When life is good and you're showering regularly and smiling and wearing bright red lipstick and being productive and people find out that you have depression...they are shocked. Because your current state is not what they understand depression to be. I've had people flat out tell me that I don't have it...because I laughed at something. Because they saw me dancing. Because I wore yellow. Because I post pictures like this:
Apparently there is some rule that people who have depression must ALWAYS be depressed. Forever and ever, amen. And they cannot laugh or make funny pictures or have a sense of humor, because they are supposed to be depressed. Which is...um...well, that's not really how that works.
Allie, from Hyperbole and a Half, is pretty much hilarious. And has depression. She wrote about it - if you've never read it, it's hilarious and sad and a pretty good illustration of the depression journey.
Depression is here...until it's not. Except when it's not here, you always know it's probably going to come back. So there's a little bit of anxiety about that. Which, if you already have anxiety, is now more anxiety. I don't know many people with depression who don't have the double whammy of depression and anxiety. They seem to like to hang out with each other. They're friends. They're the mean girls in your brain.
When you pick out an outfit and your brain is like, "yeah!" and then you put it on and your brain is like,"oh no." Except then your brain also calls you ugly. And over / under dressed. And unpopular. And finally convinces you to stay in sweatpants and not leave the house.
So what depression is (for me), when you're not in the throes of depression, is constantly looking over your shoulder for it. And feeling anxious. On top of your anxiety. And maintaining. Making super healthy choices, just to try and keep it at bay.
My doctors originally put me on fluoxetine, which was not the right answer for me. My experience with fluoxetine was bad enough that I elected to try to manage without medication.
This is not the right answer for everyone. What works or does not work for me is specific to my circumstances. I'm not a doctor. I would never make recommendations regarding management of mental illness with or without medication. That's between you and your doctor. I'm just sharing my journey.
I elected not to medicate. I experimented with supplements. HTP-5 for a while, and then I switched to Sam -E. Neither of them really made a huge difference, and the difference I thought I felt could very well be attributed to the placebo effect. I thought it should work, so my brain was all, "Yes! This is working!" Until my brain was like, "I'm actually not sure this is working."
So I quit taking supplements. I read a lot about depression. I read that sugar is a drug and takes your brain on a roller coaster of a journey that can contribute to depression. So I cut down on sugar. ( I really love cake, so I really cut down on daily sugar consumption, so I can still have cake when I want cake. Because cake is life.)
I read that processed foods can contribute to depression, so we eat fresh food as much as possible now.
A friend commented that my caffeine intake was high and that caffeine could contribute to anxiety, so I cut back on coffee.
When the cloud over my head gets too dark, I make sure that I'm seeing my therapist. I paint. I write. I try to work through it. I try to get out of bed.
My therapist suggested I get my thyroid and my vitamin D levels tested, so I did that. My thyroid was fine, my vitamin D was super low. I take Vitamin D religiously, now.
I'm triggered by social situations, so I'm very careful about which ones I attend, and truthfully, I rarely attend anything. I don't force myself to attend events I feel really anxious about. I know my brain. It's not going to just be magically ok when we get there. When I do attend anything, I try to have a buddy system - going by myself generally turns out badly.
I exercise because exercise creates endorphins and endorphins make your brain happy.
Facebook became a trigger for me. I had read that social media could contribute to depression and I felt like that was becoming a factor for me, so I've taken myself away from that for a bit.
My point is, even when I look like this:
...I'm still fighting depression. I make choices every day that are designed to keep my brain as healthy as possible. I'm vigilant about it. And my husband knows all of the details, so that if I start to slip, he can talk to me about what I need to stay on task. On the days that I can't fight the dark cloud, he can hold my hand through it, and check in with the steps I'm taking to stay safe.
Depression doesn't look like something. It's a funny little beast that hides in our brains, and if you don't live in our brains, you can't see it. So you don't know what it looks like. And you don't know what it doesn't look like. Today, I am sunshine and rainbows and big smiles and life is good...but I'm still fighting. I'm always fighting. And it's important that people know that, because I have all of these coping mechanisms in place (reduced sugar, lower caffeine, limited social engagement, physical activity, etc.) that I need people to respect. And when the beast shows up, sometimes out of the blue, I need people to know what's going on, because I need a support system. I'll need help.
And I bet you know someone like me. Or you are somebody like me.
So here's to the fighters, who may or may not look like they have depression. I see your beast, even when she hides. Let's be vigilant. Let's keep fighting. Let's ask for help when we need it, and hold the hands of others when we're able. We're all in this together. We'll just keep going. Together.