Note: this article originally appeared on Jaclyn Aurore.
I suffer from depression. Yes, it’s a mental illness, and yes, there’s a social stigma about that.
I was actually diagnosed when I was in university, but it just isn’t something I talked about. Due to the stigma, no one really talks about it.
Sadly, many of us suffer, but we all suffer alone.
Recently, I was also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. The combination is horrible, and can sometimes make it hard to function.
Anything that required making a decision would often send me into a panic attack. Everything requires a decision being made: what to wear, what to eat, what to buy at the grocery store, etc.
At its worst, I relied on others to decide for me because I couldn’t make the decision myself.
For example, I asked my then five-year-old what he wanted for dinner: pizza or pasta. You’re supposed to give your kids options; it’s good for them. But my kids always have to be different. Challenging us is another way of independence, they say?
When he answered chicken nuggets, I had a mental breakdown.
I called my husband who was still in transit from work. I was a hysterical mess because I gave my son two options, and he picked a third that we didn’t have.
I didn’t know what to do with that.
My husband, who understands me and what I’m going through, advises in a calm tone, “It’s okay, take a deep breath. Make him pasta, I promise it will be okay.”
Ultimately it was my husband who made the decision for me. That was just something I couldn’t do on my own. All I understood was that I had too many options and yet no solution.
Because it was impacting my life, I made the decision to go to the doctor. Yes, I made this decision. Somehow I knew that this was what I needed to do.
I couldn’t phone the doctor to make the appointment though, because then I’d be asked questions like, “What time works for you?”
So my husband booked the appointment, and came with me. The biggest step for me was asking for help. I knew I needed it, I just didn’t know how to get it. He helped.
Understanding You Are Different
For anyone else like me, who suffers from mental illness, whichever illness you suffer, as you’re reading this, you understand.
You understand what it’s like to be unable to communicate your needs. You understand what it’s like to know you are different. You understand what it’s like to feel useless because you can’t do things that “normal” people can do.
Deep down, we know we’re not useless: we survive. We struggle every day, but we survive. We survive.
We keep going. Every day that we survive, we need to applaud ourselves, because it’s so much harder for us to get through the day than it is for the “normal” people.
For those “normal” people, I’m writing today for you. I hope to help you understand.
For those people who say “you’re thinking too much” or “you’re overthinking” or “just change your thoughts” – believe me when I say, we know. We know – but we can’t change.
If I could choose to not be depressed, I would. If I could choose to stop thinking, I would. This isn’t simply a choice I make, to suffer every day.
It’s Normal to Not Feel Normal
When I first went to the doctor, she explained that my thoughts, my anxiety, and my depression are all very normal. So many people suffer from it; we just don’t talk about it.
She advised me to go to a website, to see just how common it is. So, to my “normal” friends, go look.
We aren’t so abnormal, you know.
This is not by any means an attack against normal people.
Normal people are lucky that they don’t understand. They get to livetheir lives daily, whereas we have to survive daily.
We miss out on great things in life because we are busy trying to find strength where we think there is none.
When I went to the doctor a second time, she said something to me that stuck – we don’t talk about it.
The stigma is there because we don’t talk about it. So as difficult as this is, I’m talking. I wish things could be different. I wish they could be easier.
But I’m not ashamed.
It’s socially acceptable to be afraid. It’s socially acceptable to talk about our fears, no matter how insignificant they might seem to someone else.
So I thought I’d try to express what I’m going through, what I’m feeling, what so many of us suffer through daily, to all my normal friends.
Find Your Glass Box
What are you afraid of? Spiders? Let’s imagine that for a minute.
Put yourself in a glass box. The box is the size of your bedroom. You can move freely, you aren’t suffocating, but you are alone. There is nothing else in the glass box apart from you and the spiders.
Today there might only be one spider, tomorrow, ten, the next day, one hundred. Sometimes the spiders are just there. They don’t move; they just stand there.
It’s you in a glass box with spiders covering all six sides. It doesn’t matter if there is one spider or a hundred spiders, that’s all you see.
It doesn’t matter if they move or if they don’t – they’re there.
On the harder days, they touch you. They crawl all over you. You can think to yourself “they’re not there” all you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are.
You can tell yourself “they won’t hurt me” but it doesn’t change the fact that they can.
Some of them sting, or bite, or do whatever it is that spiders do. Go ahead and think yourself out of the box of spiders. Wish them away.
When you open your eyes, they’re still there, but you hope they’ll leave soon.
Not afraid of spiders? What about birds, or cats, or dogs, or insects, or needles, or germs, or whatever it is that you’re afraid of? Get inside your glass box room and put your fear in there with you.
Watch everyone else live their lives outside your glass box, not seeing you and the thing that could hurt you. And it can hurt you. Whatever it is that is in the box with you, it can hurt you.
Dogs bite, cats scratch, insects sting, birds can claw, germs can infect. You can survive, but that doesn’t make it hurt less.
You can pretend it’s not there. But it is. You can smile like it doesn’t bother you, but it does.
We Are Stronger Than We Think
Every day is a challenge. My glass box is my room, my house, my car, my office, my world.
On good days, the thing that’s in the room with me doesn’t move. On bad days, there are hundreds of things crawling all over me. On really bad days, I don’t care. How is that worse?
Because the only thing worse than not caring is giving up.
That’s what it’s like to suffer from depression and anxiety. It’s not eternal sadness or high stress. It’s knowing that every time you wake up, you wake up wondering if today is the day you won’t find the strength you need to move through the glass box.
If you’re asking yourself “why is she afraid?” you are not asking the right question. It’s not fear.
But even normal people understand what it’s like to be afraid. It is possible to feel so much that it hurts.
The hurting: that’s depression.
Knowing there’s nothing you can do about it: that’s depression.
The fast pace of the heartbeat as you feel the depression take over your body: that’s anxiety.
Remove the stigma. The more we talk about it, the more we confront it head on, the bigger our box gets. Every little bit helps.
We are stronger than you think. We are stronger than we think.
We can survive. Maybe one day we’ll be able to leave the glass box behind.