Today my Facebook memories popped up with pictures from a year ago. It was a hike in the woods with my hubby. It was a beautiful fall day with my favorite person on my favorite piece of trail in Minnesota. I was happy in that moment. Enjoying the company and the beauty of nature. Enjoying a respite from the feelings of low-grade (and sometimes high-grade) depression I had been feeling for years. For a couple of hours I dared to think that maybe this was the beginning of better times. The beginning of an upswing of happiness. Little did I know that after this hike I wouldn’t be happy again for a very long time.
Today was the day a year ago that started the spiral that almost ended my life. While I was in the woods enjoying my day something terrible had happened. Something that would trigger me in a way I had no idea was even possible. Something that would cause me to spiral so out of control that I thought my only option to end the pain I was feeling was to die. I am choosing not to share the event that triggered me because it involves others that may not want their story shared and honestly the details don’t matter. The point of this post is to share that you never really know how much a person is struggling.
For two weeks after this day I became more and more lost in myself. In my dark thoughts. In my feelings of being not enough, of being a burden, of being too broken to fix. In my thoughts that this world was broken beyond repair. In my empathic feelings of everyone else’s pain around me that I could not seem to escape. It happened so quickly yet to me it felt like forever. I think that some people around me noticed something was off but nobody, not even my closest friends or husband knew exactly how bad it was. And most people continued thinking everything was just fine.
I remember an interaction with someone at work from those dark weeks. It was a hello in the hallway with my trademark winning fake-smile. My co-worker said something about how my smile just always lit up the whole place, that I seemed like one of then happiest people he knew. I was literally thinking of killing myself. I’m pretty sure I went straight to the bathroom to cry. This was not an uncommon interaction in those two weeks and I couldn’t figure out why nobody could see the pain I was in.
I won’t say my presence on social media, and in real life for that matter, was fake but I always tried to keep things positive so I didn’t always share hard truths. I didn’t want to bring people down. I think a lot of people do this, not realizing how helpful it is to be raw and honest. Not realizing how much our experiences can help someone else to realize they are not alone. That others are in fact struggling with the same things. Knowing you are not alone is not a happy thought, but it does help. It helps to know you are not some freak. Some broken piece of trash. Most importantly it can help us to see that it does get better.
There was a movement on social media a while back where people used the hashtag #thisiswhatdepressionlookslike. The point was to illustrate that no matter how a person looks on social media or in their day to day life it does not necessarily reflect how they are feeling inside. Most people who are struggling are wearing a mask of happiness to cover up their dark feelings and I was no different. Sometimes our masks are very convincing.
This is a picture of me the morning of the beginning of what was almost the end. Less than 2 weeks after this picture was taken (and the one at the beginning of this post) I was considering and very near attempting suicide.
This is what depression looks like. It is not always crying 24 hours a day. It is not always binging on the couch. It is not always voluntary solitary confinement. Though those things do happen, most people do not see them. They see the fake smiles. The compassion, the caring for others, the kindness. They see the smiles and fake happiness that we put out in the world because we don’t want everyone to know how broken we are. Because we don’t want anyone to worry about us. Because we don’t feel worthy of it.
When I dug out of the hole I was in I decided to share my story and my experiences with depression, anxiety, trauma and mental illness. I decided that putting on a fake smile and hiding the real me was not doing anyone any good. It has been difficult but also amazing. There are days where I wonder if people think I am crazy or whiny or just plain negative but there are also days where I have had people tell me that my sharing has helped them to hold on and keep trying. Sometimes it feels odd in a regular conversation to talk about therapy or meds or any other regular part of my life and sometimes I get odd looks when I speak of these things so naturally and nonchalantly. But this is how we stop the stigma. This is how we make it ok. And if I get a few weird looks or some people who don’t want to talk to me anymore I think that it is 100% worth it.
Let’s continue to talk about these things like they are normal. Because they are. When someone asks you how you are doing try telling the truth. It feels weird at first but eventually it becomes normal. And that is a magical feeling.
Most of all check on your friends. Especially the ones that seem okay. Especially the strong ones. Because those are the ones that are usually struggling. Let it be know that you are there and you care and that when you ask how they are you want the truth. Make sure they know you are prepared for truth and that you love them no matter what. Sometimes that can be the one thing that makes a world of difference in the middle of the darkness.
Remember it gets better. I am living proof of that. It is not always easy but it is worth it. I am so glad that each and every one of you are here. We need you.
Love to all of you. The unconditional kind.