"Life's not worth a damn 'til you can say,
Hey world, I am what I am."
–"I Am What I Am," from the musical La Cage Aux FollesI have been very open on this blog about my struggles with depression. It's important to me that I'm honest about my own battles, so that I can lend a sense of solidarity to other sufferers, and maybe even encourage somebody to get much-needed help for depression.
That said, there is something I have never shared about my depression:
I am incredibly ashamed of it.
I know. WHAT?!? I'm all about Depression is a chemical problem, not a character problem. It's not your fault. End the stigma! I spew the oft-repeated analogy to diabetes, that both are physical diseases related to your body's inability to produce some chemical. And I truly believe this analogy.
But Depression doesn't believe it. See, I think of Depression as a separate entity that lives inside of me, a big fat lying liar whose main goal is self-preservation.
I'll never go away, Depression says. It's way too much energy to exercise or go out with your friends or do anything else that might weaken me, so you're better off just lying in your bed crying and hanging out with me. Everyone else is tired of hearing about your stupid problems anyway.
And then there's Depression's greatest hit:
You are weak and pathetic. You should be ashamed of yourself for turning to pills to try to beat me.
Now, in my stronger, healthier moments, I actually can recognize Depression's lies. I can call bullshit on them, and sometimes I can't hear them at all. I can say I am a person with a common medical condition. I am fighting it with pharmaceuticals and lifestyle changes, and I truly believe I'm fighting as hard as a possibly can. I am not weak, I am strong for getting help and managing this condition.
But then there are the other moments. The moments when you've just been told you have to double your antidepressant dosage, and you have to blink back tears of shame in the Target pharmacy. The moments when somebody spews out some ignorant drivel about how you could beat it if you just tried harder to be happy or prayed harder or just stopped being so dramatic--and you actually find yourself believing this crap.
Maybe I am weak. Maybe it is all a drama I made up in my head.
Why am I telling you this? If my goal is truly to encourage people to get help for their own depression, I shouldn't be telling you how shameful I feel about getting help for mine. But I guess I want you to know that if you feel ashamed, you aren't alone. And that, like me, you should get help in spite of the shame. Because the irony is, when you get help, the shame goes away.
Or, at least it lessens. I can now recognize that all that shame stems from Depression's pathetic little lies it tells in the name of self-preservation. I still hear the lies sometimes, still believe them occasionally, but I know they're lies.
So, whatever sense of shame you have to drag with you to the doctor or the therapist or even just your close friend, please still get help. Know that we've all felt ashamed, and you're not alone in your shame--but don't let that shame stop you from getting help.
The truth is, for all the shame I've felt, I've felt an equal or greater sense of pride in knowing that I'm fighting depression. In fact, I can say without any exaggeration that beating depression is by far my proudest accomplishment in life. So even if I have to carry some shame along with me in that fight--and even if you do--the fight is still so, so worth it.