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When Depression Is a Clamp Between Your Head and Your Heart

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I’m on a plane between D.C. and Chicago. I’m halfway between my life’s wish fulfillment (lobbying in the Capitol) and my life’s reality (sick kids and sh*ty neighbors). I feel the long-forgotten but readily-remembered clamp of depression closing down inside me. I sigh at the realization, and then begin the long struggle to unscrew it.

For me, the slow descent into depression begins with a flutter of anxiety. My thoughts run a looped track in my brain, and there’s truly no slowing down their frequency or stifling them with reason. My heart’s anguishes, my mental illnesses (how very difficult it still is to say that), never sneak up on me in the middle of the night. They never steal their way into my daytime thoughts. The anguish slowly backs up inside me because my anguish, my depression, is a clamp.

The clamp does not just drown out reason or color my world with sadness or any other of the common themes that swirl around depression. It does all those things, but more. It turns itself ever-so-slowly, yet ever-so-steadily tighter and tighter. It sits right above my breastbone in my chest. It screws more and more tightly shut, and in doing so it separates the lifeline between my head and my heart. For me, mental well-being means the clamp is wide open, and reason and emotion can flow freely between my head and my heart. For me, mental illness is a shut down between the two, leaving emotions trapped in my heart, unable to be reasoned out and deciphered by my level head.

I knew why this clamp was screwing shut. I felt it open the minute after I landed in D.C. and had a good cry, ridding myself of the bad blood and bad decisions I’d left in Chicago. Family stress, neighbor annoyances, judgmental people and most damning of all, my harsh treatment of myself, had bogged down in my heart and screwed that clamp tighter each day. How happy I was to be free of everything I’d left behind.

Being in D.C. meant being me without the encumbrance of my family or my responsibilities. Here I was, back to being me when I was single, and empowered and free. How selfish, I realize, but what a nice treat. So on the plane ride home, when I’d almost forgotten the clamp had been there just days before, it circled back on me and took me quite by surprise. I drew a deep breath, I looked at my tray table, I tried not to cry.

And I thought about how we unscrew that clamp. Why does the medication and talk therapy work? For me, the medication lubricates the machinery, while talk therapy and all the supportive work I do on my own (journaling, meditation, yoga) allow the clamp to untighten and finally release. The process can often work without one or the other, but many times, in the most desperate of times, we need both.

I thought of how hard it would be to write these words, to even own these words, even in this day and age: I have depression. I need help. But how if I don’t write these words on my best days, I may never have the courage or the energy to write them on my worst.

Write them I must, we must, you must. I volunteer now for suicide prevention as a tribute to a lost twin brother and an honor to my own struggles. We are changing the conversation about mental health in this country, but we have not yet changed all the attitudes. I tremble in fear of the looks from my peers after reading this, whether perceived or real. I ache to make them stop.

One day in America, a visit to a mental health practitioner twice a year may be as commonplace as a visit to the dentist. Last time I checked, we all have teeth as well as feelings and brain chemistry. And a mental health professional can help you keep the lifeline between your head and heart unclogged and unclamped and healthy.

But until then, won’t you write these difficult words with me when you’re having a struggle, or even when you’re not? The more mouths we hear from, the more change we’ll make. have depression. I need help.

I can’t do this alone.

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

If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. 

Originally published: August 9, 2016
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