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How 'Staying Strong' in the Face of Depression Nearly Demolished Me

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What does the word “strong” mean to me? I have spent most of my life being “strong,” and it nearly demolished me. Maybe because of the stigma around mental health, people learn to see mental problems as something to be ashamed of, and the “done thing” is to be “strong” and soldier on. What that meant in reality for me was that all my natural emotions were suppressed, hidden away and treated as “bad” things. Control, calmness and coping were my watchwords. I was known, and even admired, for it. I realize now, what I was actually doing was building a wall around my natural emotions, brick by brick.

Until one day, I woke up and knew I couldn’t carry on with things the way they were. That brick wall was going to fall down and bury me if something didn’t change. Those emotions were shouting to get out and they demanded to be heard, in very scary ways. So I took myself to the doctor and received medication and counseling.

Now that last sentence is easy to say, but within it, is a whole lot of horrid. Was it easy to go to a doctor and say, “I’m broken, and I need fixing?” Was it easy to fill out the referral form and post it? Was it easy to call the therapist and arrange that first session? Or talk to people close to me about it? Or take medication? No. No, it wasn’t, it was hell. I hated it. I put off every single part of it for as long as I could.

Over the weeks, I began to understand this reluctance to confront things was part of the problem. I couldn’t control strong emotions like that forever — the stress was killing me. But the real issue from this first experience was downright fear of change, fear that all these fine brick defenses of mine would crumble and leave a poor, frightened little thing out in the open for the first time, with nothing to protect her from all the bad stuff. So I dealt with the surface problems on this occasion, because I felt safe doing that.

But there was more to come, unfortunately.

Over the last few years, I’ve developed two nasty illnesses and their associated secondary conditions. I am now disabled, need a wheelchair or scooter to get around and have such severe fatigue and pain that I have to rest most of the time. As the physical illnesses progressed, I fought with everything I had to keep going and keep working. I loved my job and the people I worked with, but it just couldn’t be done. When I finally accepted the medical advice and was signed off, I had lost so much of my life that I didn’t see the point of me any more.

I enjoyed working, I was good at it. I was valued, but I couldn’t do it anymore. I loved walking, going to the gym, dancing madly and gardening, but I couldn’t do any of them. I was housebound and had nothing to occupy my time. Depression hit again, big time. For six months, I couldn’t see a way out of the darkness. The losses were so great they took me over, despite the love and support I had from my husband, family and friends.

But because I had been there before — learned the all-important lesson that help was out there if I asked for it — I knew there was a way out. So, I asked for help. Again, it wasn’t easy, nothing ever is with depression. It took time for me to acknowledge it was back again, and it needed an expert’s help in exactly the same way my diseases did. It was tough as hell dragging myself out to counseling when my body and mind just wanted to stay at home and keep everyone away.

With my therapist’s help, I was able to confront the new and the long buried issues, and have the courage to start letting the bigger and longer buried emotions out. I knew it could be done because I’d done some of it before, if that makes sense. In fact, I have come to realize the very “strength” which had built my brick wall, was in fact, my greatest weakness.

So to answer what is strength to me, it’s realizing what is popularly perceived as “weakness” can actually be the best kind of strength. To ask for help and learn how to cope better during the times when depression bites is strength to me.

This post originally appeared on Bu Bakes.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

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Thinkstock photo via BerSonnE.

Originally published: May 17, 2017
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