How (most) people react when I tell them I’m a high-functioning depressive:
No, really, it’s entirely possible. See, you CAN manage both depression and having a life. It’s doable. Don’t believe me? Ask both my therapist and psychiatrist.
I normally do not start every conversation with a complete account of my medical history. It’s something that usually comes out as I get to know the individual better. But there are some personality types I know will have a really hard time understanding this concept so they’ve been kept in the dark up until, well, now.
“But you seem so normal!”
“But you hang out with friends and are social!”
“It’s probably just a phase.”
Right, kind of like homosexuality is a phase. Or diabetes is a phase. Depression is equally difficult to talk about because people have either never been exposed to it, don’t know much about the subject, or simply don’t want to acknowledge it’s even a thing. So what are we supposed to do? How do we start the discussion? How can we bring mental health awareness to the forefront of conversation without turning it into a a debate making the depressive feel defensive or cornered?
I’m lucky in that my family was incredibly supportive when my diagnosis was said aloud. My mom wasn’t really shocked, but I think she had hoped I would grow up untouched by the hand of mental illness. My extended family, the family we still talk to, and a handful of friends were active listeners and offered me hugs and love. I didn’t feel alone in the battle to fight depression while some aren’t as fortunate. I recognize that depression within certain cultural, socioeconomic, racial and religious backgrounds isn’t something that gets talked about infrequently if at all. I’ve watched some silently suffer and make it so believable that everything was fine on the outside, hoping no one would question the battle happening within.
When it comes to dating, I personally am open about my clinical depression/OCD combination. Yes, it’s probably a bit much for the other party to handle, but it has become a way for me to weed out those who twitch at the terms. They may not be ready to “handle” someone with such a “condition”. In all honesty, we’re all human that fly over the handlebars every so often. We usually bounce back and come out of each meltdown a bit stronger. At the time of my diagnosis, and God do I hate that word, I was dating my then-boyfriend for just about 2 years and we were planning for a future together. He was an extreme analytic and I was the creative mind. In many ways, we got along well, but when I didn’t have an answer to his questions about depression he grew nervous. My reaction was to also grow nervous and after we broke up, I had a difficult time trusting guys with my personal struggles. I don’t believe in airing all of my dirty laundry, but I think if you’re seriously dating someone the subject should be addressed. Besides, if I end up living with someone hiding those neon orange prescription bottles could get tricky and lead to questions. Might as well be up front about it from the get-go. In my experience, though, dating has become a game of Tetris and all of my moves are calculated.
When it comes to friendships, I’ve encountered the friends who really share in my pain, the friends who pretend to share in your pain, and the friends who fall off the face of God’s green earth because you’re now considered “crazy.” That’s cool. Everyone has their own opinion. But before you go and label us “crazy”, understand what “crazy” really stands for to a depressive. I have a good, good friend who shares a similar journey with me. She absolutely refuses calling anyone with mental illness “crazy”. Sensitive, thoughtful, deeply affected by the simplest occurrence–that’s what you are to her. Then, you have a different type of friend that emerges–the comrade coming out of the woodwork once you’ve shared your own experience via a blog or Facebook post or other mode of communication. You find yourself among these brilliant individuals because you chose to speak up. It’s both humbling and comforting to know my story has brought others to me to share their own battle scars.
And it’s all because of dialogue.
So the next time you want to assume someone is “crazy” or “perfect” or “normal”, dig deeper. Be brave in your efforts to own your story or be bold enough to embrace the story of somebody else’s without judgment.