What Pennywise the Clown Taught Me About My Depression

Editor’s note: This post contains spoilers for the movie “It.”

As a lifelong fan of horror fiction writer Stephen King, going to watch the cinematic reimagining of the prolific
author’s 1986 novel “It,” was a no-brainer for me.

It was the book that validated the fears of people with coulrophobia (that’s a fear of clowns, by the way) everywhere by introducing a malevolent, child-murdering being that sometimes takes the form of an equally unnerving clown named Pennywise.

The story follows a group of kids — who dub themselves the “Losers’ Club” — as they face off against the aforementioned monster in what is a metaphor for the loss of innocence.

But for me, “It” turned out to be much more than a horror movie. For it imparted on me an important lesson about the nature of depression — at least the way I experience it.

You see, in the book (as well as the film adaptation), Pennywise loses his power when the kids stop being afraid of him. The monster feeds off fear — it is what sustains him and makes him dangerous. Pennywise needs fear in order to survive.

When I recently experienced a serious depressive episode (for no obvious reason – that’s just the nature of the beast), I had to make the decision to face depression head-on. I had to prepare for battle.

It took every ounce of courage and strength that I could muster — at this stage my limbs felt as if they were made from lead — but I was determined not to let this monster win.

Yes, in my heart I was still afraid, mostly because I had never felt that low before. But I envisaged the disease as an actual, physical monster, something that could be fought and defeated.

And do you know what? It worked. It freakin’ worked. I have to add, however, that my wife was — and always has been — a powerful ally in the battle against the beast. When I faltered, or started doubting myself, she was right there ready with words of encouragement that left no room for doubt.

Am I cured of depression? Absolutely not. I’ve suffered from depression for the past 20 years and I acknowledge that the “monster” won’t just lie down and die after one decent fight.

But I’ve acquired a new way of thinking about my disorder. I’ve learned that, if I show depression I’m no longer afraid of it, it starts to back down and become afraid itself. Depression is a monster and, if countless books and movies have taught us anything, it’s that monsters are inevitably defeated.

Thank you, Mr. King!

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Screenshot via “It” movie Facebook page


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Why Taking Mental Health Leave From University Doesn't Mean I'm Giving Up

“You’ve only given it a week” — the comment I have heard over and over and over for the past few days since arriving home. In all honesty, it wasn’t even a full week I was at university, but it only took a single day before I began to think I didn’t even want to be there in the first place.

As much as I would love to sit here and tell a heroic success story about how I was the one girl tackling her own mental health and managed to get out on the other side with a degree and with everything so much better, as a massive inspiration to all – I can’t.

I have struggled with education because of mental health most of my life, so I knew there wasn’t going to be a magical change where all those problems would have just gone away once I started university, but I still wasn’t expecting them to hit so hard. I have depression, anxiety disorder and insomnia, which I have been getting treated for since I was 13. This made university kind of a big deal — moving away, being totally independent – stuff I never would have thought I’d be able to do.

Within the first few days, the struggles started to seep through. I was running off little sleep, had almost hourly panic attacks in the night and no motivation to attend any of the welcome week activities. The weight of all of this and starting to feel myself slipping back into dark places I had climbed out of, all added up to my decision to leave. I was struggling to manage my meds and my nights consisted of crying myself to sleep, along with the other usual suspects.

Instead of withdrawing fully, I decided that I wanted to just give myself the option to come back, so I have taken a temporary suspension from study. That is basically just a fancy way of saying that I’ve taken a gap year and, if I wish, I can go back next year. I was leaving halls, officially on study leave for the year, saying goodbye to some amazing new friends. I was gone — all within the hour.

Throughout the ride back, I was having my little music video moment just looking out the window thinking I may have just made such a massive mistake and I should have given it a little more time. There were so many financial and emotional implications with giving it a little longer, but I knew the second I walked back into my own home that this wasn’t a mistake — it was exactly what I needed.

