Let’s Discuss: The Stigmatization of Depression

Depression Defined

Hi folks. Let’s get a little serious today, shall we?

As you all probably already know, the passing of our beloved Robin Williams and the somewhat ironic circumstances under which it occurred, has spurred a lot of conversation over the last few days. Some of it has been sweet and thoughtful. Some of it has been tasteless and cruel. And some of it has uncomfortably settled somewhere in-between the two. With this surging debate on depression and mental illness, suicide, and our misconceptions about what kinds of folks are susceptible to this stuff, I suddenly felt a need to candidly speak on the topic. So here it goes.

When I first heard the news, I was shocked – as I think most of us were. I can’t say that I ever thought of Robin Williams and depression in the same sentence before, or even remotely at the same time even though it turns out he’d been struggling for years. And perhaps that is one of the biggest lessons in all of this – that depression can surface is some of the most unlikely places.

Think about it for a minute. How could depression be a choice, a weakness in character or nothing more than situational sadness – as it is often stigmatized in society and in the media – and still have found a way to attack an incredibly accomplished and loved man with a spectacular career – a man who possessed an inspiring talent big enough to bring joy and laughter to so many people around the world? Doesn’t that demonstrate the power of deep, intrinsic sadness and how predatory it can be? I’d say so.

And yet, after scrolling through dozens of sympathetic and shock-filled social media posts regarding William’s passing and the circumstances behind it, there it was – the inevitable judgment, hatred and mis-education that [sadly] compromises so much of today’s online experience. Words like coward, suicide promotion, choice and selfish began to fill the commentary – and I thought how lovely – listen to these people who have likely never dealt with actual addiction or depression passing judgment on something they don’t understand. As I read more and more, I came across an increasing number of individuals turning the sad passing of a legend into an opportunity to spew hate and spread rampant mis-information just because they can, and just because they have easy access to a mass audience that will listen.

Come on folks. Haven’t we learned this lesson time and time again already? Don’t we all know by now that it is from hate that so much of the evil in our world stems? When we hate, stigmatize and blame, we shut people off – we leave no room for healing and we invite more pain. In our society, depression and mental illness is often so stigmatized and so silenced, that many of those who suffer from it are forced to suffer in silence. They do not seek the proper help. They attempt to fix something that is much bigger than themselves by self-medicating or taking other measures. And then when it becomes too much to handle all alone, we judge them. We call them cowards. We view the sympathy and understanding of others as the promotion of suicide. We point fingers, and we blame. But rarely do we truly understand what was going on inside that person’s brain, inside his or her feelings, inside that broken heart, that would have driven them to take such extreme measures. Can you imagine how big the turmoil has to be to get there? I can. 

I have been there. I have suffered from depression, and it’s still something I have to work on every day — fighting it with everything I have. Doesn’t it all make a little more sense now? Yes. That is a large part of the reason why I push positivism so much, why I work so hard to find the good in all the nooks and crannies of everyday life – it’s why I fight – because fighting is what has helped me escape that darkness, stay healthy and become a source of light – at least I hope – to others.

You see, depression is a very strange and powerful force. I know firsthand how hard it can be to explain to people who have been fortunate enough to never experience it how tangible and real depression can actually be. To me, depression is best described as this hopeless, gaping, stinging feeling right in the middle of your chest – it causes physical exhaustion, random tears, sometimes outlandish thoughts, desperation, restlessness and a long list of other things. When it’s really bad, your body literally hurts and the thought of getting up or going out to complete the smallest little task – hurts even more. Smiling hurts. Conversation hurts. Pretending — it hurts. At times, your bed starts to feel like the only safe, comfortable place in the world – where the pain seems to subside even if only for temporary relief, and so you cling to it.

Often you just have no idea why you feel this way – and that right there can feel sufficiently maddening. You think, well, nothing is particularly wrong right now. Why am I so sad? Am I going crazy? What is wrong with me? These questions only serve to amp up the hopelessness and self-loathing – and the vicious cycle continues to spiral out of control, often gaining dangerous momentum.

Luckily for me, through the grace of God, the universe or who knows what, I have been able to work through my depression, and I have stayed relatively free of it for the last few years — with only short-lived bouts here and there. Still it is always there – in the back of my mind – the possibility that it could creep back on me at any time – and that, most days, is mortifying in and of itself.

I was very, very lucky indeed, and I still am. I was able to overcome. I found light. I found a way to turn my sadness into an almost obsessive mission to practice positivism and healthy emotional habits as often as possible – to fight and to not let it get too big. I constantly read messages of hope, and I spread my own to others. I have learned to catch myself when I start to feel the smallest inkling of that awfully familiar sting, and I fight. I force myself to get up and go out and connect, to get dressed and show up. I fight.

But here’s the thing. What did I do to deserve the ability to overcome? Nothing. Am I somehow better, smarter or more capable because I was able to escape my depression – and the suicidal thoughts that did cross my mind quite often circa 2009 – than those who did not find an out before it was too late? Of course not. So how can I judge? How can any of us judge? How can any of us truly know the kind of pain inside a person, and the reasons why they might have or might not have overcome it? Why should we call them cowards when they fought some of the strongest demons that can afflict a human being – depression and mental illness. Who are we to assume they are weak or selfish or unworthy? 

