Depression Awareness month is almost over, but the struggle continues

I posted a version of this blog on Facebook after the world lost Robin Williams in August. I shared it there and only with friends, as I tend to do when something feels too personal for the rest of the world.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons | Photo by Eva Rinaldi | Robin Williams at the Happy Feet Two Australian Premiere 2011. Williams death on Aug. 11, 2014 was ruled a suicide. His wife stated he had been battling severe depression prior to his death.

Wikimedia Commons | Photo by Eva Rinaldi | Robin Williams at the Happy Feet Two Australian Premiere 2011. Williams death on Aug. 11 was ruled a suicide. His wife stated he had been battling severe depression.

But, October is, among many other things, National Depression Awareness month, and it would be selfish of me to not share my own experiences and know that someone, somewhere may have benefited if I had.

As I read conversations in my newsfeed in the days following Williams’ death, I found myself glad that most of the discussions about depression and suicide had been so respectful of each other’s opinions and thoughts.

But at the same time, I was reminded just how much mental illness and issues are stigmatized. Some of the conversations also painted a very clear picture about just how hard it is to share what depression and thoughts about suicide and self-harm are with someone who has not experienced it themselves.

It’s frustrating, like I imagine trying to describe colors to a blind person or specific sounds to a deaf person would be. How do you make someone understand when they have no point of reference? How can someone understand that the worst “sad” they’ve felt only begins to scratch the surface of what you feel at your rock-bottom?

Still, I would rather struggle to explain it than to have them know the absolute hell depression is.

I can’t speak for everyone, but I can share my experience. I’ve suffered from different levels of depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, it manifested as debilitating shyness and loneliness. The first time someone actually asked me if I was depressed was in high school. After one of my teachers died, my mom became concerned with how much I was sleeping and talked to the school counselor. I cringe remembering the complete embarrassment I felt knowing my friends knew I had been called to the counselor’s office to discuss my “issues.” I cringe again today remembering how completely awkward that meeting was.

Senior year, right when I was learning how to monitor my emotions.

Senior year, right when I was learning how to monitor my emotions. It’s also when I randomly decided to chop off all my hair. Not sure if the two were connected.

It was the first time I felt I had to work harder to be “normal” to avoid having to talk to someone about my feelings. I realize now that was the first time I consciously trained myself to lie to avoid examination. As I grew older, I became better and better at hiding behind a mask, even though I hated what I was inside: sick and broken.

I’m not exaggerating when I say “sick.” At the very worst of my depression, my whole body ached, like I had the flu. Imagine the worst break-up you’ve ever had. That tightness around your heart, the dizziness, the nausea in the pit of your stomach, the headaches, the feeling that everything was wrong … imagine those feelings each encompassing your whole body, for days, weeks, months. On really bad days, colors feel dull, sounds seem muffled and you feel like you’re being suffocated by your own skin.

Worse than that, you don’t KNOW why you feel this way. In fact, there may be NOTHING in your life to justify feeling like this. Which means you don’t know how to fix it and you don’t know how long it will last. It also means you can’t sufficiently explain to those increasingly frustrated people around you why you can’t just “cheer up” and why their efforts to do it for you are pointless and doing more harm than good. I can’t count high enough to tell you how many times I’ve said, “I’m just tired” so the questions would stop.

You feel awkward, out of place and like a failure. Sometimes, you want, Want, WANT to be happy, but you just CAN’T. You can see how uncomfortable people are around you and you can see how much you’re disappointing them by not being happy.

You’re angry with them for not understanding that you’re trying, GOD, you’re trying so hard, to be happy. You’re angry at them for being selfish enough to assume that their happiness and comfort is more important than yours. You’re angry at them for trying to “fix” you instead of just letting you know they’re not going to leave and that they care. You’re angry with yourself for not being able to just GET OVER IT. You’re angry with yourself for being selfish in wanting to make your own choices, whether it be to be happy, or sad, or here, or gone.

