running correctly, if I’m red in the face, and if I appear unfit, I also contend with being overweight and having mental illnesses.

I went for my first run in years, a few days ago. It was tough. I did a “Couch Potato to 5K” program, which I think will suit me, but I don’t mind admitting it was painful and I got upset.

Through the walking and jogging stints, I was not only trying to motivate myself to keep going, but I was also battling against the depression thoughts that I should just give up, that I would not complete it, and that I was foolish to even try. Add to that the anxiety spiral of worrying people were laughing at me and judging the woman who looked like she was about to have a heart attack, and you have something of a nightmare.

So you would think I gave up, right? Oddly enough I didn’t.

The next day I decided I needed to go again. It helps that my husband is coming along with me, for now. He is providing me with encouragement, motivating me to keep going when I want to quit, and, dare I say it, I know if people are casting us a glance, it may be at both of us rather than just me.

The second run was still tough. I don’t expect great things so soon. However I can genuinely state I felt a sense of pride in doing it. It was good to be outside, listening to music, being in the company of my husband and defeating small hurdles of jogging every now and again in between the walks. I’m not going to sugarcoat this and declare that running will “cure” all mental illnesses, but maybe it is a way to strengthen the mind.

I am heartened that the London Marathon chose Heads Together as their chosen charity. It shows how the link between physical exercise for helping those of us with mental illness is strong.

Running is a case of mind over matter. That’s not so easy for someone who has to deal with the relentless thoughts and worries that come from being mentally ill. Not only are you trying to make it through physically when you’re exerting yourself, but you’re waging a war with the demons in your head who want you to lie down and quit.

I’m not a poster girl for running. I can barely complete the easiest part of the program at this stage, but I know I will keep trying to get out there and run. I believe I owe it to myself. Please don’t think this is easy for me. I am currently in a depression relapse, and even summoning up the energy to think about running is tiring. I guess I like to win. No matter how small, putting my sneakers on and taking that first step out of the door is a personal victory.

I will fail some days when I want to hide from the world. I am determined I will look to tomorrow for a potentially better running day. I desire the freedom running gives of pushing my body and experiencing those endorphins that reward the effort.

I want to look after my mind by exercising my body. I wish to feel proud of myself for hitting my goals, both big and small. I need to keep living. Running makes me feel alive. It reminds me that this body and mind can work together and that I am worth it.

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How to Manage an Office Job With Depression and Anxiety

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I never liked drama at school. In fact, I hated it. However, somewhere along the way, I learned to be a pretty good actor. Like so many of the mental health community, I have become an expert at outwardly functioning through my struggling.

People at work who learn about my struggles are always surprised and I’m grateful for that. I work hard to function, so people not noticing is great. However, that’s not a sustainable strategy for dealing with a problem.

I have an office job — a pretty decent one. I lead a team and devise part of the strategy for a retailer. My job relies on my decision making, clarity of thought and leadership of my team. Maintaining that when the voices of depression and anxiety are screaming, whispering and toying with you day after day is hard. Functioning when trying antidepressants that made me feel fuzzy and removed is hard. Going to meetings with large numbers of people in small rooms is hard. You likely know this, but how do you deal with it?

1. Work out who needs to know about it.

I spent a lot of time worrying about this. Truth is, it’s entirely up to you, but I have benefited greatly from a small network being in the know: my manager, my peer and my second in command. It means I have a support network if I have appointments, need a shoulder or to work through a negative self-evaluation.

These people have been hugely valuable in supporting me.

2. Manage your schedule tightly.

People in offices love meetings and it’s become increasingly common for people to drop meetings directly into your schedule, which is awful if you need to manage your energy levels. I started by blocking regular appointments for myself — making sure I get lunch or get an hour at my desk — then blocking time before or after meetings. Now only a handful of people knows my availability so I can control when I am available and so I can plan regular days to work from home.

3. Plan your week and create realistic expectations.

My anxiety is fuelled by a lack of self-worth and an unrealistic set of expectations of myself. Through my therapy, I’ve been working on rebalancing this and the office is a critical place for managing myself. I handwrite a weekly planner. What meetings and priorities do I have each day? Is that going to be possible? Is it critical? A manager’s role is a lot about prioritizing and I need to be most ruthless with myself. Sometimes I even run through this plan with my wife so I know it’s reasonable.

4. Understand your limits each day.

A plan is great, but it doesn’t mean you are going to have the energy to deliver on it. Because I have a plan and protect my diary, I can move things that aren’t vital or that are beyond my daily capability. Giving myself permission to do that is a challenge but it allows me to react to a bad night’s sleep, a spike in anxiety or a change in medication.

