I'm finally starting to talk about it

I’ve been sharing mental health posts and articles on Facebook for a few years now, and then on Twitter. I’ve commented on blogs about depression.  And I’ve told some of the people closest to me and my bosses at work.  But I never come right out and said it, publicly, to my world: I have depression.

In fact, I’ve had depression for most of my life. But it got really bad a few years ago. So bad that I couldn’t live in denial any longer.  So bad, that one evening I found myself in my car, waiting at a red light, shaking, overwhelmed, tears rolling down my face and yet I didn’t know why. I didn’t feel sad. Nothing had happened to me that day, week, month, year. I had a good life – family, friends, interests, job I loved, a home. As I searched for what I felt, if it wasn’t sadness, I came to the realization that I felt nothing. I didn’t care, about anything. I was blank. A shaking, crying mess of blankness sitting at a red light. The next day  I finally went to a doctor, finally got a diagnosis, finally started treatment …

I was off work twice for long periods of time because of the cognitive fog — I couldn’t think, couldn’t read, could hardly speak, couldn’t make a decision about the simplest of things.  As a strategic communications advisor in a very busy workplace, I’m sure you can see how this would hamper my ability to do my job.

I was also off work because I couldn’t feel. I couldn’t feel anything. There was no flight or fight response. None. I just didn’t care. I didn’t care if I lived or died. There was no hunger, no thirst, no joy.  I had no interest in what used to be my passions: reading, writing, art, being outdoors, cooking, building, creating, gardening, renovating. I didn’t care if I got out of bed, or showered, or picked up after myself. There was just emptiness.

I was also off work because of the physical effects. I was shaky – my hands shook, my voice shook, my balance was off.  I was tired – beyond tired. I’ve never felt such exhaustion. Headaches became standard and migraines became more frequent and more intense. And ached all over – my bones, my joints, my muscles.

With treatment and time, I gradually I got better.  Enough that I could at least fake it until I make it. I went back to work. I rejoined the land of the living. But I still struggle. I still wouldn’t say I’ve made it.  There are definitely days that I fake it. Depression isn’t gone, but I’m learning to live — with it and despite it.

Over the past four and half years, I’ve been through many medication switch ups, trying to find a combination that worked and for which the side effects didn’t outweigh the benefits. I’ve tried different types of therapy. I’ve built an impressive arsenal of natural treatments too, after much experimentation – healthy diet, physical activity, meditation, sleep regimen, symptom trackers, blue lights, playlists, journaling... . I won’t lie, it’s been hard.

But finally admitting, to myself and then to others, that I have a mental illness has probably been the hardest. There is stigma attached to mental illness. I know this, because it took falling hard and deep for me to realize that I myself had attached stigma to mental illness.  That’s why it took me 25 years to admit to myself that I had depression – that it wasn’t just something I should be able to ignore, pull up my boots and get over it.

Mental illness is as real of an illness as any other.  It affects the brain, it affects the body. And sometimes that in itself makes me wonder, why is it held separate from physical illness? Why do we still differentiate between the two?

Thankfully the stigma is starting to lift – and that is in very large part because people with mental illness started to talk about it.  So, on #BellLetsTalk Day 2017, I’m starting to talk about it too.