You feel like a waste of space part of the time, a failure for another part and an actor for the rest. Because at some point, you just give up trying to get others to understand. Usually when you realize that people are tired of your, for lack of a better word, “bullshit.”

It’s then that you also give up trying to actually be happy, because trying for genuine happiness is pointless. But, if you’re like me, you’re a pretty damn good actor. You can fake it. You can act happy, smile, act silly and force yourself to act what everyone else calls “normal.” You hide the panic attacks and the tears and the self-destructive behavior. And it’s crazy, because it WORKS. They believe you.

But it’s exhausting. So exhausting. There are cracks in the mask. And at the worst times, like when you’re extremely stressed at work or after an argument or even when some random person is a jerk to you at WalMart, you have a meltdown. Or maybe you drink too much and you spend a few hours freaking out a loved one by uncontrollably crying and screaming about how unhappy you are.

Each time, you realize again just what a failure, a burden, a disappointment you are. The shame and guilt from the moments of pain you’ve caused are unbearable. And in those moments, there’s a voice in your head, sometimes screaming, sometimes whispering: If you loved them enough, you’d stop hurting them over and over and OVER AND OVER again. Wouldn’t a temporary state of pain after you’re gone be better for them than the lifetime of pain you’re causing now?

Because regardless of how selfish and cowardly people may think you are, you do love them. So much it’s its own kind of pain.

You live with these thoughts alone, because, in addition to hating the thought of being a burden to your loved ones, you don’t want others to know just how much of a “freak” you are. Let’s face it: once you’re labeled “crazy,” that’s what you’ll be remembered for above all else. From that point on, it will be the first thing people think of when you’re upset, sad, mad, or being irrational. Sometimes, even when you’re happy, they’ll think it.

Asking for help was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. Sharing all of this with you is just as hard. It took me all week, going back and forth, trying to find reasons to write something else, before I finally hit the publish button.

But sharing is the only way we’ll stop allowing the monster that is depression grow stronger in the dark. Sharing and knowing we’re not alone in our struggles are the only ways some of us will find strength to stick around.

I used to think suicide was selfish. In fact, I remember vividly calling people who “made that choice” cowards. But now that I’ve been through my own hell, I know better. I was one of the lucky ones who has been able to claw my way out, with help from my family and friends who have the love and patience to deal with my ups and downs. I’ve been able to do it without medication or actual therapy, but I know that everyone is different.

Among others, my brother and sister are two of the reasons I mostly stay happy nowadays. Thank you guys.

Among others, my brother and sister are two of the reasons I mostly stay happy nowadays. Thank you guys.

I’m happier now than I’ve been in a long time. Genuinely happy, for the most part. But I know that I will always have that broken piece inside me and that awful voice hiding in my head. I know that all it takes is a bad day to make me start to slide back and I know that I have to fight with everything I have, sometimes for days in a row, to keep it at bay. For now, I’m winning. Hopefully it will stay that way.

My heart breaks for Robin Williams, for his family and for anyone else who has lost the fight, because I’m sure both they and their families fought for as long and as hard as they could. But it all also scares me. Because in the end, no matter how much happiness, money, love, power or fight some people have … sometimes, it’s still not enough.

But I’m going to keep fighting, and I hope you will, too. If any of this sounds familiar, know that I’m here. I may not know exactly what you’re going through, and I’m no doctor, but if you’re feeling awful, scared, lost or any of the other words depression hides behind, I’m here.

I’m here if you need to talk or get out or just … be. I won’t be able to fix you, or you me, but together, maybe, we can deal with whatever may come.

I’m here.

Hugs and zombies: A look at The Walking Dead

As you already know, I love pickles and a good pen. But as I’ve said, there are countless other things I also love. One of those is The Walking Dead. I also love hugs.

