My Dirty Little Secret

September 18, 2010

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:

Clinical depression and anxiety have plagued me for the majority of my adult life.

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.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Heidi September 18, 2010 at 3:29 pm

((((HUGS))))) Thanks for sharing Mel. You are an amazing person!!

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2 admin September 18, 2010 at 10:00 pm

You are too kind, Heidi. Friends like you are what keep this world going — I am so fortunate to know you.

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3 Mary LaVick September 18, 2010 at 10:39 pm

Wow! Way to put yourself “out there.” Love you!

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4 admin September 19, 2010 at 10:52 am

Thanks so much, Mary. Love you, too. :)

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5 Donna Lasko September 19, 2010 at 7:59 am

Thank you Mel for sharing this with us, and the World. I can’t wait to brag that my SIL was a guest on the Kathleen show!!!

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6 admin September 19, 2010 at 10:54 am

Thanks for the support, Donna. I’m sure that Oprah will be calling me next!! LOL :)

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7 Robyn Ferrier September 19, 2010 at 1:12 pm

I’m willing to bet you had this blog entry written in your mind for a long time, trying to figure out if it was something you really wanted to share. Mulling it over, writing, rewriting, editing the invisible paper in your brain. Kudos to you for putting it in ‘ink’.

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8 admin September 19, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Robyn, how is it that, though we’ve never met, I feel like we know each other already? Yes, you are COMPLETELY accurate. Thanks so much for “getting” where I’m coming from in this process, and for the Kudos. Your kind words, and those of the others who’ve responded, mean so much to me. A huge, hearty thank you!

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9 Maureen @ Wisconsin Mommy September 21, 2010 at 2:43 pm

I’m so glad you decided to publish this. You are the perfect person to give this issue a voice to help bring it out of the shadows and into the light. Your ability to find just the right words to convey to readers what it is like to live under the cloud of depression is truly a gift. Big cheers for you and many hugs as well!

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10 admin September 25, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Thanks so much, Maureen. Honestly, talking to you the other day gave me the courage to finally go ahead and share this with the world. There aren’t enough words to express my appreciation for the kind of support and encouragement you’ve given so willingly! :)

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11 Jessica Ramthun October 6, 2010 at 10:56 pm

As i am sitting here reading this I am amazed at your ability to be strong enough to talk about this. It is an incredible struggle. Society has attached a stigma to the word depression ect., that people don’t want to talk about their own “dirty little secret”! I want to personally thank you from the bottom of my heart for having the strength to open up to us about such a personal struggle. I to…struggle with this so it is refreshing to see a strong woman with so much courage!! Love ya and hope all is well.

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12 admin October 6, 2010 at 11:08 pm

Thank you so much for your words of support and appreciation, Jess. I read the comments here and am heartened to know, finally, that I did do the right thing by sharing this.

Oh, and remember that coffee date we were supposed to have way back when? I think we need to make that happen! Soon! (((Hugs))) to you. :)

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13 Marybeth July 5, 2011 at 7:57 pm

Hats off to you! What an amazing experience. :)
Marybeth´s last blog post ..Was it a difficult decision for you to tell the world your story?

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14 Carol Ann from Mom It Forward October 30, 2011 at 12:27 pm

I just read this blog. Thank you so much for sharing your story. I am sure it will inspire and bless many lives.

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