I first realised that being open about my depression might not be such a bad thing while in hospital receiving treatment for the most debilitating episode I’ve ever experienced (and there have been a few).
At my absolute lowest point, virtually unable to talk to my husband, incapable of looking after my kids or doing any of the myriad things that we all take for granted when we’re well, I came to the conclusion that hiding wasn’t helping me anymore. The difference that decision has made, both to my recovery and my outlook, has been phenomenal.
I first 'came out' on Facebook
I remember clearly when I first ‘came out’. It was on Facebook, a simple post about where I was and why. The response that I got was amazing, and wonderful, and liberating. I didn’t have to hide any more. Everyone knew and nothing changed. From then on there was a steady stream of calls, texts, messages and visitors. Some days I felt up to it, some days I didn’t, but the important thing was, I knew people were there, and I knew they cared.
When I was discharged, although a lot better than when I’d been admitted I was still far from well, and I think understandably apprehensive about speaking to people face to face for the first time since I’d gone public about my depression. It’s one thing to put it in writing and send it out into cyberspace, another entirely to come home and actually talk to people about having been in a psychiatric unit.
My neighbour told me she struggled with depression too
The first time I was home, I was out the front with the kids. A friend and neighbour saw me, came over and gave me a huge hug and told me how glad she was to see me. She wanted to know how I was doing, genuinely wanted to know. A few days later, in the local petrol station, I bumped into another friend. Not only did she come right over with a hug but also with tears and relief as she told me that she too has long struggled with depression, had no idea that I did, and was so relieved to be able to talk about it. She had always hidden it, and hidden it well, as had I.
Being able to talk to people about how I’m doing has been such a relief. No more than when I was in hospital, if I’m having a bad day or a bad week, I still find it hard to admit to. Old habits are hard to break, and I sometimes still find myself putting on the happy face, or else avoiding people entirely. But, other times it’s a relief to talk. I can be honest. I find that in general, people are happy to follow my lead. If I’m clearly not ok but change the subject, they don’t push. If I want to talk, they listen.
My friend gave me a hug, let me cry and then we went for a walk
Depression is an incredibly powerful illness. The very nature of it forces us to hide, to avoid contact, to feel shame and guilt for how we are. It forces us to isolate ourselves, and that’s something that’s hard to fight. Hard, but not impossible.
If we allow the enforced isolation to continue, depression gets worse. But maybe, when things get really bad, we can take a chance on not ignoring someone who is reaching out. Not too long ago, on a very, very bad day, I got a text from a friend about going for a walk. Initially I wasn’t going to respond at all. Then I changed my mind, and said that I was in the horrors and would stay where I was. She immediately offered to come in. Again, my first instinct was to lock the door and hide under the duvet - I was a tear-stained, snotty mess at that point. But I didn’t. I took a chance and she came in. She gave me a hug, let me cry, then insisted I eat something and go out for a walk with her. So I did. And do you know what? The world got brighter.