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An Open Apology to Anyone With Depression

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This apology is for all the people with depression I’ve spoken with, written with, worked with and met, and all the lovely souls dedicated to helping us spread the word on depression and mental illness at the University of Colorado Depression Center:

I’m sorry. I didn’t get it. I owe you an apology. A huge one.

Please accept my sincere words.

I realized I “wellsplained” an entire group of people.

How did I “wellsplain”? I offered simple answers for a very complex group of symptoms.

For every time I said, “Get more sunshine! Laugh more. Smile! Get exercise. Exercise gives you endorphins! Endorphins help alleviate depression! Choose to be happy. Eat more whole foods” — I’m sorry.

Every time I hear myself saying those things I shudder now — I’m so sorry.

I didn’t get it. I disease-shamed you all, and you were nothing but nice back.

And yes, each of those things offer help. Positive thinking, getting therapeutic help, meeting with a great doctor, increasing sunshine, increasing sleep, decreasing junk food and increasing serotonin-enhancing foods all “help.” But the answer isn’t simple. I understand that now. Depression is a myriad of symptoms.

After a car wreck injured my brain last year, I found out a thing (or 200-plus things) more about brains.

One thing I learned about concussed brains: There are neurochemical changes that didn’t exist prior to the injury. Neurochemical changes to really important neurotransmitters. My dopamine, melatonin and serotonin. Calmness, happiness and sleep. All gone. I started to get it. From the inside this time.

Sure, I studied neuroscience as it related to motivation, thriving, development, behavior and happiness before the accident — but from the outside. I knew about all the trainings and all the up-to-date research. Someone with depression had lots of options for treatments. Right?

But nothing prepared me for the day I woke up and I was gone. Before the accident, I would have defined myself as happy for no reason. Positive. Energetic. Vibrant. I just woke up that way. I didn’t even have to think about it. I was a Bright Sider. “Well, look on the bright side…”

Until I wasn’t.

About a week after the hit and run car accident that totaled my SUV, I woke up confused. Out of it. Simple things didn’t seem so simple anymore, like how to use a microwave.

And that natural happiness I’d felt all my life seemed like a distant memory. A loop in time. It was as if Happy lived at an old friend’s house. I knew I’d been there, I remembered being there, but I couldn’t figure out how to get back.

And believe me when I tell you this: No amount of sunshine or laughing or choosing happiness was going to suddenly fix my neurotransmitters. No amount of walking was going to help me suddenly find the directions to Happy. Positive thinking couldn’t suddenly un-shear my neurotransmitters, and the law of attraction wouldn’t attract newly formed lobes.

Now, I really get it from the inside out.

You have my full respect. And I’d love to know what works for you. Because this isn’t easy, by any stretch of the imagination.

For all of you who have been diagnosed with depression or anxiety, I just wanted to say I’m sorry for “wellsplaining” you. Me, with my positive thinking and law of attraction and sunshine and green smoothies. While I still believe in those things wholeheartedly, especially the smoothies, I know they aren’t going to “fix” everything. It takes a plan. A strategy. And I understand that now. It takes rigorous actions and self-care strategies beyond what I ever imagined just to keep my mind at peace.

One day I hope that my brain will find her way to Happy again. Until then, maybe I’ll make new friends along the way.

A version of this piece originally appeared on The Good Men Project

Originally published: August 27, 2015
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