And man, there were some good hugs in the season five premiere.

http://caryl-mcreedus.tumblr.com/ | Like the hug that came after this look. Yeah.

caryl-mcreedus.tumblr.com | Like the hug that came after this look. Yeah.

Don’t get me wrong, there was more to the episode than hugs. Zombies, for example. But the hugs are what stuck with me long after I watched the episode.

For those of you who have managed to avoid TWD, the show is based on a series of graphic novels of the same name and  follows a group of people  trying to survive among the walkers – re-animated corpses who attack and eat anything living. Along the way, they also must deal with the living, who are more often than not even more dangerous.

TWD  is one of the most popular shows on TV. The season five premiere this Sunday broke its previous ratings and Twitter records, bringing in an estimated 17.3 million viewers, 1.32 million tweets and dominating all 10 trending topics on Twitter in the U.S.

Yeah, it’s a pretty big deal. Seasons one through four are on Netflix. I’ll wait here until you’re caught up.

Done? Let’s get on with season five (proceed at your own risk – spoilers are coming).

Frank Ockenfels 3/AMC | This is Carl. Or, if you'e a Bad Lip Reading fan, Carl Poppa.

AMC | This is Carl. Or, if you’re a Bad Lip Reading fan, Carl Poppa.

After spending the last few weeks re-watching all of the seasons, I was more than ready for the premiere. After a season on the farm and another at the prison, I, like many others, expected most of the season to focus on Terminus. But Carol made short work of that.

Remember when Carol was the weak, meek, battered housewife? I barely do. She’s come a long way.

Which brings us to our first hug of the episode: Carol and Daryl. There may or may not have been tears at our house when that hug happened. It was the culmination of four seasons of waiting and watching the characters grow, both individually and together, seeing them ripped apart and then finally, FINALLY, getting confirmation that no matter how broken two people can be, they can still find a way to make each other complete.

caryl hug

smoldyland.tumblr.com | Look at that hug: that run; those faces; that tightness; the head drop on her shoulder after.

They put everything into that hug. From the way Daryl’s expressions slips into shock and the way he runs to Carol, as if he can’t quite get to her fast enough, to the smile on her face and the way he grips the back of her head – the emotion is overwhelming. The impact is even bigger when you remember just how much Daryl has always balked at displaying affection or touching other people.

Regardless of any criticisms you have about the show, you can’t deny the talent of these actors. Anybody can read a script and follow directions. But rarely does a performance make me feel that tightness in my chest, that lump in my throat, and make me really believe that these characters, not the actors, but the actual characters, exist. They’re no longer Norman Reedus and Melissa McBride. They ARE Daryl Dixon and Carol Peletier.

It didn’t stop there. Hug number two happened seconds later after Rick (Andrew Lincoln) asks Carol if she’s the reason they escaped.

Thank goodness for Carol.

ghostlygrimes.tumblr.com |Thank goodness for Carol.

I already knew Lincoln could act, especially after season one when Rick unexpectedly finds his family and then again in season three when his wife dies. The way he hugs Carol makes you realize all is forgiven and our group is (maybe) going to be OK.

His skills are again evident in the third hug, this time when he embraces his infant daughter whom he believed to be dead. He runs with the same abandon and disbelief Daryl did. You can tell there is nothing he wants more than his arms around Judith.

the-walking-dead-art.tumblr.com/

the-walking-dead-art.tumblr.com | It reminds me of the hug in season one that he gave Carl.

With that, we get to our final hug: the one between Tyreese (Chad Coleman) and his sister, Sasha (Sonequa Martin-Green). Neither of these characters are from the original group of survivors, but they’ve grown to be a part of the mismatched family to which we’ve  become attached. And while their hug is not as dramatic or drawn out, it’s the laugh-sob that comes from Sasha that gets me, along with the realization that I’d react the exact same way if it were my brother or sister and I.

Here's I am giving Johnny a strangle-hug. Love you, too, brother.

