Mental Health Awareness: the Darkness in Depression

This month is Mental Health Awareness Month. I’ll be taking some time to share some topics that hopefully some will find helpful. As a mental health counselor I think it is imperative that we work to reduce the stigma that mental health carries. There are a multitude of amazing resources online. A few of my favorites are: NAMI, MHA, & Focus on the Family.

I think depression is among the most common of all mental illnesses. The problem I feel, is that it is often misread, misspoken about, and misdiagnosed or worse, misquoted. I hear some people refer to depression casually as if it is experienced just because of a sad day or a single event. I do not diminish the pain of anyone, however I also know that there are varied levels and types of depression and this can be very confusing. It can also make someone who suffers from a more severe form of depression feel like they are permanently broken. I know because I have been on both sides of that table.

Graphic from NAMI

This graphic posted by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is helpful to illustrate the prevalence of mental illness in the United States within the last 12 months. As you can see 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. has experienced mental illness and 8% of adults in the U.S. has experienced depression within the last 12 months. This illustrates the amount of cases diagnosed or reported, i am sure the numbers would be higher if all cases were diagnosed.

I wrote a post last year that sought to explain symptoms and types of depression.

This year I wanted to focus more on a personal reflection on my struggle with depression and the things that have helped me tremendously this year.

My depression has been an off and on issue since I was a teenager. I have used unhealthy coping mechanisms and failed miserably at managing it. I have used healthy coping mechanisms and managed it successfully at times. And then other times it just gets overwhelming and I get completely lost in the sea of it. The problem with my depression is it is not always something I outwardly display. I have been doing a lot of reading about it recently and discovered something Dr. Rutherford refers to as ‘perfectly hidden depression. Head over to take a checklist inventory and see if you might resonate with some of it. If as I continue bells click for you.

This book is helping me be aware of what perfectionism can result in

I am not a textbook example of a depressed presentation. I hide my feelings so well, it is rare that most people get a glimpse into my mind. I strive for perfection in the projects I take on, and I have always strived for perfection. When I was a young child I worked really hard in school to gain honor roll. No one at home was pushing me, I just enjoyed school and felt validated when I earned high grades. I was self motivated to achieve. And if I did poorly at something, it only inspired me to work harder next time I attempted it. I was quiet and withdrawn, I do not remember ever having many close friends growing up. I liked to read and learn new things I would get fascinated with information and dive into topics thoroughly.

From the outside I appear like a driven over achiever, and what could possibly ever be wrong with that? The truth is there is a lot wrong with it, for me sometimes. There is a harsh inner critic that exists, it is the thing that drives the achiever at times. The problem is turning the inner critic off becomes impossible at times and perfection as we know it rationally is not possible. This begins a cycle of depression. But its unlike other depressions I have experienced because it is all internal. The perfectionist does not want to appear broken or weak and thus we hide that darkness away deep within ourselves. It can feel suffocating. It is why when I heard the concept of perfectly hidden depression I was drawn in and had to learn more.

After I began learning I started connecting dots throughout my life, and I realized this was one of the things I struggled with. I am so hard on myself and I hate when I do not meet my own expectations. That is a hard place to be stuck at sometimes. More recently after my ankle surgery my depression was worse than it has ever been. It is the first time in over 12 years that I actually did not want to get out of bed.

That is the darkness of depression. It makes us want to sleep a lot more, and isolate ourselves into a cave of darkness. If you are naturally an introvert this can be dangerous because your close friends and family might not suspect anything is unusual until it is far later into a depressive episode. The hard part in being in a depressive episode is we push everyone away and isolate, but the very thing that helps boost mood and get out of a depressive episode is social support and leaving the house.

I think it is important for people to keep talking about depression but the things that they might not notice right away. It is helpful to share our own experiences and journeys so we can continue to help others. One of the hardest things about living in a dark place is thinking you are alone.

I am here to remind someone, that they are not alone, and there is hope.

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