The one thing I feared more than anything was letting everyone around me down — my parents, friends, boyfriend, other family members. After all, I had only given it a week. I just needed someone to tell me that it was OK that I was leaving, because I knew myself and my mental health better than anyone else around me, and far better than any of the university advisors that had known me for a matter of hours.

So, what’s the plan now?

I’m going to go back to therapy as soon as the list will allow me to. I’m going to get a job so I can get some money – which is another challenge for me. I’m going to use this year as an optimum chance to make myself better, and leaving university, for now, was a perfect set up for me to do so. I refuse to see deferring the opportunity to get my dream degree as giving up. I refuse to see that me leaving halls after a week is me giving up. Me leaving university for the year is nothing more than another opportunity for me to develop myself and then go back to university as a better and stronger person. I am not a quitter.

I’m quite lucky to have an amazing support system around me who were lining up to tell me that they were still proud of me and they were going to support me as much as they could as I went through the messy transition of leaving (and now the even messier transition of what to do for the next year). My mental health will always have to be a priority in my life and it will be for the rest of my life. I am fully aware that.

If you are reading this right now as a person who’s thinking of heading to university, someone who is already there, or someone who is thinking about leaving the way I was because they may be struggling with mental health issue(s) — I’m telling you it is OK to put yourself first. As much as university is a great opportunity, you are never giving that up by leaving. Even if it comes to next year and I am still struggling, there is always the year after that and the year after that. It is never too late. My story is just a little one in the pond of a number of people who go to university with mental health issues, and although it is not typically successful in terms of staying there, I am a success to myself. I know one day I will get there, and so will anyone else.

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Lead image via Brad Kerr

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32 Habits of People With Concealed Depression

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.

If you’re struggling with depression, it can be easy to feel like your struggle is less valid when you look “fine.” But the truth is, depression presents itself differently for everyone, and even though you may seem to “have it all together,” doesn’t mean you’re not still struggling.

Because when you’re constantly playing the role of “fine,” or trying to hide your symptoms, it can be easy to feel isolated and it may be harder to ask for help when you need it. 

That’s why we asked our Mighty mental health community to share with us one thing people don’t realize they’re doing because they have concealed depression. Because hiding depression behind the mask of “high-functioning” or “fine” doesn’t make it any less valid; you still deserve to be heard and you still deserve help and support if you need it. 

Here is what they had to say:

1. “I make plans because I want to socialize, but I wind up canceling at the last minute because I can’t deal with being around people.” — Jennifer G.

2. “Screwing up my sleep schedule. I didn’t do anything physically to make it so that I sleep 10 hours a day, I just… need to. [My] brain says sleep because sleep passes the time faster. Sleep doesn’t hurt me mentally or physically. Sleep doesn’t make me feel like I’m a burden when I’m doing it.” — Brandi P.

3. “People don’t know it, but sometimes my mind gets so messy when I go places that I constantly think about my death; if a car could just run that red light and hit my driver side, I’d feel so much better. But it never does, and I’m disappointed every time.” — Blake C.

4. “Being very talkative and making jokes. Other people who don’t know me well will consider me as outgoing, relaxed and fun, when in reality I am just trying to hide behind a wall.” — Linda Z.

5. “Not verbally engaging in conversations or social interactions because I don’t have the energy. And then blaming it on ‘just being tired or stressed’ so others don’t get offended and I don’t come off as ‘awkward.’” — Paige A.

6. “I binge watch shows on Netflix. Completely immerse myself in it so that I don’t have to deal with life or my thoughts. People think I just really like TV.” — Shaylynn R.

7. “I actively ask [others] about problems in their lives and steer conversations away from myself. It’s easier to address other people’s problems than it is to face my own.” — Harmon T.

8. “Not taking my meds for a few days so I can sink in deeper so I don’t have to function. Plus staying up all night and sleeping during the day so I don’t have to deal.” — Jessica T.

9. “I probably steer the conversation toward an issue I am dealing with so we can talk about ‘it’ and I can get advice.” — Annemarie E.

10. “My mood is shared through music lyrics I post on social media. My friends think it’s just a catchy song — I relate to the lyrics” — Stuart L.

