Friday, November 19, 2010

30 Days of Truth- Day 1: Something You Hate About Yourself

I can't believe I'm jumping on a meme bandwagon. I haven't posted since March, though, and I've barely been writing. Then, on Facebook, I saw that my former BVU classmate of Micah Chaplin was writing on some challenging topics for her blog. The postings were prompted by a list from another blog, Hope Dies Last, which she got from (Sorry: as an English prof, I'm meticulous about citing my sources.)

Following the list seemed like a good way to write brief-yet-substantive posts that might even help me grow as a person. Hey, did I just hear you groan? Well, you can either keep reading or wait for a post without a 30 Days of Truth doily in the corner. With that warning, we're off!

Day 1: What is something you hate about yourself?

I hate that I suffer from depression. I also hate that I'm ashamed of my depression and I'm nervous that some future employer will Google me, read this post, and decide not to hire me for my dream job.

So why post it here for the world to see? My grandfather killed himself in 1955, a time when people thought psychiatry was just for weak, crazy people. More than 50 years later, people are still dying of silence and shame. I'm tired of being ashamed of who I am, and maybe my honesty can help someone else.

Here are the symptoms of depression, according to WebMD:
  • difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
  • fatigue and decreased energy
  • feelings of guilt, worthlessness, and/or helplessness
  • feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
  • irritability, restlessness
  • loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
  • overeating or appetite loss
  • persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment
  • persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
  • thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
I was first diagnosed with clinical depression when I was 20, though I'd probably been suffering off-and-on before that. (Depression comes and goes in waves, but many mental conditions strengthen in the teens and early twenties.) That summer, I'd lost my appetite and my weight had dropped below 120 lbs. (I'm about 5'7".) I also suffered from insomnia and had trouble completing my school work. One day, I thought, "It would be easier if I wasn't alive." I probably would have written the thought off, but I remembered my Grandfather Nissen's suicide at the age of 25. I decided to go get help before my problem got any worse.

In the ten years since my diagnosis, depression has affected my career, my art and my relationships. Sometimes I feel exhausted, I can't concentrate, and I fall behind. As a result, I feel guilty and hopeless, and I draw away from the people I love. Those "empty" feelings mentioned on the list? At my lowest points, I felt like I wasn't real--like maybe I was just a character in someone else's fiction. It's hard to fight for happiness and for what you want to achieve when you can barely believe that you're real and you matter.

Even when I feel good, I have to be vigilant: Am I tired, or am I depressed? Is this a normal backache, or is it depression? Am I eating too much candy because it's Halloween or because of depression?

It doesn't help that, unlike most physical ailments, mental conditions can't be proven by a simple blood test or x-ray. I've had people suggest that I should just try harder not to be depressed. When I was on antidepressants, more than one person told me I should get off them and/or that they would never deign to alter their brains via chemicals.

Stigmas regarding depression, therapy and the use of antidepressants may have diminished over the decades, but many people still believe that depression is an empty excuse for weakness or bad choices. No one would judge someone with an inherited heart condition, but an inherited mental condition they will judge 'til the cows come home. (Farmgirl tangent: What a dumb saying! Dairy cows will come home by nightfall to be milked, and most domestic cattle will be back for the evening hay or grain. Judgmental attitudes last way longer than that!)

When my depression is problematic, I combat it with medicine, therapy and behavioral strategies--which I try to maintain even when I'm not in therapy or on meds. I have to fight for my happiness, productivity and positivity. I've had to go on meds three times, and each time felt like a failure--like maybe, if I'd fought harder, it wouldn't have happened. If I'd been more careful about what I ate and how much I exercised and maintaining my sleep patterns. If I hadn't allowed myself those negative thoughts. If, if, if. But even that line of thoughts-- the what-ifs and the blame-- are a symptom.

So I remember my therapy: Some of my depression isn't my fault. I can't help it, and that's okay. Some of it I can help. I can't change what's happened in the past, but I can try to make better choices next time.

And I try to remember that people love me, and I love them. That so far, my life has worked out, and it probably will again. That the world is beautiful, and there are a million wonders in it to see, to create, to and be. Every moment is a new opportunity. Each breath is a gift. Just like in The Velveteen Rabbit, it's love that makes you real. Start by loving one breath. Breath by breath, build that love into a life.

*If you are depressed or suicidal, please seek help. The world needs you. Please keep trying.

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