Part of what makes The Crazy Actor- me- so “crazy” is that I’ve been dealing with depression my entire life.
When I was 21, I was officially diagnosed with MDD- Major Depressive Disorder, or simply, depression. It was an incredibly freeing moment for me, to put a label on these dark, terrible periods I had been experiencing since I could remember. I was already fairly certain I had it, as it runs in my family, and I had all the symptoms, but still. There is something about the world acknowledging it isn’t just YOU, it’s an actual disorder, that is quite a relief.
As a teenager, my depressed moods were tied up with fluctuating hormones and an incredibly chaotic home life. I was dealing with issues with my mother, I had 5 younger siblings to worry about, an alcoholic father, and was trying to somehow live a (relatively) normal teenage life. I threw myself into achieving- getting straight As, working multiple jobs, and always involved in a million things at school. I also distracted myself with dramatic relationships- I was totally “boy crazy.”
Since I didn’t stop to take care of myself at ALL, my depressed periods would become very dark. More than once I thought of suicide. I planned it out and wrote long goodbye letters. I felt that my pain would never end, and I really, desperately wanted it to. I felt alone, abandoned, miserable, misunderstood, stuck on the outside of things. I felt like a failure, like a fraud, like a burden. I felt terrified and lost. Completely without hope.
Anyone who has lived with depression knows the feeling. It was once described to me as being at the bottom of a well. Yes, you technically know there is a bright sunny world outside of your well, but you really can’t see it or remember what it’s like, and soon you feel like the pit you’re currently living in is all there really is. The idea of somehow coming up with the effort to claw your way to the top of this enormous well is so daunting, you don’t even try. You can’t. You’re heavy and hopeless. Until, somehow, the feeling finally begins to lift.
Without coping skills or healthy habits, that well becomes very, very deep, and truly feels impossible to escape. For me, that was when suicide felt like the best option. The only option.
I can’t completely explain why, but I was lucky. I managed to hold on to this tiny light inside me that promised a bigger, better world, if I could only get to it. No one tried to tell me I couldn’t live my dreams, or that they were ridiculous, so that light didn’t get squashed.
For so many people, someone or something extinguishes that light, and they give up.
I understand that feeling SO well, which is why part of this blog is dedicated to opening up about depression. That cloak is SO heavy, and to bear the weight alone is terrible. We need to have honest discussion about mental illness, and to let people know it’s okay to talk about what they are going through, to reach out when they need help. Shaming each other or hiding in our own shame is the last thing we need.
I know this, because when I received my diagnoses, it changed my life completely. Someone telling me I wasn’t a freak, I just had some chemical challenges- that was powerful. I suddenly had a word to type into google, a specific hill to climb, a label I could place on a feeling to make it just that- a feeling. Not a reality. Not the crushing truth. Something that would come and go. Something I could work to lighten.
When depression hits, it still feels hopeless, but I’ve learned ways to help it visit me less often. It doesn’t stay as long, and it feels a little lighter. I have vocabulary to express to my loved ones what is happening to me. “I want to die, I hate my life, I hate myself,” is a very different experience than, “I’m feeling horribly depressed right now and it’s awful,” especially when you’ve been able to communicate to people concrete ways they can help you.
I promise you, there are ways to build shorter wells, sometimes even with ladders built in. It all starts with taking a deep breath, and admitting to ourselves and to the people close to us what is happening. Realizing that we aren’t to blame for our circumstances, and, even better, that we are empowered to help ourselves, whatever that means for our specific situation.
It all starts with saying this word out loud: depression. It isn’t a dirty word, or an ugly word, or a condemning word. It’s a word that puts us back in the driver’s seat, and lets us start to steer.
Shame lives in silence and darkness. Power grows in truth and acceptance. When we empower ourselves, we empower each other, and that goes both ways. You are most definitely not alone.