Not too long ago, I wrote a blog on What You Don’t See.
It’s funny how permutations on that theme weave into my daily life. I made some recent observations and connections that fall into line with that. Since moving back to San Francisco, because I don’t air out my dirty laundry on Facebook, most people I’ve caught up with are surprised to hear my story of June 2013 – June 2014.
Every time I open up and share my story, the person I’m speaking to opens up and shares their similar experience with at least one aspect of what I went through. So in sharing, trusting, and connecting, I am healing everyday, still. You’d be surprised to learn how many people have been through what you have if you just try to trust them and open up.
In my work, because I am a lesbian (a big one), I have been very actively involved in LGBTI employee resource groups both in the US nationally, and in the greater San Francisco/Bay Area, as well as during my time in Sydney, Australia. Being gay is essentially identifying with an aspect of diversity that is invisible to the naked eye (very often appropriately LGB is referred to as the “invisible minority”).
Sure, some may stereotype and say women with short haircuts who wear pants are gay, when in fact there are plenty of lesbians with long hair in skirts. You just never know, so stereotypes must be checked at the door. Being gay also carries a unique aspect of diversity where your parents may not necessarily be the same as you.
Let’s take ethnicity, for example. It may be very obvious that you are Indian, from anything to your accent, skin tone, clothing, hair color, etc. If you are born Indian, at least one of your parents is also Indian. They transfer an ethnicity to you. They share that aspect of diversity with you, and when people discriminate against Indian people, they discriminate against you and your parents.
Straight parents produce gay children. Straight parents produce straight children. Being gay isn’t something I have in common with my parents, who were/are straight. There’s not really a “ma gay” and “pa gay” who passed on their gay to me, showed me around, taught me the status quo to be a good society gay. You learn to pick up friends here and there, or family members who also happen to be gay, if you are lucky. You create an acquired family who teach you what being gay is about. You also make more friends who are gay allies, cause let’s face it, who wants to spend time with people who hate me before they even know me?
I have something else that is invisible too, besides spirituality, and religion also being difficult to discern just by looking at someone (absent conspicuous clues like cross necklaces and kabbalah bracelets). I have been diagnosed with depression and anxiety.
There, I just came out. I’m depressed. So much harder than coming out as gay, for me anyway, and especially in a day and age where being depressed is not as socially accepted as being gay.
I found a great article this morning from a Facebook friend, about 12 Successful People Who Will Change the Way You Think About Depression (12 Successful People Who Will Change the Way You Think About Depression).
I was diagnosed with depression in Sydney, as events took place there that led to the downward spiral and realizing that I needed help. I found an article in the Sydney Morning Herald, referred to me by a coworker who was also suffering from depression. Here it is in case you’re curious: How Depression Causes Brain Freeze.
In the article, it uses one of the best metaphors for depression I’ve found yet. The author describes the daily battles with depression as everyday having to climb a whole mountain before you get into work and are expected to do your day job, if I paraphrase. Most people without depression don’t see that mountain, and work is not at the summit. Some days, it’s harder to get yourself out of bed, into the shower, and out the door just to begin the trek up that mountain. If you climb it that day, you still sink back down to the bottom and have to start from the bottom again the very next day. It’s absolutely exhausting. You waste energy motivating yourself, while that precious time should instead be spent being productive and stellar at your chosen profession.
When I was getting used to my new, silent, invisible affliction, I saw this TED talk and really identified with it: Confessions of a Depressed Comic.
He’s a comedian, and he’s depressed. Sounds like an oxymoron, right? What I love is how simply he explains what it is. It’s normal to be sad when things aren’t going well. Work sucks, excessive drinking, relationship problems, stressful parenting responsibilities, just about anything can make us sad. What Kevin conveys in his TED talk is that depression is being sad, even when things are going well. It can happen to the star quarterback, and after his family finds he’s committed suicide, they find the suicide note about his feelings, and wonder why they didn’t know and how they could have helped. Being sad, when you have everything going for you and plenty of reasons to be happy, is real depression.
I have some words on antidepressants, too. I was lucky in that the doctor who prescribed mine in Australia knows her stuff. The doctor did not spend long adjusting my type and dosage of antidepressant. I was hesitant to go on them, fearful of their side effects, and even more fearful of interruptions in the pills, as I’d seen what stopping them abruptly could do to someone. She started me on the lowest dosage of Zoloft (50mg). Shortly, she took it up to 100mg. That is where I currently sit. It’s just enough, without overdoing it. At 50mg, I was still having fairly constant depressive episodes that were beginning to impact my performance at work.
Contrary to popular belief, antidepressants aren’t happy pills. They don’t automatically make you happy. In fact, I developed one of the most common side effects of Zoloft and had those symptoms for months until it stabilized. That certainly didn’t make me, or my stomach, happy.
