The Importance of being Honest.

So, I’m cycling through a pretty bad depression right now.  It started in the Fall, and it’s been hanging on a long while.  Hopefully, I’ll start to be back up again soon, but with bipolar, you can never tell.  And depression is a hard fight, because so much of it is out of our control.

Depression (and mania) aren’t ‘moods’…they are states.  And there’s a big difference there, one I wish was recognized more because calling ‘depression’ a MOOD disorder isn’t technically correct.

Moods are temporary feelings of whatever emotion is there:  happiness, sadness, grieving, gloomy, cheerful, energetic, and the list goes on.  And we all experience a huge range of moods!  We have happy days and sad days, but those days don’t last.  The SITUATION underlying the emotion (which causes the feelings that are ‘saturated’) doesn’t last, because for the most part, that’s what they are based on.  Getting a raise makes me feel happy.  Getting rejected makes me feel sad.  But, these moods pass as others take their place.  That’s why people will say to those who are sad:  “Cheer up…this will pass.”  And they are right!  It will pass.  Although I think saying “Cheer up” nullifies the person’s emotional mood and makes it appear to be insignificant, I get what they are saying.

But states are different creatures.  They aren’t place dependent.  People dependent.  Money dependent.  They are simply there.  And they are more than just the feeling that’s being projected.  For example, people who might be sad for a while may not experience anything else but that sadness.  Whereas people who are depressed also have trouble sleeping, have changes in eating, are restlessness or lethargic, have slowed thinking and memory issues, experience trouble making decisions, entertain thoughts of self-harm or suicide, and the list goes on.

The causes of depression are different too.  A major life event can trigger depression in someone, but there are underlying issues at work as well that go along with that stressor:  According to Harvard Medical “Certain areas of the brain help regulate mood.  Researchers believe that, more important then levels of specific brain chemicals, nerve cell connections, nerve cell growth, and the functioning of nerve circuits have a major impact on depression”.

So once again, like we see with so many mental illnesses, depression is in the brain.  Not in the situation.  That’s why for depression, meds are needed to regulate this brain chemistry and function, as well as counseling in order to learn better ways to cope with what is happening.

Last night, I was feeling extra down, and put on Facebook that I was really struggling with depression.  So many people reached out to me, and just knowing there is so much support and care out there really helps.  It doesn’t make me ‘less depressed’, but it does make me feel important and loved.  Anyone can use that anytime!

A couple years ago, I never would have posted anything like that because I was still trying to pretend my way through life, and hide the pain I often experience with bipolar.  But like I’ve said before, how can I expect to work against mental health stigma if I’m not genuine myself?  How hypocritical that would be!  When I was in Florida, I posted about how people on the beach were looking at the scars on my legs from when I cut myself.  Once again, if I can’t put issues out there that are related to mental illness, what am I preaching ‘lessen the stigma’ for?

I bought this artwork, created by the Chariho Youth Task Force for their Mental Health Awareness Campaign.  Digital copies of this art can be purchased here for $5 and all proceeds go to mental health programs and information.

BUT, maybe there are people who think it’s OK to talk about depression.  That’s not ‘ugly’.  However, how can you even mention that you’ve cut?  That’s bloody and gross and scary.  Here’s the thing though, cutting does go along with my illness.  It just does.  I hate that I’ve done it.  I hate my scars.  I hate how people look at me when I’m at a pool or my shorts ride up a bit.  Even more though, I hate having an illness that has made my brain so confused at times, that cutting is the only outlet given for any type of psychological relief.  I know how hard that is to understand.  I don’t understand it.  But I know it’s a demon to fight when it rears it’s ugly head, and that at times, I’ve lost the battle.

This reminds me of my Human Sexuality class and what we were discussing the other day.  I was lecturing about development from pregnancy through birth, and when I got the part about what pregnant women often suffer, everyone was OK until I said the word “hemorrhoid!”  EVERYTHING  else was met with nods…but this??  Shouts of UGH and looks of horror!  WHY?  Because hemorrhoids are ‘icky’…nothing we really want to think about!

There are a lot of things about mental illness that are ‘icky’ too.  But we need to hear it all.  The way it really is.  That’s the only thing that will help people speak up and out about mental illness, and then get the support and help they need.

The mentally ill should not be living in a society where there is shame in having a disease/disorder/illness that’s out of their control.  We have the control to get help for it (if it’s available and affordable…2 BIG ifs), and learn better ways of coping with it.  But it’s always there.  Always.  Just like diabetics can be medicated appropriately and watch their diet.  Even if the diabetes is controlled though, it’s still there.  It’s a lifelong disease.  It’s not going to disappear.

The mentally ill don’t have diseases that will just disappear either.  And, the mentally ill won’t disappear, no matter how much we try to NOT talk about the issues that aren’t easy to face.  Don’t we all have the right for care, support, and understanding, regardless of where our disease or illness originates?  Don’t we all have the right to talk about our illnesses?  Our struggles?  Without stigma or shame? I believe we do.  And I’m going to keep doing it until everyone can do the same.

Kristi xoxo