11. “I make subtle cries for help — my jokes are darker and darker. I also stay extremely busy to avoid my own thoughts and feelings. And I cover up everything else with excuses once people start to notice.” — Katherine W.

12. “I critique myself every single day, all day. I constantly second guess my decisions and still never think I’m making the right one.” — Emily P.

13. “Not looking people in the eye when speaking. I feel so much lower than them and I don’t want them to figure that out and use it against me.” — Toni M.

14. “The thoughts in my head are on repeat. I loathe myself and I feel utterly miserable. I go home and sleep most of the hours I’m not at work. I want to hurt myself. I want to change, but I simply don’t know how. My self-care and household are put on hold. I keep canceling plans despite truly wanting to follow through, but when the time comes, I just can’t. I am hurting physically, not just mentally.” — Lynette M.

15. “I can lay awake or sometimes cry all night. The days I do get up, I make myself look nice and do something bold in community advocacy. But that’s only some days. Other days when they don’t see me, I might lay in bed all day. People think my education, service and personality is equivalent to what they imagine is ‘stability’ or ‘success.’ [The] truth is, everything has been falling apart for over a year now and I’m basically homeless and hungry.” — Phoenix J.

16. “I’m a teacher, but I will never eat lunch in the staff room with my colleagues. I need that time to recharge for the remainder of the day.” — Francis T.

17. “I make lots of plans to meet up with friends. Then at last minute, I always have something else to do or get a headache (I usually do have a headache because I have wound myself up about it), then the morning after I wish I had gone.” — Ross R.

18. “Isolating myself, both physically and on social media. It’s just too hard to deal with any sort of interaction when depression has the upper hand. Unfortunately, those are also usually the times I need it most.” — Selena W.

19. “That even on good days, my suicidal thoughts haunt me. They may not be as daunting some days, but they are always there.” — Katrine S.

20. “I’m usually late for work. I blame it on traffic, but a lot of times it’s because I really don’t want to get out of bed because it feels like depression is pinning me down.” — Kristel L.

21. “[I] forget to eat or drink enough water. Just lose complete track of time. And suddenly it’s dinner time and I’ve barely had breakfast of lunch.” — Olga M.

22. “I immerse myself in fictional worlds; I read a lot, I play video games, I watch plot-heavy TV shows. The less time I spend in my own reality, the better.” — Jessica C.

23. “I invite my friends and family for dinner and cook for them. Nobody could tell that I am depressed at that moment.” — Nur M.

24. “My posture is terrible due to depression. When I was younger, my father would mock me and criticize me for my posture. But I was also a depressed child. I always seem to walk with my head down too.” — Khai-lin K.

25. “I hide behind a rigidly controlled mask. I don’t maintain contact with anyone that isn’t directly involved in my life. I use my room as a shell against people when I can’t deal. I don’t talk on the phone because I can’t hide my crying voice, so I text.” — Bess C.

26. “Staying up extremely late to keep myself busy with everything I can, even if I’m tired as hell, because being alone at night with so many thoughts and concerns keeps me awake anyway, as well as nightmares. Not being able to just sit there and watch a movie so quietly as I used to when I was much younger because I need to keep myself busy with something else.” — Denise J.

27. “Snapping at people. Usually I force myself to go to work and social events even though I can barely function. Then I end up breaking down or snapping at people because it seems too overwhelming. People just think I’m in a bad mood and I just lie and say I’m really tired.” — Jackie S.

28. “I get very needy and angry. I need to cuddle, but get mad when someone touches me. I need something to be cleaned, then get mad when they don’t do it right away. I need to talk about how I’m feeling, but get very angry when someone brings it up. I’m deflecting my anger from myself on everyone else.” — Trista L.

29. “I keep touching my hair or adjusting my clothes in public. I struggle to maintain eye contact with people and I bite my nails all the time. I cancel a lot of plans and I make loads of excuses!” — Duane V.

30. “I’m engrossed in mobile games, especially fantasy RPG. That was the coping mechanism I used when my depression was at it’s worst and now it’s just a consuming habit.” — Carolyn M.

