I burst into tears as I answered the intake questions for UAB psychiatry. “I’m sad, and I’m having trouble getting up off the bathroom floor to work, and I think maybe I need help—and maybe the fact that I’m crying is proof,” I said. The man on the other end of the line quickly identified a psychologist he thought would be a good fit and scheduled my appointment.
I had been self-identifying my depression for 16 years before I placed that call, and before my first appointment ended, my therapist affirmed my diagnosis. “It sounds to me like you have a family history of depression, likely caused by a chemical imbalance but exacerbated by circumstances. I also think you have seasonal affective disorder. Does this sound right to you?” I loved that she gave me space to disagree, but I didn’t need to. Her words—and the treatment that followed—offered freedom.
In the years since, I’ve been on a small but important personal mission to help break through the stigma associated with mental-health issues. It’s hard to say what would have been different if I had sought help earlier. I’m not 100 percent confident in saying that the stigma was all that held me back. But I’ve always been scared to admit imperfection, even when flaws are beyond my control.
I’ve learned that things I thought were simply part of my personality were actually symptoms I didn’t have to live with. (Did you know it’s not normal to cry at least monthly for no apparent reason? I didn’t.) Taking a small, daily dose of an anti-depressant isn’t a big deal; as one friend noted, if I were diabetic I wouldn’t aim to get off of insulin. That shift in perspective is significant, and the symptoms of depression seem to show up when I lose perspective. Twice-monthly therapy appointments have helped me build healthy coping skills. Rather than believe the lies I tell myself, I’ve learned to articulate them to a friend. Although I still face insecurities (hi, I’m human), I know how to deal and don’t let them define me. When I hear how ridiculous it sounds, negative self talk loses its power.
Sertraline and therapy have been a regular part of my life for the past two years, and people find it difficult to believe I am actually depressed. My therapist says I’m in remission, for lack of a better term. Friends say it takes strength to admit when you need help. Although I agree, I wouldn’t have phrased it that way at the time. I simply knew I couldn’t walk through my depression alone.
Depression can be debilitating, but it doesn’t have to be. Let people into your life, and ask for help when and if you’re able.
Would you be willing to share your experience with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or other mental-health illness? Email me at cjATcarlajeanwhitleyDOTcom. I’d love to share your experience as a guest post.