Cured isn’t the right word, neither is fixed since I wasn’t broken. I didn’t need to be put back together; I was sick. I was sick for over two years – that’s two years spent in sometimes very heavy therapy sessions and on medication. Two years of learning about how society stigmatizes mental illness, how so many people live with it and how we need to support them.
Depression is a real fucker. It’s kept me home from work, home from things I wanted to participate in and from living my best life. But I also know that if it weren’t for depression I wouldn’t be the same person I am today, sitting here writing this. Depression made me see the world through a new lens. It made me more empathic towards others. It made me a campaigner, a defender and a combatant.
Being mentally ill doesn’t make you weak, and taking time for yourself doesn’t make you selfish. Society however often tries to tell you differently. People tell you to try harder – that you’ll feel better if you just do whatever they suggest. We are all fighting a battle of some sort and it’s perfectly acceptable to take time to fight that battle – to heal without a timeline on your recovery. I see this massive disconnect between how depression is perceived and how it’s lived. Very few people saw me when I felt my lowest. It’s easy to write an upbeat status update. It’s not so easy to be sitting with a loved one, crying/shaking/struggling to breath, telling them “no, I’m fine.”
Depression forced me to see how we as a society need to do better. Mental health services seem to be a privilege instead of a priority. There are wait lists to see counselors, there are massive financial barriers to receiving care such as no/lack of insurance and without insurance people have to pay out of pocket for therapy and medication. Health care is a necessity because, for many people, asking for support from family and friends isn’t doable and can lead to self-imposed isolation for fear of rejection or ridicule. Self-care from mental illness often requires resources, and we should all have access to that. But our greatest resource is those around us – those who care enough to treat depression like a physical illness, lending an ear to listen to what we might not have the money to pay a therapist.
Depression taught me to change the way I act and speak. I learned to be gentle – not just with others but also with myself. I stopped putting a limit on my emotions, forcing myself to be something I wasn’t and placing unfair expectations on myself. I chose to be transparent with my mental illness and luckily I had the support from family and friends behind me. I choose to remind people that someone might be afraid to speak out because they hear terms like ‘crazy’ or ‘nuts’ thrown around. I spent a lot of my life following the ‘pick yourself up and dust yourself off’ sort of mentality, not realizing how how much it hurt. There are times when I need time to take care of myself before I can heal, and putting pressure on the healing process doesn’t help. I want people to understand how difficult it can be to even discuss mental health, let alone seek help.
Sometimes during my depression I felt like I was the only person in the world who understood how I felt – but 1 in 5 people know this same feeling. We’re living in a society that makes us feel shame for not feeling OK, and this shame that only adds to the already heavy illness we carry around daily. Depression taught me that I need to take more time to get to know myself – to give myself more love and acceptance. It was the greatest gift I received from this experience, and I hope others with depression realize it too.