October 2013 Column: Seriously

October 10th is World Mental Health Day..

You may be wondering what’s so funny about that. Simply put, nothing.

Mental illness is a silent disease that affects more people than many realize. Mental illnesses, such as depression, can be affecting your coworkers, your friends, your family … and you may not even know it.

Having a mental illness is nothing to be embarrassed about, although someone with a mental illness may see things differently.

And there are reasons for that. And they may not seem reasonable. And there are reasonable reasons for me to know these reasons. I have about 40 reasonable years of experience with these reasons.

And here they are.

The average person most likely does not understand just how difficult it is for someone suffering from depression to talk about it or to reach out to someone. How deep the fears go: the fear that people will either dismiss what the sufferer feels, or misunderstand, or belittle. Or the worst: reject them for reaching out. Or all of the above.

Worse is when the sufferer does finds someone they can talk to when they’re at their lowest … and knowing that eventually, they’ll use them up. It’s hard to talk to someone with depression; it’s hard not to just brush them off and tell them that everything will be okay, that they just need to cheer up; but it’s equally hard for the sufferer to hear these things, to have what they’re feeling, that which is hurting them so badly, dismissed as nothing more than just a phase they need to ‘snap out of.’

(If it was that easy why then would anyone have depression?)

There’s also the shame. The shame felt  in knowing that they’re not normal, that they’re broken, that seemingly nothing has been able to fix them. Shame in knowing that they should feel happy, but for some reason, they just can’t. The shame of not knowing why.

And, especially for the adult sufferer, the shame of needing help. The shame of having the black cloud of hopelessness and despair that is engulfing their mind seen by others as just the sufferer expressing “woe is me” once again.

Even professional help can be difficult to seek out. Even today, mental illness is often not considered a real sickness, even to the person who has it. And while there are medications that can help, it takes time for them to become effective, and sometimes even greater time to find one that works at all. It can be hard to hold onto hope for a treatment when there is already an overwhelming sense of hopelessness. Plus there are the demands and responsibilities of everyday life that are difficult or impossible to set aside for the length of time it may take to get better.

So depression becomes an ongoing game of hide and seek. Hiding true feelings when someone asks how the sufferer is doing, while desperately leaving just enough clues about how badly off they really are in hopes that someone will care enough to seek out what’s really going on. Learning how to hide behind a stoic and emotionless facade. Learning how to push their feelings down into their stomach just so they can get through their day. Learning how much easier it is to just lie to people, instead of letting them know how the sufferer really feels.

It’s so much easier to distance others and be alone. To suffer in silence. To put on a brave face and just reply that they’re ‘fine’ whenever someone asks how they are doing.

Maybe a sufferer will do bad things that the average person cannot understand. Maybe they’ll find a razor blade and quickly slash it across their skin in hopes that the physical pain will drown out the mental anguish. Maybe they’ll do it to punish themselves; because why would anyone have bad thoughts unless they are a bad person?

Maybe they’ll do it because they want someone to notice that they feel so terrible on the inside that they’ve made it visible on the outside. Maybe they are doing it for attention because they no longer know how else any more.

Clinical Depression is a cry for attention from someone who doesn’t want noticed. Depression is a soul-crushing blackness that’s hard to attribute to anything. Sufferers can laugh and still feel like they’re dying. Sufferers can have close friends that they love and still believe that the best thing they can do for these people they care so much about is to just disappear. That the greatest gift they can give someone is to remove themselves from their lives and no longer hold them back or bring them down.

Sufferers don’t always feel, or are able to accept, that anyone could possibly like them, or that they could be important to someone else. How could anyone possibly love someone like them? They’re damaged goods.

And damaged goods aren’t useful to anyone. Damaged goods just take up space.

Damaged goods need to be discarded.

The sufferer doesn’t always want to die so much as they want to live, just not like this.

Suicide is the greatest selfless selfish gift the sufferer can think to give. No one will miss the gray cloud that always ruins the sunny day.

The sufferer can’t stand themselves; so why would anyone else?

See, not everyone understands that even gray clouds can hope for the sun. All the sufferer wants is to be normal. Praying to a god they have no reason to believe in for something to change. Longing to feel what the average person feels. To know what happiness may be. To just not hurt anymore for no reason at all. To finally no longer be a burden. To accept that most times, the answers the sufferer so desperately needs are not the answers they’re going to hear. To be able to change their questions. To not second-guess the answers.

The answers the friend of a sufferer needs is that whenever you may hate them the most, that’s when someone with depression needs you more than ever.

And the sufferer will hate themselves for needing you more than you’ll ever know.

But please- don’t let that stop you.

People with a mental illness or struggling with depression can find it difficult to reach out for professional help. It may be too expensive, it may not be readily available when you badly need it, or you’ve come to belittle yourself and your illness to the point you can’t see why anyone would want to help someone whose problems are so insignificant in the comparison to the rest of the world.

Neither you nor your problems are insignificant. Please take the step to reach out, or call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for someone who will listen to you, and can help you find further help.

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