Usually our posts here aren’t too personal. Today we’re going to walk down that road for a bit-and it’s a bit of a dark one.
Today I read an amazing post by The Minds Journal. It was “10 Things You Should Never Say To A Depressed Person.” They gave not only what NOT to say, but suggestions on what you can say instead. While we have many readers who have depression, not all of you do. Those that do, you read these lists and go “YES! Exactly what I want people to understand.” For those who don’t, you can’t always wrap your head around WHY it’s a bad thing to say. I’d like to share a personal story on the detrimental effect your words can have.
#5 on the list? “Just Be Happy.”
I was 17 and starting college. I moved away from my family, a very large crew, very in touch with each other, that almost reached My Big Fat Greek Wedding proportions. I was away from my friends and in a brand new place. Of course, one of the first things I did was meet a guy. While our romantic relationship was short, our friendship was longer, and his effect on my life was everlasting – and not in a good way.
During my first year of college I suffered from depression. Mild at first, then growing. This boy who I had so much faith in kept telling me I needed to “wake up happy.” That I made myself depressed. That I had a choice. I didn’t tell my best friend about feeling depressed. I was pretending as much as I could that I wasn’t miserable and lonely and on the edge of that black hole.
I spent the summer not at home recuperating with friends and family, but up north working for the 4-month break at an outdoor centre/summer camp. Most of the staff had been campers and knew each other for 10+ years. I made little to no friends. Because of the location, I couldn’t travel to see my family on the days off – it was too far and I couldn’t afford the $80 one-way bus ticket. I spent a few of my off weekends, onsite. Alone.
When I started back in September, I was in a bad way. I was excited to get back to the friends I had made, and to start rebuilding the self-esteem that had been destroyed by the snobs I had worked with (don’t you love when walls are thin and you can hear every insult and gossip about yourself?)
Back at school, due to the dropout rate, our program which had three groups and three sets of timetables had been reshuffled into two. All my friends were in one, and I went to the other.
By November, I had stopped going to most of my classes. I drank far too much and slept the rest of the time. I only went to the practicum time in the lab, where there was no one around – focussing on designing the newspaper was therapeutic. But even that wasn’t keeping me up. A Halloween party where no one came to our apartment and less-than-stellar roommates and I was headed down.
I stood on my 14th story balcony, and told myself how yes everyone would miss me, and it was a permanent solution to a temporary problem – but I didn’t really care because it would be over. My family would hurt for sure, and I probably had friends who would miss me, but my pain was stronger than wanting to live for them.
Someone intervened, and I didn’t jump.
The next day, I went straight to the school clinic, and told them everything. Amazing how quick the implications of suicide make people act. A little while later, the program coordinator approached me and wanted to know what was going on. Why I was never in class, and when I was I was back mouthing teachers, and what happened to someone who was such a great student the year before. I told her what was going on, and I was switched into the section with my friends.
I’m lucky. I’m lucky that I had a mentor at school who cared about me, and who was willing to make changes to help me get better. I was lucky that I got a doctor who believed in mental illness, and depression and who took the proper actions, as opposed to ones who refuse to recognize it properly.
I didn’t get better right away. I had a roommate who always told me that she didn’t believe mental illness was a thing. Over the next year and a half, I had a lot of ups and downs, and stopped taking my medication. I went back down – but this time, my family and my best friend knew what to look for.
My best friend in college had also had depression and never made me feel like less of a person. Once she knew that I wasn’t okay, she made every effort to try and help me stay okay – and help me through the times I wasn’t.
I was in my early twenties when I finally found myself grounded and not in a depression. Since then, at the slightest sign of depression a doctors appointment is made. I don’t keep toxic friends or family in my life, and only keep people who recognize and accept that mental illness is real.
I’ve based my friend choices on my college BFF, she’s become the marker of love and support that I know means a person will be a healthy addition to my life. This year, that BFF is the Maid-of-Honour in my wedding.
But I’m lucky. I’m lucky that someone intervened on that balcony. If they hadn’t, my family would be one person smaller. There would be no one planning a wedding this July with Mr. Sparkles. There would be a few volunteers that wouldn’t have been recruited, and number girls who would be a out a leader. There wouldn’t be Life With Illness.
When you’re face to face with someone whose illness you can’t see, have never heard of, or just don’t understand – don’t try to rationalize it into YOUR way of thinking, open your way of thinking to understand them.