Some years ago I was walking early in the morning with two incredible women that I both loved and admired. As we walked I described the way I had been feeling lately, talking to them about frustrations, feelings, and more. "You are depressed," they said. Almost prepared to dismiss their seemingly simple answer, they continued, "I have it too" one said. "And I do too," said the other. I looked at both of them with disbelief. How could it be? Two incredibly beautiful, amazing women and mothers had what I had always deemed as a "bad person's problem."
I had to learn more. So with a great deal of prayer and visits to my medical doctor I realized that I was indeed dealing with depression.
Over the years since that diagnosis, my depression has ebbed and flowed and taken many forms. Sometimes I am simply tired, so tired that I require ten hours of sleep at night plus a daily nap. Sometimes it has been a darkness that seems to follow me throughout the day. Other times it has been unusual thoughts that feed on low self-esteem or thoughts that I may not matter. In the early years it was disconcerting and more than a little frightening.
But thankfully my medical doctor helped me understand that depression is simply the brain not functioning the way that it's supposed to. It's not because I did anything wrong. It isn't because I'm a bad person. It's simply that somewhere along the line my brain stopped delivering messages to the other part of my brain the way that it needs to. As I began to understand the disfunction in my system, I could more easily recognize that my depression was simply a cycle. While I could go many years with little to no depression, there were other years in which I could not get my brain to jumpstart back to a healthy way of thinking. Knowing that it was something going on inside of me helped to take some of the difficulty out of the diagnosis. While oftentimes we catch a cold without doing anything reckless or misguided, the same is true of depression. You can wake up one morning with a doozy of a cold, and I can wake up some mornings with the onset of depression. And while sometimes I can pinpoint where the trigger might have been (much like you might know who gave you the cold), there are also times where I cannot see any connection.
I was raised in the era of disbelief of a depression diagnosis. It was difficult to accept that I was going to have it on and off for the rest of my life. Having been a vibrant child, it was a strange new existence for me. But accepting that it is simply something I have helps me understand that I didn't do anything wrong to get it--no more than someone who gets a cold that is diligent in their maintaining good health.
I have not openly shared that I have it with many people, but I realized that in not doing so I may be missing the opportunity to help someone else that is suffering with it. I would feel remiss if I didn't reach out the way my two lovely friends helped me. In many ways, they saved my life and helped put me on a path to a healthier way of living.
I don't have all the answers. But I have learned to cope with the way I feel, to recognize when it's coming or when I'm already in the throes of it; and I have learned to live a great life even when I am unhappy, tired, or feeling overwhelmed. In the future, I hope to share more of myself and how depression (and even a diagnosis of anxiety) affects but doesn't define my life.
If you are feeling any of these things, seek out help. Don't let it define you or keep you from doing what you want with your life. While it will affect your life, it doesn't have to be your whole life. And if you are dealing with a loved one that is suffering from depression, educate yourself. Be kind and gentle. Be supportive as they get help. Understand that you are not responsible for the way they feel but can be a ray of light in their dark days.
I have depression. But I am not a bad person because I have it. In fact, I'm a regular person who tries very hard to do good in the world and I STILL have depression. Understanding it and myself has made all the difference in my life. I hope that it can do the same for you.