I carry a secret every day. I bring it with me when I go to work or when I run errands. I bear its burden when I meet new people. Only a lucky few who get close to me are privy to the information. Even fewer get to watch its destruction. It touches everything I touch, so in the past, I tried to bottle it inside watching with horror as it seeped out of my grasp. I have had its company since I was 13 years old. It is an incomparable vulnerability. My secret is I have chronic depression.
The disease has the unfortunate name of a similar meaning word. The dictionary defines depression as “sad and gloomy; dejected; downcast.” That hardly describes the disease. It strips me of the will to live. I remember nights crying to my reflection in the mirror looking for any reason to not feel that way. It takes whatever joy I have until I am a puppet going through the motions in my life. I am physically present but barely able to engage mentally. It likes to tease me every once in a while of what life could be like without its presence. I make plans for the future and set up goals along that path. Then in a cruel sense of mockery, I transform back into a wooden version of myself. Hopeless and dejected again, I seek another way out from the depressive smog.
Depression is a lot sneakier than people realize. You can’t kill an idea. It repetitiously whispers messages in your ear. You can fight it, and you do at first, but if you hear the same thing enough times, it starts to look like a fact. You start believing that it is true.
Why am I telling this secret now? People need a real education about the disease- about mental health in general. No one would tell a patient with Crohn’s disease that it is in their head and that they just need to feel better.
It saddens me to know that as a working medical professional there is still a long way to go with mental health. I can see how taboo the subject is and hear the background comments. But even worse than that, it is part of our job to identify it in our patients. As severe as I got with my textbook symptoms, no one had a clue. Part of that is because people don’t talk about mental health disease. People don’t understand that it is, in fact, a disease and not an emotion. Like other diseases, it has a list of symptoms. The very fact that medication can help should be an indicator that depression is something tangible.
Depression seems to be more taboo than coming out as part of the LGBT community. Although, “the NIMH estimates that in the United States, 16 million adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2012. That’s 6.9 percent of the population. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 350 million people worldwide suffer from depression.” (www.healthline.com/health/depression/facts-statistics-infographic) It’s likely that you have met someone who suffers from a mental health disease, whether you are aware of it or not. It’s time we start talking about it to each other.