31. “Maladaptive daydreaming. I get so caught up in extremely dark fantasies that I can’t escape from, and the worse I feel, the worse they get until it results in a panic attack.” — Emma-Jean C.

32. “Focusing on anything but people. It’s easy to say I was ‘focusing on my work’ or just ‘really engaged in that TV show’ or whatever when I don’t feel like socially interacting. It’s better than dragging the rest of the group down by telling them that I feel bad and there’s not much they can do about it.” — Stephanie M.

Can you relate?

Unsplash photo via Alex Iby

woman sitting at home looking upset with head in hands next to tablet

When You Feel Guilty About Being Depressed

I have a great life. I really do. I could write you a gratitude list a mile long containing all the good things. I have a fulfilling job, a loving husband and family, great friends and good physical health. I don’t mention these things to brag — I mention them because I don’t feel like I deserve them when a depressive episode hits. When my depression hits, I can rationally think about how lucky I am, but I don’t feel it, and that makes me feel like a terrible person.

For me, there are so many feelings that go along with depression: sadness, emptiness, numbness and guilt. The guilt is actually the worst part for me. I feel guilty about the tasks that go unfinished when I can’t seem to find the motivation to move. I feel guilty about neglecting my loved ones when I don’t have the emotional energy to engage with them. I feel guilty about wasting time as my life passes me by. I have a body that works and I can’t make myself use it. That’s what it feels like sometimes — like I’m on the outside, watching my life pass by as I stand by helplessly (or more likely lying in bed under the covers). I’m screaming on the inside, but from the outside, I probably look and sound like a woman who doesn’t appreciate or care about her life. And the truth is, sometimes I can’t care about anything, and in those moments I hate myself.

This is a vicious and dangerous cycle. Hating myself for the way my depression makes me feel doesn’t benefit me or anyone else. Punishing myself for not “appreciating” the gifts in my life in the grips of depression doesn’t change anything. I have to separate my illness from my reality. I have to remind myself that I am not my illness and those dark thoughts are just that – thoughts. They only have power if I give them power.

It helps me to think of the feelings associated with a depressive episode as symptoms like the ones you get with the flu. No one with the flu feels guilty for having a fever or body aches. I shouldn’t feel guilty for feeling sad, numb or fatigued when my brain is sick.

I’m not saying this is easy to do. It sneaks up on me all the time. I’m getting much faster at catching it and naming it though, the more I learn about myself and this disorder. I have to try to be gentle with myself. I’m doing the very best I can every day. Having this illness has made me kinder and more empathetic to others. I just need to extend that kindness to myself. I deserve it and so do you.

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Thinkstock photo via DGLimages

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When Depression Makes You a Procrastinator

My sheets need to be washed, the floors need vacuuming, the bathroom needs scrubbing, I have clean laundry that needs to be folded and put away (and has for a week), I need to get my blood work done for a requisition I received in July, and I need to revise and submit this very article I started writing six weeks ago.

I am not a procrastinator. I experience procrastination as a symptom of depression. It’s easy to assume that people like me who procrastinate are lazy; the truth is, if I could do it now, I would.

When I’m well and I see the light blink on the coffee maker reminding me to fill the reservoir, I refill it. When I’m depressed, I hit the off switch. It’s hard to imagine not being able to spend an extra thirty seconds holding the container under the faucet, but there are times when one more thing is just too much to think about.

Ordinarily, if I catch myself putting off a task, I’m able to persuade myself to do it by saying something along the lines of “you’ll feel better once it’s done,” or “do it now so you won’t have to worry about it later.”

Unfortunately, part of depression is losing the ability to exercise that type of control over your mind. The incentive isn’t there because you’ve stopped caring. When you’re a hollow vessel with zero “effs” to give, you can’t persuade yourself to do stuff now so you’ll feel better later. The long-term reward system is broken. Later is endless fathoms of pain away when it is taking every ounce of what you have to get through now.

On a really bad day, I don’t even reach for the switch; I just let the stupid light blink.

