It’s 1:38 in the afternoon on Wednesday (you won’t be reading this for a few days) and I’m back in the same coffee shop that I mentioned in my previous post. I just finished writing about 350 words in my novel and my next goal for my time here is to write this blog post. I wasn’t completely sure what I was going to write about when I sat down, although yesterday afternoon when I scheduled this time, I seemed to be more sure. So it’s 1:38 on Wednesday and I’m in a coffee shop on another “date with myself” instead in of my office.
A couple of months ago I was sitting at this exact table talking with one of my best friends about this blog, which she tells me she enjoys reading, but had a suggestion that I’m taking to heart right now. She said that it’s great that I share my tips and tricks, my advice based on what’s worked for me, my stories, but overall, it lacks a certain honesty that would make it more meaningful to those who don’t really know me.
I’m sitting in the coffee shop in the middle of the afternoon and not at work because I’m on a reduced work schedule right now, and very grateful that I have a job that includes supportive colleagues and supervisors, and benefits that allow me to do this. I didn’t reduce my hours because I wanted to sit in a coffee shop and work on my novel or write blog posts. I’ve actually spent more time this week cleaning my house, getting groceries, and cooking for my family than I have writing.
In the post I wrote on self-compassion I mentioned that there had been times in the past when I had suffered from bouts of depression. I’ve always gotten the care that I needed and I know how fortunate that I am to have that available to me. Right now I’m sitting in a coffee shop instead of my office because upon our return from vacation in early August, I finally conceded to myself that what I thought was just stress weighing me down was, unfortunately, another bout of depression. In the past I ploughed through it with the support of close friends and family and much needed counselling. In the past I told nobody at work about what I was going through. I put more stress on myself, both mentally and physically than I probably needed to and worked through it without taking any time off.
This time has been different. Early on, colleagues, and even my boss, who happens to also be a friend, noticed that something was wrong at about the same time that I was finally admitting to myself that this is indeed a depressive episode. They helped open the door for me to talk about it because they saw it and asked me what was wrong. And because people at work know, they helped me access needed resources that I didn’t know were available for me (which has also helped me see a glimpse of just how much work still needs to be done to properly help people deal with mental health issues).
When I first had to tell some people at work, I told my wife that I found it hard because of the stigma attached to mental health problems. She’s a firm believer that the shame that is still wrongly attached to mental health issues needs to go and reminded me that if I had cancer instead of depression I wouldn’t be ashamed to talk about it and ask for help.
It becomes easier to talk about it with each person that I’m honest with about what I’m dealing with. It also becomes easier because of how many people have responded with words and / or actions of encouragement and support, things like a phone call, card, text message, etc. I’ve also been struck by how many people tell me they are so ready to support me because they’ve had their own run-ins with depression.
I will get through this and I know that I will come out stronger on the other side because I always do. This time is different so instead of just ploughing through with my head down, I’m being honest, I’m accepting help when it’s offered, and have even outright asked for help when I absolutely need it, which isn’t easy for someone who prides herself on being strong and dependable.
I’m being honest not just for me, though, but for everyone out there who needs to hear that we must stop treating mental illness as something we should be ashamed of. We need to stop whispering about it the way we did in the past with cancer. It’s not contagious. More people than you could possibly imagine struggle with it, and we need to support everyone on their journey through it.