Breaking the Stigma, Part 2

Because May is Mental Health Awareness Month, I am doing a series of posts about my own mental health, to help break the stigma of mental illness.  Part 2 is about Major Depressive Disorder.

When I was eight, my grandmother died.  I was the one that found her as she took her last breath, and to say it messed me up a little is an understatement.  I don’t remember much of the year after she died, though I have vague memories of my mother having me see the school shrink.  I don’t know what the results of that were, but at the end she gave me some stickers and a pencil, so I was satiated.  I don’t feel that talking to that woman helped me at all.  I don’t think it was anything but time, really.

Lots and lots of time.

If you asked my friends growing up, they would tell you that I was a pessimist.  This was true.  They would also say I was a cynic.  Also, true.  These things I took as personality traits, however, were something else.  They were the grips of a depression I did not understand.  For a long time, I thought the way I saw the world was normal for a child.  Every eleven-year-old thinks graphically about the death of their family and peers, right?  Every fifteen-year-old spends morbid amounts of time lamenting over injustices both big and small.  Absolutely fine to obsess about death. Totally ok to avoid people and activities I enjoy because alone time is good for you.  It’s perfectly normal not to smile, because what is there to smile about?  What, exactly, does happy even feel like?

I was seventeen when I realized that the thoughts in my head were not normal, nor was my outlook on the world.   It was still two years before I got help, and I was originally diagnosed with Dysthymia, a long term mild depression.  It was some time before I was finally diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder, which is a persistent feeling of sadness or a lack of interest in outside stimuli.  My meds take care of this problem most days, though sometimes I find those sad thoughts creeping in, and it makes life difficult.  Particularly on days when I have prior engagements.  There are somethings I see that have changed exponentially.   I no longer think of tragic scenarios, and if they tiptoe in my head I can usually push them away.  I force myself to participate in things I enjoy doing, even when I don’t feel like it, and I find myself always pleased that I put forth the effort.  I try to control my worries and concerns (a topic for another entry, Break the Stigma Pt. 3.)  In desperate situations, I review a list I made of people, places, and things I love that I read to remind myself of all the good there is in the world, because sometimes there are bad days.

But I soldier on.  Sure, it still takes a lot to get me excited, and I am the queen of jumping to the worst possible conclusion, but I work each day to battle my depression, and most days I succeed.  Most days I kick its ass.

Depression is understood much better than Trichotillomania, which I wrote about previously, but still comes with its own stigma.  I can’t tell you how many times I have heard someone say something like “well I get depressed sometimes but I don’t need medication for it.”  That’s because getting depressed and having depression are two different things.  You get depressed when you lose your job, or your cat dies.  Depression is a pattern of these depressed feelings over a period of time.  In my case, I’ve been mostly depressed since I was eight years old.  After a while that depressed feeling can cause a whole host of issues in your mind and body.  It stays inside you, not healing, the way it would for someone who does not suffer from it.  That is why your depression passes, and mine sticks around.  Being depressed is a natural reaction to upsetting stimuli.  Depression is a misfire in the brain that causes one to be unable to shake with that depressed feeling.

But, as said, I soldier on, because that’s what it feels like sometimes, that I am a solider in a war for my mind.  I fight daily, and I will continue to fight, because I am not my depression.

Again, as before, if you, my reader, have any questions about life with MDD, please feel free to drop a line.  It is important to me to connect with others who have suffered similar issues, as well as those who have questions and want answers.

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