So when I’m depressed and there are dishes all over the counter, it’s not because I’m lazy. It’s because I don’t have the energy to sell myself the usual motivational speech, never mind move my body off the couch, even if the sight of those dishes makes me feel worse.

So the dishes pile up and the more they do, the worse I feel. I’m failing housekeeping 101. Kids can do the dishes. Seriously, do you want insects? Figuratively, the dirty dishes and neglected household chores are just a heap of unmade decisions. Putting off decisions is the essence of procrastination, and this is probably why I do it so much when I’m depressed.

During a depressive episode, something as simple as ordering an item from a menu can seem like an overwhelming decision. When I’m well, I find it easy to make decisions and keep them in perspective by asking myself questions like “will this matter five years from now? Is it the last choice you’ll ever make? How soon will you be making this decision again?” When I’m depressed, I can’t manage my self-talk in such a healthy way, which is bad enough, but even worse is the shame that goes with it. It’s the loss of an ability I depend on and I’m used to having.

In order not to procrastinate, you have to decide what needs to be done first. It’s easy for the depressed person to get stuck here, and if you live with someone who is depressed you may find yourself becoming impatient with this. If there’s even a small way you can reduce this person’s decision-making burden, it can be a huge help.

I remember the first time I was hospitalized and I was finally allowed to visit the cafeteria with my father. I spent an absurd amount of time staring at the menu. I had no idea what I wanted and everything seemed expensive. My father didn’t tell me to hurry or demand what was wrong. He just asked if I might want some toast and coffee. I remember feeling this overwhelming sense of relief, as if he had rescued me from a nasty explosion. I don’t remember anything about the toast and coffee — if it was burnt, if I put jam on it, if the coffee was strong, if I took it black or put cream in it — but I will never forget that feeling. It was the opposite of lonely.

He did the most simple thing. He saw I was struggling and he gave me a hand. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all do that for each other now and again? Procrastination isn’t a textbook sign of depression, and you don’t have to be depressed to procrastinate, but I think it’s one of the signs that gets missed. We rely on people and we have expectations of each other based on our relationships, so it’s easy to get fed up with what we perceive as someone’s laziness when they are actually slowly losing their ability to cope with everyday tasks.

If you see someone you know is falling behind in all things they’re usually on top of, please reach out. People don’t give up on their commitments, their homes or their dishes because things are going well, and by offering to help you’re giving someone a chance to open up.

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Thinkstock photo via gregory_lee

Why We Need to Talk About Andrew Tate’s Toxic Tweets About Depression

I am fortunate enough that my Twitter timeline is full of inspiring, positive, pro-recovery people. As such, I usually manage to avoid toxic accounts, that usually belong to someone with no experience with mental health issues and no training to treat those who are struggling with mental illness; who claim that very real conditions like depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are no more than fancy words to mask laziness, weakness or excessive sensitivity. Over the past few days, however, I have seen many of the people I follow reacting to this type of content. I don’t tend to give much thought to that kind of negativity. I prefer to advocate positivity and recovery than to reply to those who don’t believe in it, especially when there are so many of them. This time, however, I am genuinely worried.

The person who stirred such a commotion in my timeline was Andrew Tate, a British kickboxing world champion who, until he got extensively called out on it, claimed he was an expert on depression, with no proven qualifications, mainly because his 25 thousand followers don’t ask for them nor do they need them to believe everything Andrew has to say. And he has a lot to say.

He claims depression isn’t real (all the while assuring he can “cure it” for some large amount of money) and that depressed people are “lazy attention seekers.” When his opinion is debated, he often goes on to body shame whoever has an opposing opinion to his. So far, a Twitter troll, but a Twitter troll who can potentially influence over 20 thousand people (mainly young men) who blindly believe in him because of his achievements as a kick boxer.

This makes me worried because Tate often advertises (and brags about) the kind of lifestyle that relies on extreme masculinity: ripped bodies, financial success and a pretty woman by his side. This is a lifestyle that young men often tend to be drawn to because it is what our society believes men should strive to.