Antidepressants give you a floor. If on any given day, mood goes from -10 (bad mood) to 10 (elated), and 0 is “normal”, at the time of diagnosis I was probably sitting at -5. Antidepressants gave me a calming baseline. It maybe brought me back to 0, so I wasn’t unhappy but I certainly wasn’t happy. I could go through daily motions of going to the gym without crying. The pills never made me happy though – perhaps you are thinking about mood elevators. Nothing but healing myself and cultivating interests, sharing with friends, relying on them for support, and digging myself out of my own hole, could actually have a positive effect of lifting me from 0 to 1.
Antidepressants put me at the base of Mt. Everest, instead of deep in the abyss of the Mariana Trench. I didn’t need to dig myself out of the hole every day, and then climb a mountain on top of that. I just camped on flat ground, and had a mountain to climb every day.
I can be a very outwardly positive person, with broad perspective and deep wisdom, and usually very much a self-starter. I keep a generous sense of humor on hand to get me through any day. I identify with a comedian, cracking jokes, making light of heavy things. Thus, it probably doesn’t appear on the outside that I’ve this internal battle I’m still waging on depressive feelings.
If you’re curious and want to read more about depression, I thought this was a great read and covers it in a well-rounded way: Depression facts.
I utilized Beyond Blue, a great organization which takes a public health approach to improve mental health for people and their families. I took this Beyond Blue Online Depression Test, and scored a whopping 38 that basically, in so many words, said:
My doctor gave me a copy of my medical records upon departing Australia for some lucky doctor on this side of the Pacific to continue treating me. I found them when I was filing away papers this weekend. Reading my answers of where my head was at in November 2013 compared to now was shocking. I was a mess. I wasn’t eating, wasn’t sleeping, and when I did sleep, I had horrible nightmares. I had heart palpitations, panic attacks with hyperventilation, restless anger, was crying everyday, felt worthless, useless, and undeserving of love, affection, even attention. I pulled away from family and friends. I felt like the main character in Life of Pi, lost at sea, adrift, with my only company being the feelings of self hatred and lack of control, not even a fuzzy tiger. It was the Life of Di, if you will, and I found my will to survive and persevere. I had to be lost to finally be found.
I’m sharing my story in the hopes of raising awareness. Depression can be silent and invisible, until you choose to share your story and pain with your friends and family who can support you, and it can be incredibly isolating and lonely. People with depression still are deserving of love, and very often need it as part of their healing process. Please, do yourself a favor. Check in with your friends. Ask “are you ok”, and actually listen to their answer. If they say, “I’m fine,” press them.
As someone who serves as an ally/support for someone with depression, here is a great article I found that is absolutely true, which shows 10 Ways You Can Love Someone With Depression. I was lucky in that my friends wholeheartedly supported me once they knew what I was going through. They had no idea. They did many of the things on this list to show me they cared about me. My poor flatmate in Sydney bore the brunt of having to deal with me, and he did a great job of doing these things without even knowing he was doing them.
Going through the hardest time of my life taught me just how strong I was. Not just to stand up, but to get back up when I fell, to come back as the underdog, when the odds are against you. Like the famous quote by Nancy Reagan, “A woman is like a tea bag, you cannot tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water.”
All too often in my chosen profession of accounting/auditing, depression and anxiety run rampant, and people don’t necessarily seek treatment for their symptoms. The hours can be hell, the environment stressful, obstacles never-ending, recognition diminished, remuneration unacceptable for what you have to put up with, and at the end of the day you’re just too tired to tell anyone about how shitty it was, except for the bottom of that bottle of wine you just had to yourself to unwind at the end of that horrible Tuesday. Lack of sleep, poor diet, excessive caffeine intake, and lack of physical exertion lead to a scenario where depression and anxiety can easily begin to affect your daily life.
If you’re reading this, chances are you know me. Chances are I know you, too. We’re probably friends. If you or your loved ones are suffering from depression, there is hope to get it under control. By being public about it, and unafraid to speak about it, I hope to remove the stigma that comes with this illness. Talk about it with people. Love and support those with depression, and if that happens to be you, know you are not alone. You have worth to me, and probably many other people in your life. Trust them, give them the benefit of the doubt. They do want to hear if you’re unhappy, they want to know if they can help. No one wants to deal with the consequences of finding out all too late there was something they could have done to save your life, but you never talked to them to let them.
I ask you to look through their jokes and passing comments and mumbled “fines” in response to questions. Read between the lines and find the truth of the underlying difficulties experienced by someone you love and care for of that daily mountain climb. They’ll be glad you did.