Here I am giving Johnny a strangle-hug. Love you, too, brother.

That right there is why I think the show resonates so much with people and why it’s been a huge success. The story (and the comic books, for that matter) has always been about the people, the living ones.

The dead are just another obstacle they face in their attempt to survive. The story is about the people who do so, the relationships they forge, and the choices they have to make to avoid death (whether it be their actual death or even worse, their emotional death). Combine this with a group of actors who so phenomenally breathe life into the characters and it’s no wonder people can’t help but tune in each Sunday.

http://the-walking-dead-art.tumblr.com/  | The greatest thing you'll ever learn, Is just to love and be loved in return.

the-walking-dead-art.tumblr.com | The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return.

They force the viewer to ask themselves how THEY would react if thrust into a wrecked world. Would they hold on to their humanity, despite seeing the worst in people who relish the lack of rules? What would they sacrifice to keep their parents, their siblings, their children, safe from those that would do the worst to them? How would they react when reunited with those they thought were dead?

When everything else is gone, all that’s left are the relationships we’ve built and the impact we’ve made on the people around us. That’s what TWD has shown me. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the season will bring.

Now where the heck is Beth?

the-walking-dead-art.tumblr.com | Now where the heck is Beth?

Give people a chance. C’mon. Do it.

They're not frowning at you. My family just frowns sometimes. OK, A lot.

They’re not frowning at you. My family just frowns sometimes. OK, A lot.

Sometimes when I interact with certain people, I wonder just how exhausting it must be to live their life. It’s not because they have a full schedule or because they have a physically demanding job.

It’s because of the amount of mental effort they put into being suspicious of everyone and everything around them.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that the world is perfect and all people are inherently good. I’m a reporter, more specifically, a breaking news reporter. It’s my job to notice the awful, crooked and corrupt. I see, hear and write about horrible things all of the time.

In my free time, I spend way too much time reading Reddit and watching YouTube videos and if I ever had a doubt in my mind that horrible people exist in this world, the proof is right there in the comments.

Some people are really awful.

This guy doesn't dislike you. He loves everyone. Just ask him. Also check out #badgerBS every Tuesday on www.acranger.com!

This guy isn’t awful. And he doesn’t dislike you. He loves everyone. Just ask him. Also, check out #badgerBS every Tuesday on http://www.acranger.com!

But I also know that the loudest voices are those of extremes. You don’t hear about people who are just being decent, living their lives, taking care of business. Every once in a while, you hear of something extraordinarily good. But mostly, you hear about the people who are yelling racial slurs and obscenities, and the people who are killing, cheating, lying and raping. Those are the types of things that leave a permanent mark.

The thing is, just because you hear about these things more often doesn’t mean that that’s all there is in the world. Just because there is a racist jerk on YouTube that says he’s from Texas doesn’t mean the rest of us are. Just because there is corruption in one police department, doesn’t mean there is in all of them.

Just because someone once said something awful to you, whether it be about your gender, your sexuality, your race, your religious beliefs or any of the other millions of things that make you YOU, doesn’t mean the rest of the world feels the same way.

I can’t imagine living like this. I chose to believe people are not malicious by nature. To constantly assume the worst in everyone and everything would crush me, exhaust me, break me. No one should live like that.

Again. no judgment here. He just really loves his shades.

Again. no judgment here. He just really loves his shades.

With the exception of a few people, most are actually pretty decent. Not perfect, but decent. Instead of thinking that everyone is out to be a jerk, remember that everyone will sometimes make mistakes and most will say or do things without realizing it will offend someone else.

They are not perfect and neither are you. Unless you ask them if they sincerely meant to offend you or hurt you, stop making assumptions that that is their intent.
Has someone explicitly told you that they hate you or wish harm upon you? If so, I’m sorry. I am.

But they’re one person, not the whole world. Quit giving everyone else the same, suspicious glare.

Give them a chance. After all, they’re giving you one, too.