Discussing Depression Over Dinner

By Seamus KirstApril 19, 2018

While I was at dinner with two friends, the topic of mental illness and treatment arose. All three of us had openly struggled with both depression and anxiety, but our thoughts on treatment, particularly in regards to antidepressants, were vastly different.

“I wouldn’t go on them,” said the first friend.

“I would go on them, but just until I felt better,” said the second.

My take: Antidepressants are part of my livelihood.

I have been taking antidepressants on and off my entire life, and since deciding to take them consistently nearly three years ago, my life has turned around. I expect to be on them forever.

When it comes to medication, people’s opinions are often polarizing. Antidepressants are not for everyone; many people are fortunate to consider it a last resort, or don’t even suffer from mental illness at all.

For me, medication is a part of a more comprehensive treatment plan to avoid falling back into the throes of the major depression that I know always lingers beneath the surface of my delicately balanced equilibrium.

I remember what it feels like to be unwell.

For as far as my memory extends, I recall always feeling a haunting sadness, a darkness that seemed ever-present…

Of course, there were times when the depression was more prevalent than others, but—nevertheless—it was always there.

I compare the onset of a particularly heavy spell of depression to a thick fog that rolled through unexpectedly; it left me feeling weighed down and trapped, a hostage to my own mind.

I remember days, weeks, and months where it felt like I was separated from life by a sheet of plexiglas: I could see what was going on and (mostly) keep up with the world, but everything felt muffled and blurry. The worst depression is not sadness; it is numbness, a haunting apathy and hopelessness. When you fall to that place, it is nothing except empty darkness.

Though I could always feel it, my depression was not always easy to see from the outside. To a maniacal degree, I always pushed myself to excel.

I was high school valedictorian. I was class president. I had many friends. I graduated from Brown University. I held several jobs and showed up and did my work.

Perhaps, on paper, I don’t match the assumed image of what it looks like to have a mental illness.

Yet without a doubt, I know I have a mental illness.

I am not sad. I am not going through a phase that I will outgrow; I have major depressive disorder. No matter how happy I am, how many of my goals I achieve, I know I will always have depression. I do not mean that to be defeatist, I mean it to be pragmatic. My depression is manageable. If I take antidepressants, go to therapy, exercise and abstain from drugs and alcohol, then I am not only able to function, I am able to thrive.

But, on the flipside, if I do not pay attention to my mental health, if I do not do what I need to do, I am aware of where my emotional health can go.

I know because I have been there. I spent so many years denying that I was depressed. I spent so many years resisting therapy and medication. I believed they were punitive, or unnecessary. I thought it was unfair that I had to go through such measures to create a stable emotional baseline, where most of my friends just naturally found themselves there.

That period of my life was turbulent. It can be defined by suicide attempts and substance abuse; by eating disorders and emotionally paralyzing spells of depression; by dysfunctional relationships and general despair. I have had my life commandeered, and almost taken, by my mental illness.

Though I am not afraid to admit that I am mentally ill, I understand why people are: Mental illness is still stigmatized. Nationally, we mostly speak about mental illness in the wake of tragedies or “high-profile” deaths by suicide. And historically, when people suffered from mental illness, they were shipped off to devastating institutions. As a result, in today’s society, people might worry that they’d lose jobs, friendship or romantic relationships if they were honest about their mental health struggles.

But here’s the thing, mental illness is common: According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “One in 5 adults experiences a mental health condition every year. One in 17 lives with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.”

One of the worst parts of mental illness is this idea of isolation and silent suffering, the belief that your feelings and behaviors are wrong, that they must be hidden and denied.

The only way we are going to make this better is by having honest dialogues about what we, or our loved ones, need to be healthy.

Therapy and medication aren’t punishments, and they shouldn’t be luxuries either. For many people, they are necessary for survival—and certainly necessary for having a high quality of life.

Mental illness should be treated like physical illness; there is nothing to be ashamed about. You shouldn’t have to share your diagnosis, but you shouldn’t feel like you have to hide it either. Having a mental illness does not make you weak, and it does not make you a bad or dangerous person.

It makes you a person with a unique set of challenges, but they involve obstacles that can be worked through, and–if not completely overcome—then at least managed.

We have come too far to have people silently suffering. We have come too far to have people feel alone.

I hope conversations like the one I had with my friends becomes more common—that even if uncomfortable initially—mental illness becomes a conversation that can be had at a dinner table.

Change can only come once taboo is removed; progress can only be made once people feel comfortable being honest.

​A version of this essay is included in Seamus Kirst’s memoir, Shitfaced: Musings of a Former Drunk. You can follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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Comments (4)

  1. anonymous#5442

    I’m 14 and struggling with depression. I started to feel like this when I was around 10, but started to realize around 2-3 years later. I was around 11 or 12 years old when I first starting harming, my story of self-harm is vary much like yours, it started small but it has now progressed…. One day I came to school the morning after the night, I was really quite and kept to myself that morning but half way into 1st period i got mad at a girl that kept asking about my wrist, so i yelled at her but i truly didn’t mean to i was just tired of people asking what happened or why. My teacher was walking over to our table to see what was wrong but before she had got to the table she saw and went to her desk and called the school counselor and told her what she saw so I went to the counselor and talked about why I was harming and what triggers the need or feeling to harm. But the thing is, I don’t really know what is the need for me to self-injure or what really triggers me to feel so numb and empty… and if you are wondering yes the counselor contacted my mom and family about the situation. My mom and family has or is slowly forgetting about me and harming myself … im hinting at it but they don’t realize what i’m hinting at, so I did end up saying to my mom a few days ago was that I need help because she saw the pen marks on my wrist she said “why are you doing that? that doesn’t look right.” I responded with, “It’s how I cope with my urges to self-injure…,mom I told you i need help…” she said back “That’s the schools job! /the schools suppose to do that!” I told her ” you gotta be joking?! YOU’RE MY MOM!!! NOT THE SCHOOL!!!” she told me “you act like i don’t have a job and other children to take care of !!! “…. i cried myself to sleep that night because it made me feel like i mean nothing to her…or to anyone…I still feel like that…… I don’t know what to do at this point, I’m just wanting give up… can you or someone give me some advice..please..?

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      Hi friend.

      We are so sorry to hear about what you’re going through. It’s never easy to reach out for help, but when you’re met with little support, it’s even harder. Please know that we see and hear you. And you are deserving of help.

      Would you email our team at [email protected] so we can provide you with some support? We also hope that you will reach out to Crisis Text Line by sending TWLOHA to 741741 when you are struggling with thoughts of self-harm. You will be connected to a trained counselor free of charge almost immediately. They are there for you. We are here for you. You are not alone. Thank you for sharing part of your story. Your bravery and courage is inspiring.

      With Hope,

      Reply  |  
  2. Delores

    Agree with everything said above -.recurrent depression is devastating – comes so quickly – you exist – you are not alive – life is hell – you hope the medication , therapy and exercise eventually works – why do people not understand that it is not your fault – you do not want to be like this and live this sort of life – why . Oh why are you unwell again !

    Reply  |  
  3. @inchrysalis

    Thanks. Speaking as someone who just took the ultimate step in seeking wellness, when I hear about people who refuse to take medication I have to say it baffles me completely.

    Reply  |  
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