In February this year, I blogged about my experience as a recovering anorexic and after writing my post, paused for a day before putting it live. I then paused again before linking on social media. I needn’t have worried about the reception; my friends – you, my lovely readers – were supportive and caring and the most amazing part of all was that people felt it worthy to be shared with their friends.
I received so much wonderful feedback; many people thanked me for sharing and others felt safe enough to share their own stories with me. What I found interesting is that the majority of those stories were not about eating disorders. They were about depression.
And so since February, I’ve wanted to write about my experience with depression. But I haven’t, until now, because of the assumptions and reactions that I normally face when I tell people. The flash of pity in the eyes and the sudden slump of the shoulders and an awkward moment because no one really knows what to say in response.
I was diagnosed with depression in 1999 near the end of my first year at university. There was a large bulletin board in the entrance to our dorm and one day it was decorated in primary colours of construction paper and called the ‘ABC’s of Depression.’ I read it, it sounded right, so I told my mom and we arranged a visit to a counselor. It all sounds so easy to admit, but I’d probably been depressed for years. In 1995, I cried for 2.5 hours when my mom wouldn’t let me buy a new dress for my friend’s junior prom. That’s not a ‘normal’ reaction, even for a 15-year-old girl.
There’s so much I could say about my journey with depression and mental ‘illness,’ (I hate that term). But I think this video created by the World Health Organization says it perfectly. Depression affects anyone, from any race, from any background and for any reason. It can be temporary or permanent, debilitating or a nuisance and it can be managed in many ways.
I live with low-lying depression. Sometimes mild, usually moderate and generally controlled with medication. I don’t like that I have to take a pill to feel positive emotions, but I also don’t like my personality when I don’t. I am a better person because of Prozac. I am a better wife, a better mother and a better friend because of medication. Although my depression may be controlled, I still struggle to define who I am. I don’t know what I consider to be my true personality.
I spent a lot of time hiding my black dog. I did my level best to appear outgoing and confident, happy and robust. But it was often a struggle for me to engage with new people. To get out the door for a night out. You know what I mean – I’ve probably let down each and every one of you at some point by cancelling at the last minute. Anxiety takes over and wins and no matter how much I love the person I’m going to see, my brain can make me feel small and little and not worthy of being in their presence.
Acting is hard work and I tired of it after about 6 years, but I still haven’t been open with the majority of my friends and I think it’s time to change that. So many of you contacted me in February to say that you wish you could share your stories and so I hope this helps you embrace your own black dog.
And for those of you that are athletes, of which so many of my friends are, please take heart that Jack Green has also recently come forward about his own experience. I thought of many of you when I saw this article and I hope one day statements like his will cease to be news.