Category Archives: Mood Disorders

Keep It Together

“Keep it together.”

I tell myself that all the time.

We live in a society and a culture where it is looked down upon when you fall apart. We’re supposed to be like well oiled machines that work day in and day out. And once we squeak, well, we either need to repair ourselves or we’re cast as an outsider–the weird one, the defective one.

I was always told that I had to buck up and continue. No matter how emotionally or physically exhausted, I just kept going. I kept pushing and pushing to my limits; and that was how it should be, that was the expectation.

I’ve fallen apart a few times in my life, and they were bad breakdowns. It opened my eyes to how detrimental it was to keep going when I didn’t have fuel, when I was worn down to my bare bones. I kept going because I didn’t want to squeak. I didn’t want to set cause for alarm or worry. Most of all, I didn’t want for people to see or treat me differently.

I’d always been called a crybaby, over-emotional, and dramatic. Those were the identifying personality traits, and I grew up truly believing that. So as years past and tantrums weren’t acceptable anymore, I learned to rein it in. I cried myself to sleep, angry that I could not for the life of my hold myself together. I couldn’t be composed, calm and collected like everyone expected me to be. But once the dawn came, and I woke up, I would try my hardest to pretend.

Pretending to be okay when I wasn’t was the worst. It was using up more energy than if I just slumped around the way I actually felt; but, as always, I had to keep a facade. I didn’t want to be that squeaky machine, remember? So I just kept going like that, like the Energizer Bunny. Truth be told, I didn’t have that ongoing, everlasting energy. I was tired. I was exhausted. And I really wondered why I kept trying.

“Why am I doing this to myself?”

“Why can’t I just get my act together?”

“I need to get myself together!”

Eventually, all those feelings changed from fatigue to desperation. I couldn’t understand why I could not function the way I used to, but I couldn’t even bring myself to care. I’d lost the motivation and passion that I used to have. I became a shell of who I used to be. At one point, I was cheery and sociable and full of energy; somehow, it became an act.

But I refused to let the curtains close on me. I wanted to keep going. I really thought I could. Constantly telling myself, “Keep it together.” And I did, as long and as best as I could. Eventually, I fell apart.

The funny thing about your psyche is, is that it can only push you so far. That little engine lied to me, just because I think I can, doesn’t mean I really can. I over-exerted my resources and I came to a crashing halt. The worst part of it? I never even saw it coming. Logically, it was about time, but I just thought that I could keep going, like Wonder Woman or something. I thought I could get by on sheer willpower because that’s what I did all along. Except, I didn’t have any willpower left. Everything felt so pointless. I thought it was.

When I finally collapsed, I decided to take a look back. Okay, I didn’t decide, it was a consequence of feeling like a failure. But as I went through the years, I realized for a good portion of my life, maybe ten years, I was just going through the motions. I was doing what I was supposed to do, not what I wanted to do. I was doing what everyone else did, I was the drone that I tried to hard to be. I wasn’t squeaky, I was just like the rest. The only difference was that the other machines were still going, while I was broken.

I became really bitter and angry. I felt so down on myself and I went through a phase of blaming everyone else. Yet, the other part of me still said, “If only you could have kept it together.”

I’m not repaired. I don’t know if I ever will be. Finally breaking down after years of trying to feel normal and be normal took a toll on me. I’m still struggling to figure out who I am, what I want, and where to go from here. Sometimes, I feel like I hit the rock bottom of my standards.

I try to tell myself it’s okay. I try to let myself release all the pent-up frustration or stress when I feel overwhelmed. Yet, that haunting phrase remains deeply ingrained, “Keep it together.”

I can’t.

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Let’s Talk About Depression

Recently, an icon of both television and film passed away. If you haven’t heard about it, I’m talking about Robin Williams. We know him as a comedian, the voice of Genie from Aladdin, and the ever-so-charming Mrs. Doubtfire.

The cause of death? Suicide.

And it is for this reason that I make this post. There have been dozens of news reports, countless of interview re-runs, but never is the focus on the illness that caused Robin Williams’ demise. Depression.

I am sick of people blaming him, calling him selfish or even saying that he had no reason to take his own life. I’m sorry, but are you him? What he battled with is just as tangible as cancer and HIV. The battle is just as drawn out. Maybe you couldn’t see it on the surface, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Do you have feelings? Well, are you sure? I don’t see them. Don’t feelings only exist when there is laughter or tears? If you think I’m being utterly ridiculous for even saying something like this, well, you should understand that is how people treat mental illness. They don’t believe in it because there is no proof. By the time something tangible appears, it may be in the later stages already.

The reason why I am so passionate about this is because I saw a segment on Robin Williams yesterday. It casually mentioned that the cause of death was depression, but then tried to shift the focus to his finances. As if the only reason fathomable for him to end his life is because of his cash flow.

Depression doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t care if you’re rich or poor. It doesn’t care if you were or are the happiest person in the world.  It can strike, it’s omnipresent, and very potent. Depression takes prisoners and feels no guilt. Imagine how long Robin Williams must have battled with the illness before finally reaching his breaking point.

