I grew up in a family in which “your business” was never to be spoken outside the home. Being a writer with a mission to help others, you come to a point in your life when you began to weigh what is worth sharing and what isn’t. What do you believe you’ve been called to do and what will it cost? What matters in the whole scheme of things and what doesn’t? I firmly believe that living life in a shadow is about as toxic a life as you can live. Living in a shadow is why it was so difficult for me to ask for help.
Depression and Anxiety disorders are illnesses that no one wants to talk about because doing so signifies that you’re weak or, worse, crazy. The stigma is so strong that it kills 1 person every 13.3 minutes. In fact, 350,000,000 (yes million) people worldwide are affected by some form of depression that lasts longer than the typical and temporary “blues”. Unfortunately, many are also walking around in a state depression and either does not realize what it is or is in denial.
Having grown up in a large family and being an older sibling, I’ve been used to taking care of others. Having a baby at a young age pretty much sealed the bridge between childhood and adulthood because I was in constant responsibility for someone else. So being self-reliant was second nature for me. That all changed several years ago when I found myself dealing with a multitude of life-changing events. Being bombarded with constant bad news, pressure, and tragedy taxed my ability to weather the storms as I’d been used to doing in the past and asking for help was the furthest thing from my mind.
The problem wasn’t that no one was willing to help me—my sisters and best friend were always there for me. It was that I was so used to being independent and strong that it never occurred to me that I would ever be in a position of needing to reach out. My independence was born from being the third-born child (and the oldest girl) in a family of seven kids. That put me in the unique position of being almost a second parent in our household. I (and my oldest brother) was the one who helped our parents by teaching, protecting, comforting, and uplifting my younger siblings. I was to the ‘go to’ person and problem solver as well as the peace keeper.
So, when I began to struggle with toxic bosses, health and financial problems, and a sick relative within a short span of time I didn’t know how to cope. I just wore the mask. But over time it became too heavy because I found that I was constantly out of breath (even at rest), was nauseous all the time, and couldn’t sleep. I was sad, jumpy, irritable, and anxious. One day, after leaving work, while on the phone with my sister, she asked me why I was running. I told her I was driving—as in sitting down! She stated that I sounded like I was out of breath and hearing myself tell her that was ‘normal’ for me, is when I realized something was wrong and made a doctor appointment. In my doctor’s office I just didn’t have the energy to pretend any more. I got help and I told my family what I was dealing with because I needed them to help me carry the load.
I decided to speak out about depression because it bothers me that there’s such a terrible stigma behind it. I’ve heard some of my own friends declare that counselors and psychiatrists are “crazy”. I’ve heard them state that depression isn’t real or you should be able to “just get over it”. The opinions are even worse if you are a saved Christian. It lets me know what they’d really think of me if they knew I had—gasp—depression! It is this level of ignorance to which I speak out against. This is why every time we turn on the news either a famous person has killed themselves or someone has jumped off a bridge. They die because they can’t live in the shadows of shame any longer. They can no longer wear the “mask of happiness and contentment” for others. They can no longer live with the risk of judgment because they truly care about how others (friends, family, or even colleagues) think of them. I will no longer live in that shadow–but… I WILL LIVE.
We have to educate ourselves in whatever area it is that we wish to be of service to others. Learn the symptoms of depression so you can know how to be there for them when—or if—an episode occurs or, if you feel that you yourself may be suffering:
- you can’t sleep or you sleep too much
- you can’t concentrate or find that previously easy tasks are now difficult
- you feel hopeless and helpless
- you can’t control your negative thoughts, no matter how much you try
- you have lost your appetite or you can’t stop eating
- you are much more irritable, short-tempered, or aggressive than usual
- you’re consuming more alcohol than normal or engaging in other reckless behavior
- you have thoughts that life is not worth living (seek help immediately if this is the case)
Two weeks ago during a discussion about another stigmatized illness—AIDS (my oldest brother passed away in ’93), I said that cancer patients have it “good” in the sense that they receive so much love, support, and understanding when they reveal their illness. They go to chemo, shave their heads and proudly pose with family and friends. No one asks them “how did you get cancer?” The first thing I was asked when my brother died was “How did he get AIDS?” Does it really matter at the end of the day when the end result is just as dire as that of a cancer patient—death? Well, this is the same stigma attached to depression and depressive disorders. Does is really matter at the end of the day? Did it really matter for our war veterans, actors Robin Williams, Lee Thompson Young, or Phillip Seymour Hoffman? Or, designer L’Wren Scott or more recently Ms. Jessie’s co-founder Titi Branch? The how does not really matter. Only the cure matters along with love and support—as with any other illness. Love, understanding, and support. Unfortunately, it’s not a ‘visible’ condition as with AIDS or cancer. The “choice” to live is not so black and white—it’s more of a shadow of gray mixed with a lot of hope at the end of the tunnel.
I’ve learned what my triggers are and what helps (and what doesn’t). What I’ve also learned from this journey is that my STATE is not my TRAIT. I’m extremely intelligent, artistic, and talented. I’m educated and articulate, funny, caring, loving, and lovable. Depression does not define who I am. Rather I, in my authentic existence, do. My desire to help someone get help is much stronger than the anxiety that tempts me to remain silent.
If you feel that this relates to you, please seek help. Depression, indeed, carries with it the stigma that kills. Come out of the shadow and give yourself a chance to live.
Bolder Sisters do you or a loved one suffers from Depression and if so, how have you addressed it?
Kim Woods earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Information Systems at DeVry University. She developed a love for writing poetry and short stories as a child. Kim is socially conscience and her desire to use her life experiences to help others is what drives her to seek opportunities to share her story. She decided to write freelance for the Bolder Sister because it is her desire that women evolve and thrive in their own authentic truth.
Kim resides in Chicago, Illinois and has one son, Donald. In addition to writing, she spends free time creating unique wall art, decorating, and teaching herself how to sculpture.