Living with Depression: a misunderstood reality
Living with depression isn’t my dirty little secret anymore but there was a time it was. From my “Moving Forward: The Early Years of Redefining Me”
… It was in the midst of all this therapy and all these different visits that I began to struggle to emotionally handle the strain of two special needs kids. My sense of self, tied to how well I handled all the kids’ various medications, appointments, and therapy sessions, began to splinter. My emotions began to spiral downward.
I convinced myself–in the way only a person who’s hit bottom can–I convinced myself that my kids wouldn’t have all their health problems if it weren’t because of me. I failed them, and I failed myself. Worse, I was positive that I would keep failing unless I did something about it.
And so it was, that on one sunny day in the middle of spring, with birds chirping outside, I decided that I needed to deal with my shortcomings…
What’s so wrong with being depressed?
We all ‘know’ someone who is depressed, some person who’s ‘struggle with depression’ moved us or made us nod our heads in support. How many of us admit to this own diagnosis for ourselves though?
And why not? Is it because it is so personal and emotional a diagnosis that we opt not to share it with our friends, that we hide it from those we talk with in casual conversation? Or is it because, after around one hundred years as a recognized medical diagnosis, folks are still ashamed by this diagnosis?
While I think a large part of the situation is the need to keep private things private, I think inherent in that need for privacy is the stigma this diagnosis still attracts. That stigma includes scoffing, disbelieving, and ignorant views that it isn’t even a real disorder, much less a valid one in today’s society.
Part of that shame, perhaps the largest part, comes from ourselves. In this case, I don’t think it is the same kind of stigma, but more along the lines of a two-fold problem: 1) what will others think if they find out? and 2) This must mean I’m not good enough, strong enough.
For special needs parents, who deal with the emotional highs and lows of loving a child with a disability, the stress fractures build up over time, and are sometimes hard to notice before they have affected their lives in desperate ways.
I promised in my About page I would tell you all sorts of secrets about, well, me. After debating and second-guessing myself for the past week, I decided it was time to share one of my dirtiest little secrets with you (sorry-I will not verify my addiction to fan fiction today!).
Depression: my dirty little word
I have been clinically depressed for many years. Through the highs and lows as one child after another was diagnosed with one diagnosis after another, through the years of growing into my role as wife and mother, I’ve found, at times, that my world fades into a background filled with apathy, indecision, sadness, and uncontrollable emotions.
The shame and loathing I placed on my own shoulders during these times used to be an overwhelming part of my reality. I found over the years that I placed more pressure on myself than any of my friends, family, doctors, or therapists ever could.
Treatment and many years of working through my emotions, desires, and goals, have helped me to, mostly, remain in control of my depression and to own that diagnosis. It’s a tenous control, through, tempered by the understanding that I have a clinical disorder, one that I have to handle with the respect and attention it deserves.
Depression: Controlling the beast
I would argue that depression is one of those diagnoses that both frees and confines you.
It frees you because you finally understand that there is a reason why it is harder to get out of the bed every day. It frees you because finally, there is way to get better, to feel stronger and more in control of your life and commitments.
It confines you because how do you explain to others that you are depressed? Why do you explain to others that you are depressed? What if they think you are a bad mom? What if they assume you are just lazy? What if … the list goes on, endlessly helping you to isolate yourself from others. A diagnosis is supposed to be freeing, but a diagnosis of depression can sometimes seem like an added burden.
There’s a stigma attached to this diagnosis. A connotation attached to this word that makes others, and you, feel as though you are asking for attention, crying over spilled milk, exaggerating ‘the blues’ because everyone’s sad sometimes, right?
The largest part of owning the diagnosis is admitting to yourself that it isn’t shameful to have this diagnosis, that it doesn’t make you a bad parent or a bad person. This is better left in the care of professionals who know and understand you, but exploring that diagnosis, connecting with others who understand it, can go a long way toward helping you own it.
Depression: No longer my dirty little secret
Advocacy, honesty, and compassion are some of my trigger words–they are what I try to always present. By not using the fact that I have this diagnosis to let other parents, especially parents of special needs kids, that they aren’t alone, I am not living up to my own desire to help other people.
Depression is a very real diagnosis; I’ve lived with it for well over ten years now. I am publicly claiming this as something I own, something that I will not allow to control me–personally or in how I present myself to others.
For special needs parents, who face the added stress–positive or negative–of our kids’ many needs, it’s easy for the stresses to build, for cracks to form in the armor, for life to whirl out of control with you still struggling to manage all the therapies and appointments, as well as all the emotional ups and downs.
It doesn’t make me, or you, a bad parent to be depressed.
It’s okay if you don’t want to whisper your secret to the internet; I hope that by shouting my dirty little secret I can help bring a little awareness, compassion, and empathy to those who work to deal with depression every day.
It isn’t something to be ashamed of, but something to own, and something to advocate about.
I hereby make it official – depression isn’t my dirty little secret any more.
Reading List for Later
What’s your dirty little secret about mental illness, or a diagnosis you or a loved one has faced?