Published in November 15 – 28, 2017 issue of Gilroy Life
Those who know me well know that I’ve struggled with severe depression most of my adult life. I’ve taken prescription medication for years to help regulate the various chemicals that fight within my brain — and I’m not ashamed to admit it.
But it hasn’t always been this way. When I was younger, I was influenced by people who said: “It’s all in your head” or “What do you have to be unhappy about?”
The answer — even today — is, well, not much.
Of course, there are those sad or stressful moments that everyone goes through — deaths, sickness, some have seasonal depression when the weather and time change — but these are not the occasional struggles I deal with.
Let me be clear: this is my experience and my experience only. Everyone with a mental illness or mood disorder has individual feelings and struggles.
A few months back I began to feel “off” in a way I hadn’t felt in several years. I could feel it creeping back. I knew exactly what it was — I recognized it. Coworkers began to notice and asked, “What’s wrong?”
The thing is, nothing was wrong. Things were actually going really well. I’d recently found a great housemate to rent a room in my home, I’d had a review at work and received a raise.
That’s always been a difficult aspect of depression for me. How can I feel this way when there’s no reason for it? So many people are suffering in ways I can’t even conceive, but here I am fighting all-consuming sadness — for no reason I can pinpoint. I constantly have to remind myself that it’s chemical and not simply something emotional to work through.
I’m an expert at smiling on the outside while the inner demons are vying for control. I went to work, taking breaks throughout the day to silently wipe away tears in the bathroom. Friends with good intentions forced me out of the house for brief outings, when all I wanted was to sit alone and cry.
I knew it was beyond time to visit my doctor when I started having disturbing thoughts about how meaningless my existence was, and began thinking about what would happen to my dogs.
A simple change in my medication has begun to slowly pull me from the black hole I was being sucked into. I’m well-aware that further adjustments will likely need to be made — and that I’ll deal with this for the rest of my life.
And that’s key: “the rest of my life.” I’m aware of my mental health, get help when I need it, and feel no shame about it. I still have the rest of my life to focus on. But so many don’t.
Last month I participated in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s annual Out of the Darkness Walk in San Jose. Nearly 800 people showed up to honor those who couldn’t find a way out and to support survivors. Being among so many — especially parents who lost children — opened-up the big picture of the effects of suicide.
If you struggle like I do, there’s no shame. It’s OK to not be OK — just reach out and get help. I did. I will continue to get help so that I can look forward to the rest of my life, which is not meaningless. And neither is yours.
If you’re thinking about suicide or are worried about a friend or loved one, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.
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