Some see the action as selfish. Taking your own life, wow, how selfish. But maybe after all those years of living through the torture for others, it’s time to be selfish. Or even more so, maybe the person could feel as if his or her act is actually selfless.

If you’ve never had a bout of depression before, let me tell you, it is not pretty. You don’t see the positive in anything. You don’t think that you can get out of it. But worst of all, you feel alone. And if you don’t feel alone, you feel like you’re dragging everyone down with you. You’re moody and you’re reclusive, friends start getting annoyed at you for skipping out on plans. You barely feel like a person, just a shell. You try to sleep to escape reality, or you engage in other risky and self-endangering behavior.

What kind of life is that to lead?

I am sorry that Robin Williams went the way he did. I’m actually devastated. But his death opens this window for a very important discussion, one about mental health and mental illness. Unfortunately, that’s not what our focus is on, we’re focusing on what other reasons could have caused this event. What we as a society is saying is that depression is not enough of a reason. But it is.

One symptom of depression, one very well known one: thoughts of suicide, or harming yourself or others.

If that’s the thing most associated with depression, than can you explain to me why it’s still not enough of a reason? When someone says that he or she is depressed, isn’t our first reaction to worry?

Instead of looking for loopholes or excuses, can we please talk about the real problem? How little we understand about mental illness, and how little we do to expose the dirt on such prevalent diseases. Millions of people suffer from mental illness, hundreds of thousands die.

If those numbers aren’t tangible to that numerical part of you, then I don’t know what else to say. Just because you don’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not real.

And for those who say that it was a choice… Yes, to a rational and reasonable person in the right state of mind, yes it may seem so. But to someone so far gone, overtaken by an illness like depression… it may not seem so.

Sometimes a choice isn’t really a choice. Depression is irrational and unreasonable. You can’t explain it, you can only feel it. And when it gets to you, you can’t even figure out up from down, so how can you understand what’s real and what’s your distorted point of view? And what if your distorted view is your reality?

Let’s talk about depression. Feel free to leave me comments.

This is an important topic to me. It’s near and dear to my heart, and I want for others to understand that Robin Williams lived a wonderful life and did wonderful things. His name, and any others who end their own lives because of mental illness, should not be shamed or tarnished over something they could not control.

 

Understanding Depression

Understanding Depression

I want to start a non-profit organization to help people with mental illnesses, to help them move forward. It’s a personal interest of mine, so every Wednesday, I will share a post about different diseases. To start off my new Wellness Wednesday segments, I’m going to start with the mood disorder closest to me:depression.

Depression is probably one of the most prevalent mental illnesses out there. It affects 1 in 4 people in their lifetimes… That’s a lot of people. You could know someone who’s depressed, maybe that person is you, but he or she may never confirm it. There’s a shame associated with depression as there is with other mental illnesses. There are misconceptions, misinformation, and stigma attached to it that prevents people to come forward and seek help. People keep it hidden like a deep dark secret; and honestly, that’s what depression is, a deep dark secret. People would rather live a life of lies than to be recognized as abnormal in a negative light.

Everything I learned about writing comes down to one basic rule: show, don’t tell. That’s exactly what I’m going to do, to show you what depression feels like instead of telling you. Telling you would make no difference, you’ve heard stories before, you’ve witnessed people struggling, but you will never truly understand the experience until you’ve been through it.

You’ve seen those cliche scenes in movies where someone’s being bullied, he or she is surrounded by peers taunting, jeering at, and attacking them. The victim is always helpless on the floor while all he or she sees are the mocking faces of his or her attackers, that’s kind of what depression feels like. Except the bullies aren’t other people but yourself.

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(Image from charlesjturner.com)

Struggling with depression feels like you’re using your energy to charge pass these bullies only to be pushed down to the ground harder. You use all your energy reserves to fight and end up being exhausted. There are so many moments when you just want to give up. You just want to escape it all–that’s where self-medicating, hypersomnia, binge eating, self-harming come to play–you begin to depend on methods to help you leave it behind, hide it in the back of your mind. You end up fluctuating between feeling too much to feeling nothing at all. And while all of this is happening inside, you have to put up a front for everyone else so they don’t worry, so they don’t suspect anything. After all, there’s a shame to being a victim. It means you’re incapable and weak. Day in and day out, your completely drained, and anything else seems better. Wherever you look you see people happy and you just think, why cant that be me? Why does everyone else have it together while I’m breaking apart? You feel stagnant and there’s nothing you can do, you’re stuck in this rut. Some days you don’t even get out of bed, don’t eat, don’t take care of yourself because it’s all just pointless. In those moments death seems better than life, not because you want to die, but because you want the pain to stop. You want to stop facing these demons, your tormentors, that won’t let you have peace of mind.

