It is Mental Health Week in Canada.
One of the most commonly held misconceptions I come across regarding mental health is that if I’m feeling sad then I must be depressed. I hear random people use the word depressed all the time for a down moment or down day, and while I don’t want to correct them, I still find their use of the word to be a little jarring.
My experiences with depression and anxiety are a battle every single day. It affects me in ways that most people probably don’t notice and in ways that I’m still learning through self-reflection.
The view that I have of my abilities, my intelligence, my appearance, my productivity, my relationships are all skewed. I think I’m slow, dumb and ugly by default. I sometimes want to give up or take an easy route rather than pushing through the constant negative reinforcement going on in my brain.
Could you imagine being successful while someone constantly told you that you aren’t smart enough, good enough, or worthy of happiness or success?
I want to be happy and so I seek out things that will make me happy. This means that I sometimes have difficulties with jobs, relationships, and experiences. Learning a new skill is difficult for me unless I enjoy the process and even if I do, my brain tells me that I’ll never even be as good as the average person also learning that skill. It is so exhausting to work hard and learn new things when you are fighting off such horrible feelings.
Have you ever felt impostor syndrome, where you are in a situation where you feel like you aren’t smart enough or don’t deserve it? I feel that way all the time.
My wife and I constantly work on our relationship. My default state is to avoid interacting with people. This is partly because I’m an introvert, but also because I experience anxiety in situations that aren’t planned or controlled. I also suffer from negative thoughts that say I’m not worthy of her love and support. I make self-sabotaging decisions sometimes that I then am super embarrassed about. I constantly worry that all of the techniques and skills I’ve acquired to control my thoughts, my words, and my reactions will fall by the wayside and I’ll ruin our relationship.
Have you ever seen an angry drunk in real life or in popular media? Imagine feeling like you have an angry drunk in your brain shouting at you.
When I’m out in public, it is easy for people, including friends and family to forget that I suffer from depression and anxiety. I have become very good at acting like a normal person for long periods of time. It is super draining, but I feel it is a worthwhile choice so that I have positive visits with people. Unfortunately, they don’t know that everything that is said is analyzed. Every action is magnified. Without some external physical sign, how can they know when I’m at my most sensitive or volatile?
Have you ever overreacted to something someone said or did? Imagine if that was how you responded to every confrontation. I often feel like that.
There are days where I feel so down that when I get home from work, I go to bed. Sometimes, I sleep right through the night until I have to go to work the next day. Other times, I wake up but stay in bed, stuck, unable to face the world. I call this “skipping days”. I try not to do this often as I don’t eat dinner and I don’t really take care of myself. While sometimes the passage of time reduces how depressed I am, I know it isn’t healthy.
Have you ever taken a nap after work or on the weekend? Have you ever carried a heavy backpack? Imagine always feeling like you need a nap or under the weight of a heavy load. That’s how I often feel.
More often than not, people want to help me and they try to be supportive, but when you suffer from a disease that is totally irrational, both helping and not helping may be the exact opposite of what I need. I know that it sucks. Trying to push me to be happy only puts a spotlight on the fact that there is something wrong with me. This sends my brain spinning further into a deep depression. Ignoring my depression and anxiety leads me to feel like no one cares and that no one would care if I weren’t around. There have been times where I’ve gone to visit family or friends and had one person trying to push me to feel happier and another ignoring the issue and I came out of there feeling twice as bad.
If the previous paragraph makes you feel damned if you do, and damned if you don’t… welcome to my brain. I almost always feel that way.
If depression and anxiety were easy to treat, they wouldn’t need a day, week, or month where we try to draw attention to the issues. My depression and anxiety both constantly intrude into my life and I straggle to keep my head above water.
As a man, even in this modern world, writing or discussing my depression is difficult. There is a loud part of my brain that is telling me I should feel shame for how I feel. It tells me that people will think me less of a man if I expose my weaknesses. I want to overcome it all on my own, without any help. That’s what a strong man does, right? There is also a voice that reminds me that I could be shooting myself in the foot for my future career. No one wants to hire someone that has these kinds of issues, right?
I am not in crisis, but there are many who are. They avoid their lives, preferring to give up on doing anything positive or negative. Some constantly sabotage their life. I know you all want me to tell you how to help someone with depression and/or anxiety, but unfortunately each person and their struggles are unique, even if their symptoms aren’t.
For me, I need constant affirmations. I need people to celebrate my successes. I need some social time with friends and family, but not too much. I need to be pushed sometimes to do things I don’t want to do, but I really only want my wife to push me. Sometimes I need medication and probably more often than I end up getting a prescription for it, but I haven’t found a medication that works well at resolving my depression without a serious side-effect.
I sometimes marvel at the fact that I’m still alive. I have gone through some horrible stints with my depression, but thanks to medication, counselling, and the support of family and friends, I’ve been able to keep moving forward, one day at a time.