Talk About Depression

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Does anyone really want to talk about depression?

I didn’t think so.

Starting last month, though, I vowed to (and Scoutie Girl agreed to let me) do just that. Remember that I’m not a professional. I had an experience, and I am getting better at talking about it.

When you’re depressed, you both do and don’t want to talk about it. Both, with strong feeling. You want someone, anyone, to listen to and understand you. You want the people in your life to “get” how certain things feel impossible for you, and how you’re not making it up. And then you diligently go to your helper people (doctor, therapist, acupuncturist, nutritionist, psychiatrist, and so on), even when you can barely make it down the stairs (you know that it will help, somehow, so you get someone to take you), and you must talk about it. About, like, every last detail, including whether your bowel movements have gotten any more regular, because depression slows everything down, and we all want to know if anything is getting any better yet.

And you simultaneously, desperately, want to stop talking about it because all you do is talk about it.

Part of depression also involves wariness of others: they can hurt you with their unknowing words. The whole scene can also be quite confusing to people around you. It’s not like one day you were in a crash and your leg snapped and now you’re in a cast and everyone can see it. There is no defined minute when depression happened, and there is no glaringly obvious visual cue to others that something has changed. It’s hard to talk to others about what’s going on for you. (And you might not be so sure yourself.)

How to talk about it: the basics

When you start feeling strange – not quite yourself, out of energy, having trouble concentrating and feeling bad about yourself (these are some basic symptoms, and the Mayo clinic has a good self-diagnosis guide) — it is critical that you talk about it with your health care people. I started with my GP. It’s important that you are as thorough as you can be with her or him so that they can try to help you.

When you know that something is wrong and you are trying to make it better, let your closest people know. For me, that started with my partner. He actively became my primary caregiver when I couldn’t really take care of myself. I told close friends. I told my family of origin. Some wanted to listen. Others decidedly didn’t. Some asked how they could help. When you can, tell them how. Let them in and let them help. There is no one set path through talking about it. None of it was easy for me, and I found that people were triggered by their own scripts and experiences. People wanted me to help them through receiving this news — when I could barely look after my own self.

Know that telling people might make your condition worse and learn when you are best able to deal with this possibility — and gauge your disclosures appropriately.

How to talk about it at work and in the community

My day job is in a unionized workplace. They are bound by law to respect my illness and support me in recovery and wellness. However, people are people, and mental illness, as much as we might want it to be otherwise, has stigma attached. I have been both careful and reckless about telling colleagues. Some will never understand and my energy is better spent elsewhere. My immediate supervisor, though, is supportive and understanding (I understand that I am fortunate here).

Out in the larger community, a friend saw that I was becoming stronger, and asked me to speak about what depression is like at a local Rotary club. I jumped at the chance. Well, I was completely freaked-out nervous, but felt an obligation to talk, to help people to learn something about mental illness, and maybe to chip through the stigma. I talked about my journey and what it was like, how it felt, and the medical hoops I crawled through. I could hear hearts beating and eyelashes touching eyelids, it was so quiet in the room. Then, I had three public disclosures and people lined up to talk to me privately afterward. I believe that it’s not so much that people don’t want to hear about it as people don’t know where to begin the conversation.

Leaders in “talking about it”

Some public figures have recently helped the discussion along and are good examples of how to talk about mental illness. Canadian Olympic cyclist and speedskater Clara Hughes began talking about about depression a few years ago and heads a public campaign on the topic. Popular author Marian Keyes writes in her newsletters about her debilitating depression and how it functions for her. Actresses Gwyneth Paltrow and Courtney Cox have spoken about their post-partum (post-natal) depression. And this spring, Sinéad O’Connor cancelled her North American tour due to her bipolar disorder and spoke out quite clearly about her illness.

The more we talk about mental illnesses, the more informed our public will be and, perhaps, we can lessen the stigmas and incorrect information out there. Maybe we can make it, somehow, easier for someone who is living through it. And maybe it can somehow be easier for us to live through, too.

How do you talk about mental illness? Do you feel comfortable telling people about your lows and other symptoms? How have you navigated these sometimes seemingly treacherous waters?

13 thoughts on “Talk About Depression

  1. Perhaps it’s because I don’t quite understand my depression, but I don’t know how I would talk to people about it. I know I get depressed, I can kind of figure out when it started getting really bad (post-partum), but I can’t make others understand what it feels like, what it does to my mind and my emotions. I’d love for more people to be understanding, but how can they be understanding when they don’t even know what’s going on. Or how being depressed isn’t the same for every person. Or that I just need some time to decompress sometimes and that it’s nothing they can help with, it’s just me.

    My partner and our families know, but it’s not something that’s discussed or anything. And I’m not one to start the discussion on it, either… but it’d be nice to have some recognition of the fact that I do have it and that there are days where it’d be much better for everyone if I just got to hide away, rather than put up a facade.

    Thank you for these posts, Lori-Ann!

  2. Thanks for writing, Stacey. You are so right–how can people be understanding if they don’t even know what’s going on? And is that one more job that we want to take on when we’re feeling depressed? I don’t know the answers, but my best hope is that we can come a little closer by starting these conversations. Thanks for joining in, and let today’s journey be easy. xo

  3. Depression is like quicksand for many, sometimes you don’t even recognize the feelings until its literally unbearable. Often finding ways to mask it, unknowingly jonesing for something that makes your feel “good.” It could be something like binge shopping or develop into something serious like alcohol abuse & other addictions.
    Even when I was in my own throws of depression, I was in denial. If someone suggested that I was drinking too much- I told them, I was just having a good time with friends, isn’t that what people are supposed to do in their 20’s?

