I’ve tried to write this post more than once. So if you’re reading this now, I either finally succeeded or a cat walked across my keyboard.
This is the sort of post where I let very personal words loose into the wide expanse of the internet. This is the sort of post I’ve debated over a million times. But if I’ve learned anything in my life, it’s that staying silent never helps. Staying silent doesn’t fight stigmas or stereotypes. It doesn’t build up people who need to know they are not alone. Ernest Hemingway once said, “Write hard and clear about what hurts.” So if these words sound familiar, this post is for you.
Who is Jasmine?
Let me start at the beginning.
I have Major Depressive Disorder, also known as Clinical Depression, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder. I’ve had them since childhood, but for most of my life I bottled them up and tried to hide them. I got pretty good at it, actually. Pretending that everything was ok, that I was ok. So if you’re saying, What?, you aren’t the only one.
The problem with mental illness is that no matter how good you are at hiding it, it’s still there. You can smile and pretend all you want, but it will still be tearing you to pieces from the inside. I thought if I tried hard enough, I could make it go away. But all I did was get caught in a vicious cycle of silent shame and severe depression until I couldn’t see any point in living.
I’m sure you’ve heard people describe suicide as “the most selfish act a person can commit.”
There aren’t enough words to convey how strongly I disagree with that statement.
That idea implies that the suicidal person has some control over what’s happening. It implies that the suicidal person could change, but doesn’t want to. It puts all the blame on them as a person and completely ignores any other factors such as mental illness.
When I was at my lowest point, there was no light at the end of the tunnel.
If you’ve never been in that place, it’s easy to read that and not understand the crippling weight of it. In her book, Prozac Nation, Elizabeth Wurtzel wrote, “That’s the thing about depression: A human being can survive almost anything, as long as she sees the end in sight. But depression is so insidious, and it compounds daily, that it’s impossible to ever see the end.”
Severe depression strips away every and any reason you had to go on living. It steals your hope. It twists your world and turns it upside down and inside out until you have no idea which direction is up.
“What does depression feel like?” He whispered.
“It’s like drowning. Except you can see everyone around you breathing.”
There is only one person in the world who calls me “Jasmine,” and I met him in a hospital psychiatric ward.
Bill (not his real name) was a fellow patient at least forty years my senior, but depression has no age limit. It’s hard to talk about depression and all the ugly stuff that comes with it. It’s not fun. Even now, my fingers are dragging across the keyboard.
Don’t bring up this stuff. My head tells me. No one wants to hear about this. Put a smile on, talk about happy things. Stop being so pathetic.
It’s easier to talk to people who understand because they are right there with you. They get it, no matter how poorly you explain it. They know how to read between the lines and see the things unsaid. I talked to doctors and therapists and psychiatrists in crisp white jackets, but it was the other patients who impacted me the most. I’ve never been good at talking. Even after two years with my therapist, I still struggle with that silence. Writing is easier. I can untangle my thoughts and say things the way I want. Bill was a writer, so he understood. He gave me the pseudonym of “Jasmine” and encouraged me to write if I couldn’t talk. To break the silence in any way possible.
Today I take medication and go to weekly therapy, but there isn’t a cure. These treatments are absolutely necessary, they help take the edge off. They give you a fighting chance, a team, a support system. But they don’t hand you a “and they lived happily ever after” ending. This is something I will deal with for the rest of my life.
That’s why it’s so important to stop being silent.
The best thing I’ve done for myself is to fill my life with people I can talk to. I can talk to my therapist. I can talk to my husband, my family, my friends. It’s a crucial part in managing this. That doesn’t mean I like it or that I’m good at it. Mental illness is incredibly alienating, and it’s hard to fight the urge to just curl up in a corner and stay there.
But I think it’s important for me to say this. To say to the world, I struggle with depression and anxiety. To say, you are not alone, to those who understand. To say, there is no shame in needing help.
I don’t want my life to look perfect because that’s a lie. There are hard days full of tears and panic attacks and a numbness that slowly paralyzes you until it’s impossible to get out of bed in the morning. I’m far from perfect. I don’t have my shit together. But I’m not hopeless. Not anymore.