I am depressed and I’m happy

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.


Oasis Counseling

UAB Psychiatry

Alabama Psychiatric Services

National Alliance on Mental Illness


Filed under Autobiography, Insecurity

8 Responses to I am depressed and I’m happy

  1. Laura Sibley

    I’m working on an audio piece–one that I’m not sure I’ll ever finish. But I’d love to share it with anyone who’s interested once/if it’s finished.

  2. Tanya Ott

    I’m curious, Laura… Who’s your audio piece for?

  3. Laura Sibley

    It’s an independently-produced piece at the moment.

  4. You are so very courageous! As you know, mental illness was a huge part of my life from 16 years old until I was 23. I still struggle at times to combat it, but I feel like I have been set free! It is hard for me to even remember what I went through during those years. Thanks for sharing your story. As always, I am happy to share mine, too!

  5. Thank you for sharing this! I am close to a few people who suffer from depression, and I have always hoped that they could turn to me when they need to. I try to remember that this isn’t something people can just “snap out of,” that it goes deeper than that. But I’m sure I have a lot to learn to understand depression, and I hope anyone I meet who suffers from it will feel comfortable in helping me learn more. This post is a great way to help break the stigma!

    • Thanks, Jen. It’s important for people who don’t face these issues to seek to understand, as well. You’re exactly right that it’s not something you can just snap out of. But it’s also hard to understand what a depressed person is facing when you haven’t been through it, and I think it’s valuable for people who HAVE been through it to help. It is HARD to be there for someone who is depressed because we don’t always want help or want to believe the supportive messages you share. But it’s important to have you there just the same.

  6. Brandi Koonce

    Thanks for this. 🙂

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