5. Know when to stop.

Sometimes it doesn’t work. The toolkit isn’t enough on a given day. Knowing when to throw in the towel and go home or take a duvet day is important. It’s the highest order of self-care because only I can determine my limits and give myself permission to rest. But being ruthless with the above means it’s easier to stop because I know what’s going on and what compromises I’m making.

I’m working incessantly on the above because it helps to manage my anxiety whilst leaving me flexibility. It’s an endless battle to stay on top of myself, but this is a manageable way to deliver at work whilst managing my health.

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Thinkstock photo via Rostislav_Sedlacek

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When My Mental Illness Makes Me Question if God Loves Me

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Editor’s note: This post discusses suicide and self-harm, and may be triggering. If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255,

At first, the idea that anyone could love me seemed impossible.

My mind had told me I was unlovable for so long, it became an accepted fact of life to me.

Despite that, in my heart I know the truth: God has never left me. Not once through my daily struggle has he abandoned me or turned his back, even when I had.

I know he cares for me very much. But my mental illness often tells me he doesn’t or that I’m not worthy of his love. And in a way, that voice is right. I don’t feel worthy of God’s love. Still, there’s hope. Because Jesus died so I could be worthy, mental illness and all.

Mental illness told me I was too broken to be saved, told me after everything, there was no hope for my life. I had made too many mistakes and kept too many secrets to ever be loved again.

I doubted, not in Christianity, but in myself. I had spent so many years lost, I didn’t know how to forgive myself. Others were easy. I hold no anger towards people who have physically hurt me, nor toward the people who told me to kill myself. I have not yet learned how to forgive myself for listening to them. To anyone else this may sound ridiculous.

For years I have struggled with the idea God loves me. How could God love me when I spent years wishing to be dead? How could he love me with how much hurt I carry within my soul? How could he forgive me when I have not yet forgiven myself? How could he love me when I’m constantly questioning?”

God, why has this hurt happened? Why does it follow me?

I felt uncomfortable in churches, like I was pretending to be someone else, someone who hadn’t spent the night before crying and bandaging self-harm wounds. Someone who didn’t pray for God to simply let me die. I stayed in the back, with my long sleeves to cover the faded scars on my arms and an exit a few feet away. Some days I spent the whole time hiding in the bathroom.

It never occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, I didn’t have to hide. Maybe I can be Christian and mentally ill. Maybe I could be loved for who I am one day. After all, isn’t that what I’m called to do? 1 Peter 4:8 says, “Above all, let us love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” So maybe I can be honest about who I am without fear. It’s an idea that is both hopeful and terrifying to me, and I hope one day I won’t be hiding in the back, keeping my thoughts and questions to myself. I hope one day I say, without a shadow of doubt, that I know God loves me, scars and all. I hope I can show compassion to the others hiding in the back of the room, unsure of their places. I see you. I know how you feel. It can get easier. It’s hard, but it can get easier.

Church is a place that’s hard for me to be. It’s hard to be there when I feel so undeserving and lost. But I go because I love God and I believe with my whole heart he has seen me through moments where I should have died, moments that are still too painful to write about, and even though church may never be an easy place for me, I go.

I’ve learned for now that’s what matters.

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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Photo by Karl Fredrickson, via Unsplash

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Why I Need to Talk About My Depression and Suicidality

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Editor’s note: If you experience suicidal thoughts, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

This morning, autumn sun shines through the north-facing window as magpies gather on the grass and call to one another with their indignant warbles. I gaze out the window and watch as geese stroll in their clumsy line to the fruit trees down the hill, while the hum of the dishwasher and the crackle of the fire compete with the silence of the house. There is life and movement and sound, and I am present and grounded in this moment.

It’s difficult on days like this — when I feel so stable, so balanced — to imagine I can be anything other than this. It’s easy to believe I can, and will, always stay in this place of lucid rationality. But I have battled on the frontline of my depression for long enough now to accept its relentless stealth, the way it rests in my blind spot and edges in without a sound when I am unprepared and least aware, and leaves me powerless to fight against the weight of it.