    First you have to recognize it and admit something is wrong. That’s the turning point- and there is not a ‘one size fits all’ way to figure out how to get there. I do believe that articles like this, and people like you Lori-Ann initiating the discussions will raise awareness. People who are brave enough to share their stories, like you Stacey, are opening up these lines of communication, understanding, and self discovery.

  4. Depression and anxiety run rampant through my family – both near and far. Along with that – alcoholism, drug abuse. My cousins and I can talk about it openly. Not so much with other people. I feel incredibly fortunate that I’ve been able to battle back against it. Mostly.
    My 19 year old son suffers with OCD and panic/anxiety attacks. I recently voiced this to a group of people, and was met with, mostly, silence. Most people do not know how to respond. He and I spoke to a new doctor about this last year, and even the DOCTOR responded with words like “Buck up. Life doesn’t get any easier”. Oh, that is helpful.

  5. Hey Jenelle–you are so right. When we aren’t feeling well, we scramble for ways to try to feel better or to mask it, like you say.
    Woolies–I am so sorry that you and your son had to sit with that unhelpful doctor. May the path forward be more helpful. And good for you and your cousins–having someone, anyone, who can listen and maybe understand can make things a little less difficult.

  6. Great post! Very hard to talk about depression with someone who hasn’t been through it. I remember not understanding it at all, until it hit me a few years ago (and hard!). The effort it takes to live a normal life, man, that is hard. However, the worst part for me was/is the disconnected feeling – being around friends you love or people who inspire you and not being fully present. I’m in a very good place now, but still feel these dull, gloomy days every once in a while. The ability to really listen and give in relationships is the one thing I no longer take for granted.

  7. Danielle–thank you. You are so right about dullness + disconnection. Yes, somehow getting through that fog and being (mostly) on the other side gives us perspective on what’s really important. Thanks for talking about it!

  8. I never liked talking about it. I have always found therapy over rated. It is a personal issue that needs to be handled personally without judgement. I find that going round and round in circles discussing it with people is a total waste of time. They can’t understand. Therapy is a crock. I find my depression tends to be situational, so just changing my mind about it doesn’t help. Physical change of the situation must happen for physical change of mood. I don’t need someone to tell me that. I am perfectly able to figure it out for myself. I have always avoided therapy. But the thing that worked for me the most has been living in a foreign country. I can’t talk to anyone here about anything even if I wanted to. It was incredibly depressing. I am always alone here. Horrible at first, but then I realized, this is as bad as it can ever get. I can’t get what I need, I can’t function, not due to lack of effort but there is a language barrier as real as any castle mote, cutting me off from any functionality. And I just said Ok. Fine. This isn’t going to last forever. There is just no way it can get any worse than it is. And It took me 4 years to learn to live at rock bottom. And the whole time I was there I was thinking what do I really want? And I studied, and learned what I wanted and I have a plan in place…. And after seeing just where it bottoms out….. It no longer scares me or troubles me. Depression cured. But going round and round about it in some therapist’s office just kept me trapped in the cycle it never freed me at all.

  9. Amanda–It’s so good to hear that you have found a way out, and on your own, no less! Thanks for speaking up, and for reminding us that everyone’s journey is different.

  10. This is a really awesome post. I am one of those ‘happy people’ who have many depressed people in my life, and your post reminded me, that I need to be more compassionate and remember that I don’t “get” how certain things feel impossible” for my loved ones. That I can’t just say – hey – cheer up – look at all the great things and all the that you have to be grateful for! I can’t just say “snap out of it!” I often don’t “get it” at all, but this post was so beautifully written, it has just now helped me gain some perspective!

  11. Amy–thank you! My best hope has been that “happy people,” while they spread their happy on the earth, can remember that everything might be different for others. Keep being you! Spread the happy! xo

  12. What a great post. Perhaps misery does like company, and it is nice to read about what works with others. I was disabled in an accident, and have since struggled with depression. Sometimes you have depression for so long, it begins to feel like normal. Someone recently told me that depression is what the brain does to distract us from the issues and things in our lives that are causing us pain or unhappiness. I think that was brilliant. And made me ask myself, what am I not thinking about? What has my blanket of depression numbed me from looking at?

    I’ve been meditating, and have with a therapist, begun to very very very gently uncover some of these issues, while using meditation as a tool to focus on the physical manifestation (chest tightness) of my grief, sadness and anger. And then returning to focus on my breadth when it begins to feel like too much. Usually 5 seconds in… I think this is helping me. Helping me be in the moment, deal with my feelings, safely, rather then being overwhelmed by painful thoughts, meditation has been the one thing that I think will make a difference in my depression.

    I agree that talk therapy can not always be useful, if all you are doing is bringing painful issues to the surface. Sounds like torture… Ugh. But, personally, despite the years it’s taken me to get to this point, to see a therapist, I think that it can be an amazing resource and support.

    1. Shari–thank you. It is so good to hear that you have reached out and found support and tools that really work (I, too, love to hear about what works for others). May you continue down the road of safely managed health, while recognizing your body’s signs and brain’s tricks. xo

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