So here’s a thought. Why not promote openness and sharing instead? Why not extend your hand to someone you suspect might be struggling with this kind of battle? Why not choose to lead with kindness instead of with hate? Don’t you think that would help stop someone form committing suicide more so than shaming them for their struggle, and making them feel even more alone than the demons inside already do?

This is critical folks. We will never be able to walk anyone to the light, if we continue to lead with darkness. Let’s try a little harder today, please. Let’s try to respect the struggles of others so that they might respect our own. Let’s work together and not against each other. Let’s be a little bit more sensitive to the things we don’t understand. Let’s ask more questions and make fewer assumptions. Let’s do better. I know we can.

And to those suffering from depression or from similar battles, if you feel like no one in the world understands, I’m here to tell you that I do. I really, really do. Reach out to someone for help. Leave the shame at the door, and put your life and your well-being first. You CAN escape it. You CAN find light. You CAN find happiness and health. You CAN overcome. You CAN. I promise you, you CAN.

Love,

Sonia, Word Share Junkie

Kindness Counts: 9 Tips for a Kinder Existence

Kindness Counts

Every day, I pay attention. In fact, I probably pay more attention to every minute detail of my surroundings and social interactions than my brain and heart can really handle sometimes.  One thing that I catch myself paying extra, special, focused attention to is people’s attitudes. I notice when people are kind, even if just in tiny, little, minuscule ways, and it always, always, without fail, gives me a little boost, a little pep in my step, and a great big smile.

Then there are the times when I pick up on a more negative energy; attitudes that feel more like quick, sharp bee stings.  Sometimes it’s really subtle – a slightly irritated or condescending tone of voice, a less than pleasant look, or an off-putting gesture. I imagine people often don’t even realize they are being a little on the jerky side, or how their energy might affect others around them. But me? I notice. That’s just Sonia. I’m sensitive to people’s energy, and I pick up on that stuff. I think a lot of us do.

Enter the topic of kindness which I haven’t visited in a bit. I believe with everything I have that there is always a positive way to have a conversation, even when it involves a tough or controversial topic. I believe there is always a small gesture you can make to help someone feel more comfortable, always a positive way to tackle a situation, always a small way to be kind, and rarely a thoroughly good reason to be a dick. Yes, I said it.

In that vein, here are nine small, but meaningful ways to live a kinder existence.

Kindness Counts Tip #1: SMILE!

Whether it’s at a homeless person on the corner, your neighbor, the cashier at your grocery store, a fussy child, your co-worker, just SMILE! It’s free, it’s easy, and trust me, it makes a sizable difference. Most of us just want to be acknowledged, and there is no better way to acknowledge someone and their humanity, than through a great, big CHEESE.

Kindness Counts Tip #2: Show appreciation.

Take time to thank those who contribute to your life (made you laugh, did you a favor, offered advice), whether that’s  a mentor, a friend, a nurse, the bar tender at your favorite spot, an old professor, a family member, anyone. Maybe it’s just an actual “thank you” and a smile, maybe it’s a thank-you note, or a small treat. It might take you five minutes of energy, but it will give someone else a whole day’s worth of warmth.

Kindness Counts Tip #3: Respect others.

We are all different – complete with our quirks, our bad days, and our likes and dislikes. But we all contribute in our own very special way, and I believe we should respect what everyone has to offer. Never make people feel they are less than you. Never talk down to people. Never ignore them. Try to find a happy medium between what you bring to the table and what they bring, knowing neither is better than the other, just different, and equally as valuable.

Kindness Counts Tip #4: Listen.

People want to be heard. Hell, people NEED to be heard. Even if you don’t agree, just listen. Give people a turn, and then talk. Give others the opportunity to let go of what weighs on their hearts and minds. Then when they have what they need, they’ll turn and listen to you. Don’t shun people out because what they are saying is not what you want to hear. Just listen.

Kindness Counts Tip #5: Apologize.

Hey, screw up much? Of course you do. We all do, and that’s A OK! Practice self-awareness. Realize when you’ve made a bad choice, offended someone, hurt some feelings, and apologize. People are pretty easy, folks. They just want to have their feelings validated. They don’t actually want to hold on to grudges. They just want to hear you’re sorry. Screw up, own up to it, apologize, and move on. Screw up, hold on to that pride like a kid to a chocolate bar, make the situation worse, and dwell. Easy choice, I’d say.

Kindness Counts Tip #6: Be honest.

Clearly, there is a place and a time for brutal honesty, and you can’t always go around telling everyone exactly how you feel. Plus, being honest doesn’t equate to being a jerk. Instead, just be as honest as you can as often as possible. Especially in situations where people are reaching out to you, asking you straight out how you feel, give them the answer they deserve, the honest one. Don’t beat around that old tired bush, just come out with it. Don’t lead folks on, or tell them what you think they want to hear. That ends up hurting a lot more in the long run, every time. And hey, some people might not like what you have to say, but in the end, they will always find a way to respect it.