And for those courageous enough to tell people that they are indeed depressed, they get these similar responses: “It’ll get better;” “Stop being so dramatic and get over it;” “You have too much free time on your hands;” You just have to change your perspective.”
Those words to the downtrodden don’t make them feel better, no, those words make them feel worse. It’s not that they don’t want to get better, it’s that they don’t know how or have the resources to do so. No one is taking their issues seriously and they feel alone. Depression is an isolating illness.

You go out with your friends because it’s a social obigation. While you’re there you laugh and smile and joke around. Everybody believes that you’re okay, that you’re fine and you’re enjoying being there. The reality is much deifferent, you sit there going through the practiced motions while on the inside you feel so distant. Even though you’re physically present and laughing, you don’t feel anything. Then someone says something wrong, a trigger word, and gone is your happy-go-lucky facade, no instead you’re bawling your eyes out. It’s like someone flipped a switch and you can’t stop the sobs wracking through your body. You realize your friends are looking at you, so you run. You find some deserted location like the bathroom and lock the door. You continue to cry and you don’t know when it’ll stop. You’re plagued by memories or feelings that those words brought up, and you’re back to square one. When you’ve finally calmed down, you return to your group. The atmosphere is tense and they look at you, expecting you to explain your outburst. Instead you smile and say that you’re fine, that it was no big deal. They look at you uncertain, but they shrug it off and decide not to push. Everything returns to before, but there is a tension in the air and you catch them sending you glances. You return home later and you cry yourself to sleep because you feel like a mutant.

As I mentioned before, people who suffer from depression often look for ways to take away the pain. What they’re feeling isn’t physical pain, but emotional pain, a pain that they can’t describe in words but know that it’s killing them on the inside. Sometimes these methods are healthy: drawing, painting, excercising, writing, etc. And other times, these escape methods are dangerous: self-medicating, self-harming, engaging in reckless behaviors, over-excessive eating or spending. All of the above are considered coping mechanisms, but people don’t realize that. There’s a stigma on those who follow the more dangerous route of escaping.

There are an insurmountable misconceptions about self-harm, and particularly, cutting. For the record, cutting is not the only method of self-harm but it is the one that garners the most attention. Other self-injurious behavior include scratching, burning, picking at scabs, pulling hair, etc. Basicaly, anything that you do purposely to feel pain would be considered self-harm. As I was saying, self-harm comes with a lot of negative stereotyping. Common beliefs about self-harm are:
1. It’s for attention.
2. It’s only a problem within teens.
3. All self-harmers are suicidal.
4. It’s a habit that can easily be stopped.
These statements are false. I will go through each of them individually and explain why these statements are not the reality.

1. It’s for attention.
Many people believe that cutting or other self-injurious behaviors are attention-seeking behaviors. This is untrue. More often than not, people who engage in self harm try to hide their scars, and are embarrassed by it. In fact, they’re afraid of what people will think of them if the scars are revealed. Self-harmers go to great lengths to cover their scars and hide them, and some even injure themselves in locations people will not see (the inner thigh for example). I am not saying that there aren’t people who may confess to self-harming as a way to seek attention, but that is definitely not the majority. Keep in mind that depression to the person suffering is shameful, and anything associated with it is shameful–especially self-harm.

2. It’s only a problem within teens.
False. Absolutely false. Self-harm, like depression, does not choose its victims based on age, gender, race, etc. Self-harm is a coping mechanism, it’s a way to stop all the craziness inside their heads. So it doesn’t matter if your fifteen or fifty-eight, the chances that you’ll engage in self-ham do not dwindle. Just because you know that’s it’s illogical and that it’s dangerous doesn’t prevent you from engaging in the behavior. It’s the desperation of the moment that takes over, and all rational though flies out the window.

3. All self-harmers are suicidal.
Some self-harmers may have suicidal intent or thoughts, but do not generalize those few to encompass everyone else. Most self-harmers are not suicidal. Sometimes self-harming is their way of staying alive. I like to believe that scars from self-injury are battle scars–physical manifestations of the inner struggle.

4. It’s a habit that can easily be stopped.
You would think so. Unfortunately, self-harm is not completely all voluntary, and like any other addiction, it’s hard to quit. Self-harm is addictive. It may seem bizarre to think hurting yourself would be something you’d be attached to, but it’s true. Humans are creatures of habit, and we often continue to engage in things that make us feel good. Self-harm for someone who struggles with depression does exactly that. As I said before, self-harm is an escape, and that relief that comes with it becomes ingrained. So, when things get tough, engaging in something that makes you feel better is the no-brainer.

I don’t encourage self-harm and I don’t romanticize it. I’m just trying to explain the reality of it. I don’t want people to judge someone who is already criticizing him or herself much more harshly than others could. When it comes to mental illness, we have to be understanding. I hope reading this post helps you understand a little bit of what it’s like to suffer from depression.

Depression is sometimes a precursor to suicide, so if you think someone may be going through depression, or is suicidal talk to him or her. Sometimes they just need someone there for them, because depression makes you feel a great deal of loneliness, so knowing they have someone can make a huge difference. There are also many resources available. Here is a link to the National Institute of Mental Health for more information about depression and resources you can seek or share: http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/depression/index.shtml