This makes me worried because the leading cause of death amongst young men continues to be suicide; they may have fears of appearing weak or unmanly, leading men to be less likely to seek treatment than women.

This makes me worried because homosexual and bisexual men (to whom toxic masculinity can be especially harmful) are more likely to struggle with mental health issues and to try to commit suicide than their heterosexual counterparts. Almost half of the transgender population tries to take their life at least once in their lifetime.

The latest statistics tell us that roughly 350 million people worldwide struggle with depression. We urgently need to have a conversation going.

Contrary to some popular belief, depression isn’t a newly diagnosed illness — not in the slightest. Some four hundred years before Christ, the Greek physician Hippocrates already described a condition known then as “melancholia,” its symptoms being essentially the same as those we nowadays diagnose as major depressive disorder or clinical depression. Depression is also a Biblical illness, in the sense that its symptoms are described in detail through Biblical characters as well-known as David, Elijah, Moses or Job. The condition was already talked about under the name of depression in the 17th and 18th centuries by English authors Richard Baker and Samuel Johnson, and discussed for the first time in the field of psychiatry in 1856 by the French psychiatrist Louis Delasiauve.

Celebrated figures of our past such as Winston Churchill, Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Vincent Van Gogh and Anne Frank struggled with it. Therefore, I believe neither laziness or a negative approach to life has anything to do with it. Depression just feels like one of the great tragedies of our time — the greatest tragedy of it being the shame and the silence around it.

I have a chronic illness. I also happen to have gone through two cycles of major depressive disorder. As such, I have been witness to how differently physical and mental conditions are perceived, and therefore treated.

When I’m flaring up, too unwell and in too much pain to do much, people don’t usually raise a brow. They’d be understanding — suggesting I rest and take care of myself. When I’m showing symptoms of my chronic illness, I don’t hear accusations of laziness very often — if at all. When I was going through depression? Well, that was different. For once, having visible symptoms (such as weight loss or weight gain, for example, or even signs of having been crying) was accompanied by a distinct sense of embarrassment; embarrassment fueled by the reactions of people who couldn’t hide their feelings of seeing me in such a state. Then the word “lazy” was thrown at me with such ease, and more often than not, I didn’t hear people suggesting me to “take care of myself” or “rest.”

Once, as I was buying the medication I had been prescribed by my psychiatrist, my chemist had the nerve to tell me that she hoped I’d grow out of it and that I should try eating more bananas and dark chocolate instead, or maybe I’d want to try some natural remedies as well? I was appalled. I was 19, as bit as a health freak as I am now, and had fought hard against my psychiatrist until he told me, plain and simple, that depression is a medical condition and, as such, I deserved to be prescribed medication. I couldn’t believe that a chemist, of all people, would be shaming me for being on antidepressants, or that she would refer to them as some “fancy drug” I’d regret taking in some not too distant future.

I am passionate about taking care of my body (and this, let us not forget, includes taking care of my mental health as well). I am an avid figure skater. I work. I study. I am no different from the far too many people I’ve known and loved who have battled depression or faced suicidal thoughts. Far from being lazy or negative, some of the most intelligent, creative, kind and thoughtful people I know have been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives. Far too many people I know have tried to take their own lives, sometimes several times, and the shame attached to it has made that a secret only revealed to the people closest to them.

Those of us who struggle or have struggled in the past with our mental health have to battle the constant stigma. We have to prove we are not the things thrown at us, so much so that it comes as no shock that those diagnosed with clinical depression are often Type A personalities: driven, perfectionist workaholics who dread seeming weak or lazy. And let me be vulnerable for a moment: this hurts. This can potentially worsen a condition’s outlook. This can potentially be the last straw that leads someone to committing suicide.

We need to have a conversation going about suicide. We need to be aware that toxic comments from people who are uneducated on the matter are very much capable of killing. We need to keep advocating for recovery, for treatment, for visibility. We need to keep telling those who struggle with depression that they are valid, that their pain is valid and that help is available.

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 “HOME” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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