Rich Larson wrote an article this week in response to the death of Chris Cornell, in trying to understand why this particular loss has affected him so much. He writes,

“… his is the death that bothers me the most. As I’ve been thinking about this, I’m realizing that it’s both a personal and a generational thing. Cornell had a long struggle with depression. As have I… we talk about it as a demon or a monster. It’s a dark shadow that shows itself at any point in time without warning. It surrounds us, isolates us, and quiets us… You might think grunge is about anger, but that’s not completely true. Yes, it can sound that way, but it’s really about depression and cynicism. Those two go hand-in-hand, along with their nasty little sister, anxiety. When the three of them get going, they just eat hope as quickly as it can be summoned. That leaves despair and despair is exhausting, not just for those who experience it, but for the people around it as well. So we keep it to ourselves because we don’t want to be a burden… depression makes you feel totally alone. You hit the breaking point, and then, like Chris Cornell, you die alone …”

We speak words like “shock” and “tragedy” and “loss” and try to make sense of why a man who had the adoration of the world upon him would take his own life, alone. There is such suddenness to it, such harsh abruptness. Maybe we would understand it more — maybe it would seem more palatable to our tongues to blame drugs than to have to face the fact we are no less immune to being caught in the clutches of darkness as he was. As anybody is. Maybe it’s just too real to those of us who don’t have to try as hard as everyone else to make sense of it all.

“I don’t know how to get away from it, from the darkness that falls upon me. I scratch and claw at it, but it lands and it lands and it lands and I am smothered by it until there is no more light but suddenly the darkness is no more my enemy, it is no longer feared, I welcome it and embrace it and tell it to make its home here for I too am darkness and I’m tired of fighting this and I don’t want to fight this anymore.”

These are words I wrote.

Not years ago or months ago or in some other lifetime. These are words I wrote two days ago.

Two. Days. Ago.

I read these words back now and in all honesty, I’m scared by them, by how powerless I felt under the weight of darkness, by how hard it was for me to fight against it. It’s difficult to articulate what goes on in these moments of despair. People, in their ignorance, often talk about suicide being selfish. Yet I’m quite sure the heart of those who take their own lives all beat to the same conviction: “They’d be better off without me.” These are not self-indulgent words spoken in the hope of attention and appeasement, but words that rise from the darkest corners of the soul and fill bodies and rush through veins and sit upon bones until we become so laden with the heaviness of these words we cannot fight against them any longer.

The days that led up to the words I wrote were filled with darkness, heaviness, bleakness, numbness, hopelessness. I felt like failure. I felt like inadequacy. I felt I could do nothing right, that nothing I did was good enough. I felt I was letting everyone down, that I couldn’t keep up, that I was a disappointment to those around me.

Mostly, I felt consumed by my own self-loathing. In my times of darkness, I cannot love the way others need me to love them. This is part of my “brokenness,” part of my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), part of the unhealed wounds I carry in my soul. I simply do not have the capability to love others when my heart is so numb I can’t even feel it beat inside my own chest. I see the way those who love me are hurt by this. They think this is a choice I make; to not love. They have no idea of the pain and grief it causes me. They blame me, and I blame me, and I am left even more isolated and alone in the ways they will never — could never — understand my heart.

And in these times of darkness, it only seems logical that others would be better off without me, that those who love me would never have to experience a love that is often only returned with ambivalence at best. That I would never have to look into the eyes of those around me and see my own failure and disappointment reflected back at me. That I would no longer hurt those who least deserve it because I am incapable of being anything other than a broken, f*cked up mess.

Of course, none of this is rational. But it never is.

And the thing is, if you’d seen me two days ago, you wouldn’t have known. Maybe I’d have seemed a little distant, a little distracted. Not quite myself. I’d likely have still smiled as we said hello, only to look away a little too fast before you noticed the way my smile didn’t reach my eyes.

Depression is something we don’t talk about. It’s something we pretend isn’t a thing, at least not one we struggle with. We say words like “fine” and “good” and “OK” as a shield to deflect any possible further questions that might expose our shame. Because secretly, we lug around the stigma that something is wrong with us, and our worst fear is that someone will see our depression and confirm our fears are right.

We carry the burden on our own because we fear the weight of it, and are loathed to break the back of another by asking their help to carry it too. We fear being misunderstood, being seen as self-indulgent or self-pitying. We fear the risk of vulnerability in the face of potential dismissing or disregard. We fear we are just too much; too much emotion, too much pain, too much sadness, too much darkness.

Too much trouble.

Until eventually, we have fought on our own and in silence for so long our bones ache and our shoulders slump and we are too tired to even lift our heads and we take our own life.

Depression doesn’t play favorites. It doesn’t discriminate. It is you. It is me. It is Chris Cornell. It is insidious and we cannot take it upon ourselves to assume who we think should or shouldn’t struggle with this relentless darkness. It cannot be hoped away, prayed away, sent away with token words and a pat on the back.

What it needs is to be understood.

To know depression is not failure. To know it is not weakness. Know there is no fault and no blame. Know how strong we really are to continue the fight when every breath is a battle won. Know we are doing the best we can, and that will always be enough.

Know, most importantly, we are never 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, 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.

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

Thinkstock photo via itsmejust

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