Today’s post is a little different than the typical account of my crazy little life. OK, well, it is, and it isn’t. Whew, this is kind of tough to write about, knowing it’ll be “out there” forevermore. Deep breath in, exhale slowly. Here goes.
So… I have a dirty little secret:
And if my memory is remotely accurate, I’m pretty sure it started long before adulthood.
Turns out I have a strong family history of depression and anxiety, both diagnosed and undiagnosed. So really, being plagued with this disease comes as no surprise (in retrospect, anyway).
What IS surprising, though, is the struggle that clinical depression presents. It is very, VERY hard work. Some days are easier, and I personally go through periods where I actually don’t think about/am not depressed at all. But when I’m in it? I liken it to my understanding of quicksand: you don’t necessarily know when it’s going to appear in front of you and envelope you, and senseless struggling (which I’m sure looks different for everyone) or denial only exacerbate it.
And if that isn’t enough, then there is the intense social stigma that accompanies it and so many other mental illnesses.
That stigma, that unspoken but oh-so-loud negative judgment, is a funny thing, really.
On the one hand, there are countless illnesses and diseases we acquire through no fault of our own. For example, you may remember me mentioning that my daughter Kate was born with a serious heart condition. Our pediatricians and several highly regarded specialists have told us again and again that Kate’s diseases weren’t caused by me (or anyone else, for that matter). And of course, no one would DREAM of hiding, ignoring, or denying this type of sickness.
Here’s another one: my mother is a three-time breast cancer survivor. She didn’t beat the “Big C” THREE TIMES by pretending she wasn’t sick. And among the countless emotions she must have experienced throughout the years of her fight, I’m thinking shame and embarrassment [for having cancer] weren’t even on the list.
But mental illness is different. Our personality, our work ethic, our values, our intellect: these unseen, unquantifiable things define each of us. Character traits simply aren’t easily discernable from the effects of mental illness, or – let’s face it – the limitless manipulative power of the human mind.
Mental illness — depression, anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, personality disorders, etc.: these are not synonyms for “lazy” or “pathetic” or “crazy,” etc. They are very real illnesses. And while everything from pharmaceutical ads (which I am not endorsing or dismissing, mind you) to “talk shows” to self-help literature to mainstream media have been exposing fragments of the reality and seriousness of mental illness, doctors and scientists are far, FAR away from fully understanding exactly how our brain’s physical processes, chemical reactions, and emotional involvement cause or treat mental illness.
Why am I telling you this? Why bring up my “dirty little secret” at all, not to mention why bring it up now?
The Kathleen Show
Last spring, I was listening to an episode of The Kathleen Show that was about depression (I am a rabid podcast enthusiast). Kathleen interviewed psychologist and author Dr. Richard O’Connor, whose book Undoing Depression I have read several times throughout the past couple of decades. I so enjoyed the show, and I have such total respect for Kathleen and her mission that I commented on a Facebook post she had written about that particular show.
Well, lo and behold, shortly after I wrote that FB comment, I received a call from a Kathleen Show staffer. A kind, articulate woman with the nicest voice I have ever heard (Karen Felber) was asking me if I would speak to Kathleen on-air about my Facebook comment in a follow-up segment.
And so I was interviewed by Kathleen herself. I was deeply honored to share a little of my story, and how Dr. O’Connor’s book has helped me, and how depression is – for me, anyway – an on-going, every day presence. I certainly wasn’t profound, but considering it was my radio debut, I think I did alright. (And if you disagree, don’t tell me, OK?)
Spreading My Wings (a little)
So now you know. And with this little glimpse of my life, and any knowledge and wisdom that you can glean from Kathleen’s show on this topic, I hope that your understanding, tolerance, and empathy for mental illness have grown. Even just a little.
And stay tuned for Mental Health Mondays. Since I own this little piece of real estate on the great information superhighway, I’ve decided I should actually make it helpful once in awhile.