Kindness Counts Tip #7: Build spirits up. Don’t tear them down.

Give compliments where compliments are due. Encourage people. Support them. Help them wherever and however you can. Again, SMILE! Don’t interrogate. Don’t search for flaws. Search for good qualities. See the good in people. Forgive. Give chances. Stay positive. Don’t hurl insults at every turn, even when they are hurled violently at you.

Kindness Counts Tip #8: Don’t let ‘em harden you.

OK. So you’re throwing out all the kindness you can muster, and you are still getting nasty attitudes, rude comments, and harsh dismissals. So what? If we give into that, we only perpetuate the ugly little cycle. Be nice even when others are not. Be the positive light in Negative Alley. Don’t let ‘em harden you. The right people will appreciate it, and the harder ones? Well, sooner or later, if you just keep pushin’ through kindness, you’ll strike a chord, and soften them right up! Negative or angry people are not bad people. They just need your kindness the most.

Kindness Counts Tip #9: Be humble.

No matter what you achieve in life, what faraway lands you might travel to, how great your possessions and accolades might be, stay humble. Always remember the path you took to get there. Remember the bad days when the good days come. Remember those who helped you along the way. Never start to think you’re better than anyone. Know that things can always change. Appreciate, love and share kindness. Don’t get cocky, and don’t you ever dare think you have nothing left to learn.

Sonia, Word Share Junkie

Everybody Needs a Fan Club

In my last few sessions with my therapist I’ve been talking a lot about my blog, my book and my dreams of becoming a motivational speaker one day (let’s be real – we could all use a little workin’ on by a professional once in a while). I’ve also talked a lot about a recent breakup that affected me much more than you’d ever think a two-month pseudo boyfriend would, and a nasty email I received from an ex co-worker a few weeks ago. And from this emerged a conversation around the importance of working to build a community of support for yourself.

So what do I mean when I talk about building a community of support? Well, this is something that I believe I’ve been working on for years now, but my therapist really wrapped it up in a nice bow for me. Building a community of support means surrounding yourself with people who just plain get you, people who support you, understand where you’re coming from, and serve as a mirror for your truth. It also means shutting people and situations out that perceive you incorrectly, do not want the best for you, or just don’t get it. This doesn’t mean you should surround yourself with a herd of clones. Please, never, ever do that! It just means surrounding yourself with people who can be themselves and allow you to do the same in a welcoming, and loving environment.

Sometimes when people say nasty things to us, break up with us, use their words and actions to bring us down, we tend to start wondering, wait, are they right? Am I this person they make me out to seem? Do I deserve this? And in a lot of cases, the answer is a big fat NO. A lot of times it’s a matter of people projecting their own insecurities on you, and sometimes it’s not evil, but just plain misunderstanding – like a puzzle piece that just doesn’t fit. That is why it’s so important to discover your truth, and stick to it. Do not let people’s comments, criticisms, rejection, pokes and punches allow you to forget or discount who you know in your heart you really are.

For me, I pride myself on being a consistent person. I think most people that know me, and I mean really know me, would say they pretty much get the same Sonia across any situation with few surprises. I also pride myself on being genuine, and being as transparent as possible even when the response might not be entirely positive. I am optimistic and solutions-based instead of focusing on the negative or the problem. Although I might very well hurt others sometimes (don’t we all), I never do it intentionally, and I’m always more than willing to say, “I’m sorry.” I consider myself a pretty nice, smart, reliable and fun person – although just a bit neurotic sometimes, but hey, I like to keep it interesting. I work hard, but I also play hard. I’m a dream chaser, an achievement junkie, and the biggest, most hopeless romantic you’ve ever met in your life. I have a lot of great qualities, but I’m also majorly flawed, very self-aware, and always working to be just a little bit better. That is my truth. It is the Sonia I know and love.

My point is that not everyone sees that Sonia. There are people out there who might think I’m the total opposite of what I’ve just described, people who just don’t get me, and don’t understand where I’m coming from or where I’m trying to go. The message here is that’s OK. It’s life, simple as that. What I have learned throughout my journey to HAPPY and with reassurance from the good ol’ doc, is that our focus must be on building a community for ourselves that is supportive, that gets it, and that sees our truth as we see it. And to everyone else? Bye bye suckas! What was #1 in 6 ways to self counsel?

“You are SONIA. This situation does not define you. These people do not define you. You are smart. You are capable, and you can do anything.”

That’s right. How many times have I already mentioned fighting that good fight? Well this is yet another instance of that. Being happy, centered and living a positive life does not just happen my friends. It takes work, dedication, and sometimes a little blood, sweat and many, many tears – but it’s SO incredibly worth it. So if you trust your truth with all your gut, stick to it proudly, build your community of support, and close the door on those that simply do not fit. Your happiness is your job, not theirs. Take it out of their hands, and firmly into your own.

Sonia, Word Share Junkie