It was the day after I picked up my first prescription for antidepressants, and I was telling my mom about a movie I had seen recently, “The Skeleton Twins.” Having lost their father to suicide, the two main characters struggle with depression and thoughts of suicide throughout the film. After I described the plot, my mom said, “Oh, that’s good. When you get better you can write things like that to help others.”
I want to believe that her use of the word “when” was meant with the sincerest of hopes. I want to trust that she firmly believes that one day the fog I live in will clear up or at least that I will learn to navigate my life in spite of it. Some days are definitely brighter than others, but that fog is still always there, surrounding me.
I don’t want my depression to hold me back. I don’t want my low days to blur out the moments when I actually feel like I’m a part of the world rather than a removed observer. I don’t want to be accused of being lazy or moping around; I even kept my prescription receipt in my backpack the entire school year because I didn’t want my professors to think any subpar work I turned in was a sign of disrespect. I wanted to be able to show them, if necessary, that I was trying my best while adjusting to the medication.
Even though I don’t want to keep quiet about my struggles with depression and anxiety, the stigma surrounding these issues often keeps me silent. As much as I want to be honest about the fact that sometimes it’s hard for me to stay interested in life, part of me still hears this nearly instinctual internal voice saying, “Everyone gets it. You’re depressed. Stop bringing it up already.”
That voice didn’t start out as mine. It started as the voices of everyone who told me to stop complaining, to stop making excuses, to clean my room, or do all my homework already. For years, I didn’t have the words to express that I felt like I had a glass of water on my head and any sudden movements would cause a bigger mess than I could begin to fix. I never felt completely calm or safe in my own mind. It would take me hours to be able to focus on one assignment. No matter how I tried to explain myself, I was written off as simply choosing to not live up to my potential.
Part of me fears that my mom’s use of the word “when” implies that she believes the misconception that recovery is a one-way tunnel where eventually you’re out of the dark and you’ll never have to face it again. But living with depression and anxiety means waking up and never being completely sure if today will be up or down; often you aren’t even sure how the day was when you go to bed at night. While the lapses will never erase the victories, recovery is far from a neat and linear progression. Every new day is uncharted territory.
I’m scared to talk about my depression too much. I don’t want to get special treatment for waving my prescription receipt at my professors. As often as I am reminded that being honest is the first step to dismantling the stigma surrounding mental illness, I’m still scared. I’m scared that if I’m too honest about it, I’ll lose friends for sounding like a broken, whiny record. I can almost hear them asking me, “If you’ve really been on medication for a year, shouldn’t you be way better by now? Are you just refusing to feel better?”
That’s where depression and anxiety do the most damage; they try to trap me by zooming in on the lie that stigma screams: that we only ever get to speak up once, unless we want to be seen as hopeless, helpless, and completely at fault for our struggles. But we’re never beyond hope or help. Staying silent only allows the lies of stigma to keep speaking up against us. Nobody can tell your story better than you can. When watching what you say, remember to be honest.