Stick Out Your Tongue and Say “Aaah…”

What’s going on?

This is only the second month since I resolved to write a blog post every month. I really haven’t wanted to write this month, but I’m not going back on my resolution, so I made a compromise: this blog post is about why I haven’t wanted to write.

The reason has a name: Depression.

I considered writing “I have depression” or “I’ve been diagnosed with depression” or “I’m battling/struggling/fighting/gerunding with depression” but none of those sentences fit. It’s part of me right now, and while it doesn’t define me (I wouldn’t say “I am depressed” the way I would say “I am a Christian” or “I am a geek”), I also can’t really treat  it as external. I won’t write a long essay here, but I want write about it, and to strike a balance between explaining it clearly – for those who don’t know much about it – and keeping it simple – to avoid turning this into a pity party.

The most obvious, immediate, significant symptom of depression for me is that I often don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to go to work and don’t want to do work while I’m there, but more than that, when I’m home and have free time, I don’t want to read, don’t want to play games, don’t want to do the things on my to-do list. When people invite me to do things, even things I sincerely enjoy, I often don’t want to go; I debated not going to Thanksgiving dinner this year. Other factors: short temper, heightened desire to avoid social interaction, loss of appetite, and difficulty concentrating. Often, I just want to sleep, or lay in bed staring at the ceiling and sighing dramatically.

I know how dumb that last part sounds. I didn’t just write that to be clever – it’s real, and it is dumb. It’s also really hard to resist.

Depression is complicated because often there’s no real cause. It’s not because of something that happened. It can be measured as a chemical imbalance in my brain, but that’s certainly not part of how I experience it, any more than I think “Oh no, my antibodies!” when I first get a cold. It’s complicated because I don’t know how to change it, and neither do my wife, my family, or the other people who care about me.

It’s also kind of a roulette wheel: today, I feel pretty good. This past week has been good. But I’ve had good weeks with bad days and bad weeks with good days, off an on with no pattern, since late September.

Why write about it?

Let me be clear that I’m not writing this for sympathy. There are two much better reasons:

Understanding people is important

Depression has significantly affected my behavior in the past few months, and I’m sure people have noticed and wondered. We benefit from candor about how our lives are going. We need to remind one another that life is a vast array of different experiences, and that human beings are complex people. You can’t understand me if you don’t know what’s in my life, and vice versa.

Normalizing mental illness is important

Recently, frank discussion of mental illness has increased, and that’s crucial. People need to empathize with one another, no matter what we’re going through. Whatever you know about me, whatever my relationship to you is, dear reader, depression hasn’t changed that. I am still the person you know and – hopefully – love. This circumstance is significant, and mental illness carries real weight, but we can’t define people by it. I know that I am safe to share these things; I know I will still be loved.

But I want to share for others, anyone who may be hiding a struggle from people who love them. Mental illness is normal; normal in that it is something that can happen to anyone, that like any physical illness it is not your fault, it is not something to be ashamed of, and it is not something to hide. We hope to overcome it, be free of it if we can, and be strong despite it — normal is not the same as good. But don’t let the confusion some people have over mental illness stop you from being honest about yourself.

Is that it?

No, but I’m already over 500 words, and I’ve said the important things: depression is part of my life right now, and that sucks but it’s not the end of the world. It’s okay to talk about it.

Thanks for listening.

P.S. Yes. the article title is a bad pun — because of tongue depressors. Yes, I’m that lame, and no, depression doesn’t change my sense of humor.

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