A Letter to My Darkness and the Community’s Response
On Thursday night I posted a letter to my depression on Instagram and Facebook, places where I usually feel comfortable and confident posting personal stories. But I was scared to post this one. I told myself I wasn’t depressed enough to really know what it feels like. I told myself I hadn’t been depressed long enough to truly experience it all. I told myself that, despite countless friends assuring me otherwise, I still could be making all of this up. I could just be being dramatic.
Here’s the thing: When I have a headache, I know I have a headache. I take an ibuprofen, drink plenty of water, and lie down for a nap. I ask others to please quite down if the noise is bothering me, and I do not feel guilty for it. I am easy on myself when the aching is too hard to focus. I do not feel ashamed that I have a headache. I know I am not making up my headache. I take care of myself when I have a headache. I tell others and allow them to help me when I have a headache. Why doesn’t this happen with depression?
Part of the reason, I believe, is because we don’t talk about it enough. I believe talking is the best way to begin to enact change. I began with this letter:
You are everywhere. You are my nightmares and scary thoughts. You are the cold air and dark shadows that tell me to stay in bed all day. You are the frigid wind that tries to prevent me from running outside. You are the snow in my face that tells me to give up, go inside, and crawl into bed. You are the devil that tells me those lazy thoughts are my own, which spirals into judgmental and negative self-talk. You are the flashing images of that bad dream creeping back into my head again. And you are the thoughts that follow: "How could you think such a thing? What is wrong with you? Something must be wrong with you."
Despite all of this, depression, today I beat you. I beat you when I got out of bed after my nightmare and drove to the rink to coach hockey. I beat you when I came home and ran outside, despite your vicious wind in my face the entire time. I beat you when I spent the day shadowing at a behavioral health center, so one day I can help others conquer their own demons. I beat you when I challenged myself in yoga. And I beat you when I got dinner with my wonderful friends who love and care about me.
I know you'll be back. I know, actually, that you never really left. Because when I am not beating you I feel absolutely suffocated by you. I feel angry, overwhelmed, confused, scared, devastated, or, perhaps worst of all, numb. Nothing. I am empty.
But today, I beat you. Today, I was stronger than you. Today, I felt spectacular - I haven't been able to say that for months. I just want you to know: I am strong. I am resilient. And I am coming for you.
After posting the letter, I received incredible support from friends, family, and strangers. Here is one of the messages:
“Thank you for writing that. I have also been struggling with depression for the past few years, and it is always nice to see it put in writing so eloquently like that, because it makes it seem like even people who haven't experienced it might understand. And seeing people talk openly about it makes me more comfortable talking about it myself, so thanks.”
Please remember that everyone is fighting their own battle. Be kind. Be compassionate. Tell people you love them, often, and mean it. To all of you struggling with mental illness, you are not alone. What you are experiencing is real. It is hard. And you will get through it. I believe in you.
Follow along (subscribe here) for the next few months as I explore the broad topic of mental health, the stigma surrounding it, and what you can do to help.