I recently had someone ask me why I was depressed. Mind you, this was not a doctor or trained mental health worker but rather a coordinated care provider of sorts. I met with her as one of many hoops required when dealing with the bureaucratic red tape sometimes needed in order to get treatment and not fall through the cracks.
I was honestly surprised at the question but began to explain the technicalities of my depression from a scientific point of view. Since my genetic mutation was discovered, I’ve done a good deal of research and have a much better understanding of why I suffer from depression from a physiological aspect. She interrupted me a couple times, stating that wasn’t what she meant. I began again multiple times trying to explain from a physiological standpoint why I was depressed, trying to explain everything from different angles.
After my third attempt to explain, she cut me off brusquely, telling me she didn’t want to hear any medical explanations. She wanted to know “specifically what I had to be depressed about”.
I was beside myself with shock. Here was this woman with no medical or psychological training, assigned to help me with other issues and paperwork, demanding to know why I felt somehow “entitled”, for lack of a better word, to “claim” I was so depressed that I was struggling to function.
I felt judged, like I was being put on trial, that I had to justify myself and my diagnosis to this woman who had no mental health training whatsoever because she was unable to wrap her head around the idea that anyone could be able to fade in and out of functionality, being able to “deal” with life one moment only to collapse the next.
I found myself bursting into tears in her office, spewing out a long list of what I could only imagine were reasons she might find “acceptable” for why I was suffering from depression, beyond the physiological reason that my brain is missing a key substance needed to moderate my moods due to a genetic mutation. I threw out how, as a child, I had suffered from physical, mental, emotional and sexual abuse, how I was gang-raped at eleven, how my world was turned upside-down at sixteen when my mother shot my father and how I found myself on my own at seventeen. I listed a myriad of abusive relationships and losses in my life. Sobbing, I continued, highlighting one reason after another that I felt my depression was “justified”.
Even after my outpouring of pain and trauma, this woman was still unable to wrap her head around why I am struggling to function. She continued to push and probe for answers. She saw the large stack of paperwork in front of me that I had collected for my insurance coverage appeal and could not understand how I could put so much time and energy into that but still insist I was incapable of doing other things. She insisted if I put even a fraction of the work I had put into my appeal into other aspects of my life, I should have no issues at all functioning. She had seen me smile and laugh with my children at times and commented how I didn’t “seem all that depressed”.
I tried my best to explain. For every one hour, one day I am able to function and be productive, I have four times as many hours and days where I just collapse, having trouble to even pull myself out of bed to eat or to pee. I have no control over any of it. It comes and goes at it pleases, regardless of what might be scheduled for that day. And there are so many more bad days than good. On some bad days, I am able to bolt on a smiling mask, pretend to be okay and manage to go through the motions. Other days, I struggle to do anything at all. There are days I just can’t stop crying, when my world feels like it is spiraling down beneath me and days I’m completely numb and cannot function at all. I tried to explain how I do have good days, too, but they’re as unpredictable as the bad and that, especially when it comes to my children, I hold myself together as best as I am able and paint on smiles because I don’t want my illness affecting them any more than it has to do so.
Contrary to what some people might assume, I don’t happily skip around, enjoying a life of leisure. I have not made up some imaginary illness to use as a scapegoat to escape any responsibilities. I struggle every single day to simply function. I am not complacent with my diagnosis, either. I am in treatment, working very hard to try to heal, hoping that I can one day somehow function better than I am today. I take my illness very seriously. I wish others would, too, and be more respectful of my diagnosis instead of passing judgment.
I’m faced by that kind of judgment all the time by people that just do not understand depression. They assume I just need to try harder to be more positive, that thinking happy thoughts will magically cure me, carrying me off like a dusting of pixie dust to Neverland. People assume I’m either lazy or faking it, that nobody could possibly be “that sad” that I’m unable to function.
Even worse than those that make me feel like I have to justify my illness are the ones that either look at me with pity like I’m some poor, broken, fragile creature or those who back away from me like I’m dangerous or contagious. Perhaps, worst of all are those that feel inclined to throw random motivational sayings my way, as if their reminder to stay positive is all I’ll need to chase the blues away forever. Trust me, if all I needed to cure my depression was to smile more or think positive more often, I wouldn’t be struggling with mental illness. It’s NOT that easy.
No matter what the judgment is, though, I always prepare myself for one because more times than not, there is one and it rarely is anything positive. Seldom does anyone truly understand and empathize. Again and again, I’m put on the spot, forced to justify what I’m feeling, usually while being reminded that someone has it worse or that they, themselves, have managed to get through rough times so I should be able to, too. I’m told I should “suck it up” and “get over it”.
Though this may be the first time that specific person has inquired about my condition, no one ever takes into account how many others have intruded on my mental health and demanded answers even when they had no right to do so. While some might mean well and ask out of concern, very few use tact or compassion in their inquiries. I’m almost always put on the defensive, made to feel like I have to justify how I feel.
Even after I do my best to explain everything, though I don’t quite understand it all myself, I am met with doubt, suspicion and accusations. I am treated like I’m lying or lazy, exaggerating or broken beyond repair. I’m looked at as a monster or unbalanced and crazy.
I beat myself up already more than enough for not being able to do as much as I feel I should be able to do. I already feel every single day that I am failing everyone around me, failing my children and myself because I honestly want to do more, feel I should be able to do more and cannot understand why I cannot seem to be able to do it. I hate that I crumble and fall apart so easily and am not able to do all the things I feel I should be able to do. I have judged myself far more harshly than I should ever have done and have been trying to be kinder and gentler with myself. I don’t need anyone else’s judgments on top of my own.
Everyone says they want to understand and demands answers, yet very few are supportive when I try to give any. It is exhausting to have to explain everything again and again, mentally preparing myself each time for the responses and judgments to come. I often isolate because it means less people to put me on the spot, less people I have to defend my diagnosis to in the long run. I paint on a smile and reassure people that I’m fine, pretending everything is okay even as I’m sobbing inside because it is easier to lie than it is to have to defend myself for having an illness that I have no control over.
In the last year, I have begun talking more and more about my own struggles with mental illness not because it is in any way easier or takes a weight off my chest, but because I am completely exhausted from having to justify and defend myself. I am tired of the stigma that is attached to my diagnosis. Nobody would suggest someone with cancer should just try harder to be well or accuse someone with a broken leg of being lazy because they are unable to walk. I am mentally ill. Doctors have diagnosed my condition. I should NEVER have to justify my diagnosis or defend myself over how my symptoms present themselves. I am tired of being made to feel like I should be ashamed of my diagnosis or that I have done something wrong in some way because I am ill.
I am speaking out because things need to change. I am tired of being judged.
Republished on The Mighty on 03/09/17.