Apr. 24, 2014

Guest Column: Depression isn’t just in your head

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December 4, 2013

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It is an injury; you wouldn’t just tell yourself that your broken arm is “all inside my head.”

It is an illness; you wouldn’t expect yourself to go about your regular routine if you’re plagued with a horrible flu.

Yet, why is it that depression — a severe injury that leaves you crippled, and an illness that sickens your mentality — is treated by society as such a mundane and almost fictional entity despite the innumerable publications of textbooks, pamphlets and articles?

I believe that people are still ashamed of owning depression.

I am scared, in part, to admit to this in writing, because by some flawed logic in my mind, this makes it real, but the saying Mom used to tell me that got me through my darkest days is, “Acknowledge the fear, then do whatever it is that scares you anyway.”

So here goes.

In my mind, I own my depression. Some days it owns me, and while it does not define me, it builds on my identity. It is the reason why I care so passionately about everyone I meet, and it is the reason why I have found friends in my life that are my soul mates.

In your life, you’re going to face some form of depression, whether it be manifested in your co-worker, professor, father, roommate or your own mind, so here are some personal things I wish more people understood about the disease:

Myth No. 1: “Depression is just extreme sadness. You’re not looking on the bright side of life! Just change your outlook and learn to appreciate the little beauties of the world.”

Fact: This is like telling a blind person to just try really hard to see colors. It isn’t an outlook or a personality type. Depression is a mental state of being, and the brain chemistry of a depressed individual dictates that no matter how many puppies you cuddle, how many summer nights you spend watching the stars, or how many loving people are in your life, you will not feel surrounded by any beauty in the world.

How to help: Listen, or tell your story. I go out of my way to hear the stories of others. Depression can trap you in a cyclic victimized state, but I find that when I talk to people who have experienced other clinical mental illnesses and I see how they’ve coped, I learn my many options and feed off the strength of these incredible people. Hear their story, tell yours, and appreciate the ability you have to even vocalize your thoughts and acknowledge the strength you have to talk, because that is one of the most beautiful things in the world, and it’s inside you.

Myth No. 2: “It’ll pass; just give it time.”

Fact: Depression will always exist once it manifests itself in you, because it forever changes your outlook and leaves some sort of imprint on you. However, it can go into remission, and you can shake off the perpetual melancholy.

How to help: You have to figure out your method for coping; everyone’s different when it comes to choosing how to go about this daunting task. You can choose to reach out (1-800-273-TALK), see a therapist, get medication, become passionately engrossed in your sport, or run away and perform in the circus. Do whatever works for you (as long as it’s healthy), and do not apologize for it. If it’s healthy, and it helps you feel whole, it will give you a reason to overcome this, and you can overcome this to the point where it won’t hurt you anymore.

Myth No. 3: “My depression is not a problem because it only affects me.”

Fact: Yes, you do suffer the most from your depression, but there are many others who are affected by your illness as well.

How to help: It wasn’t until I reached my lowest point that I realized that my illness, not me, is what causes those who love me pain. There will be a point, early, late or even throughout your path towards recovery when you do not want to reach a healthy and happy state for yourself, and that is okay. Do it for someone else. Personally, I do it for my beautiful teammates and brilliant coaches who are relying on me not to hinder our goals as a unit. I do it for my family members who have fought through it with me, and my friends, who haven’t stopped loving me, even when I stop loving myself. There are a thousand reasons to recover from whatever you face. Make a list of the people who made you feel happiness, print a photo of that genuine moment where you felt on top of the world, and keep them in your wallet to look at on the go when you feel hopeless. They are your reasons.

Myth No. 4: “This is my fault.”

Fact: Stop. Stop that right now. All the logic in the world to support the belief that this illness is your fault is wrong and irrational.

How to help:  I don’t want to blame my depression. I don’t want to use it as an excuse for why I can’t meet a deadline, why I cancel plans some nights to stay in alone, or why I can’t focus as well as the other TWAMPS in my study group. At the same time, clinically, depression is to blame. This is depression’s fault, not yours.

Cut yourself some slack. If you, or someone in your life is facing depression, please acknowledge that the origin of it is beyond your control, and has already happened. Now you must move forward, and whatever blame you place on yourself, you must recognize it is irrational.

Lastly, if you are like me and often read the first few sentences of any article and skip to the last part, this is the most important offering I have to anyone facing depression: Forgive yourself. You are here because you are strong, courageous and brave: a warrior.

Forgive yourself and treat yourself kindly.

Email Daniella Aron-Schiavone at draronschiavon@email.wm.edu.

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Daniella Aron-Schiavone

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