This is a topic that has been stirring in the back of my mind for awhile, but I wasn’t sure how to approach it.  Frankly, it’s uncomfortable, but that is perhaps exactly why it needs to be discussed.


I owe much to Dr. Brené Brown and her research on the subject; she has helped to clarify and give voice to the feelings for which we often have no vocabulary.  Her insistence that “shame cannot survive being spoken” is a large part of why this blog entry is happening – why this blog is happening.  The stigma surrounding mental illness exists because of shame, but if we call it what it is, that stigma cannot endure.

As someone who is a born people-pleaser and perfectionist, I can tell you that shame and I have been companions for a long time.  Add my struggle with depression to the mix, and shame basically moved in and made itself at home.  For us today, I want to talk through some of the experiences that I’ve had with shame and mental illness – even shame and mental health – because talking about it takes away the power that shame likes to hold over us.

I was a young adult before I figured out that what I was feeling and thinking were not “normal,” that every other person didn’t have these bouts of almost debilitating depression and thought processes that could get downright scary.  Being the perfectionist that I am, I learned pretty quickly that I needed to “hide my crazy,” because no successful person I knew was dealing with it, so it must be bad.  I must be bad, and I needed to keep the show going or everyone else would figure out just how messed up I was.

It should be noted that this ties in closely with Imposter Syndrome.  I didn’t know it had a name until a couple of years ago, but I always had this sense that one day everyone was going to figure that I was a fraud and didn’t belong.  Outwardly, that made no sense; most would say that I am successful academically and professionally.  Inwardly, I was doing my best to hide away my flaws, convince the world that I was Super Woman, and make being Super Woman look easy.  Frankly, that’s impossible, but it seemed to add a whole new layer of depression onto what already existed.

When I got married, my then-husband told me that depression wasn’t really a medical thing – it was spiritual, and I just needed to pray more.  As a Christian, this was devastating.  Not only was I “bad” because of my depression, but I was clearly a terrible Christian too.  I found myself scheduling my day around additional prayer time, hoping that if I prayed enough, God would take this thing away, and the tears I cried from the anxiety of it all could fill an ocean.  I wondered what the magic number was – how many prayers were necessary?  Or was it a time thing?  I completely lost sight of the reality of a relationship with God as I desperately sought what I regarded as a miracle from Him.  And with every depressive episode, I felt worse, I felt I had failed, and I drowned in the shame of being less-than.

When I first sought help, I distinctly remember parking as close to the building housing Mental Health as possible, and I ran to the door, covering my face the whole way.  I recall wishing that there was something else – anything else – in that building that I could use as my cover story if someone saw me going in there.  At that moment, it didn’t matter that I was in the darkest corner of my depression and was desperately reaching for a way out that didn’t involve ending my life.  What mattered was that someone might see me going into the Mental Health building and know that I was broken, that I was a mess, that I couldn’t keep it all together – and if they saw that, my career as a military officer might be over before it really started.  It didn’t occur to me then that the thought that I even needed a cover story was shame in and of itself.

I’d love to tell you that it was all rainbows, kittens, and unicorns from there.  Sadly, that’s not the case.  As I was preparing for one of the military’s most advanced, grueling, kick-you-in-the-teeth, selective training opportunities, my doctor had to sign a pretty routine form that basically said there wasn’t anything medical keeping me from holding a security clearance.  I say “pretty routine” because I’d held a clearance for years, and I had been honest about seeking mental health help on every re-investigation.  So imagine my surprise when my doctor looked at the form, looked at my medical records, and then said to me, “You have a mental health history.  I need your commander to see your history before I sign anything.”  She then printed out all the notes from my mental health appointments, put them in an envelope for my commander, and insisted that he had to sign the envelope – verifying that he had read my mental health record – before she would sign the paperwork.

“I don’t know what this school is that you’re trying to go to, but they might not want people like you in there.  Your commander needs to see what they’ll have to deal with if you go.”

People like you.  She said it.  I was different.  I was “other.”  I was something bad.

I cried all the way to my commander’s office, the shame was so tangible.  I walked in, handed him the envelope, and explained what my doctor had said.  Thankfully, he gave me the “Are you effing kidding me??” look, signed the envelope without opening it, and said, “I already know what I need to know, and I’m not going to read this.  If anything in this envelope was an issue, I would have already been called.”  I was grateful and relieved.  (Looking back, I probably should have taken it up with Patient Advocacy for HIPAA violations, but I didn’t want the already tenuous process to take longer than necessary.)

Spoiler alert: I went to that school and successfully completed the course.  Even “people like me” can do challenging things.  Do you hear that and know that?  This thing we’re dealing with doesn’t have to hold us back.

Most recently, after publishing a couple of my blog posts, a well-meaning friend wrote me the following:

What you’re writing is good stuff, and I’m glad that people seem to be helped by it.  But you’re about to pin on Major, and if you keep this blog going, you are going to kill your career.  Lieutenant Colonels don’t talk about these things.  If they get help, they keep quiet about it, because no one wants a leader with problems.

My first reaction was shame, followed by a huge temptation to delete this blog.  Then I was indignant.  “Lieutenant Colonels don’t talk about these things.”  Maybe that’s the problem!  We ask our leaders to be authentic, but they cannot be vulnerable.  We demand that they climb up onto a pedestal and lead from there, but if they need to get help, they’d better sneak away and not tell a soul.  What a disservice we have done to our leaders, and in turn to those they lead.  No one is without issues, but we’ve created a culture where the appearance is more important than the truth.

So here I am.  I am owning the depression I’ve been battling my entire life, and every time I talk about this or write about it, I am telling the shame that it has no place in this conversation.  The stigma has no place in this conversation.  I am telling every person who reads this that they are not alone and that there is help.  You can make the courageous decision to get help and not have it destroy your career or your academics or your dreams.  You can lead well and still have issues – as long as you are finding healthy ways to deal with them.

Shame is part of this story, friends, but it doesn’t have to be.  Continue to speak up, to speak out, to get help, and to tell your story.  Keep telling yours, and I’ll keep telling mine, and we will make it impossible for shame to survive.

My Story

As a reader pointed out, perhaps it isn’t entirely fair to ask you to tell me your story, to beg you to see how important you and your story are, without embracing a little vulnerability myself and telling parts of my own story.  I say “parts” only because some of the questions I asked last week could be blog posts in and of themselves, and they may well develop into those someday, but for now I will offer up a look at some of the things and experiences that help make me…me.

My favorite color is purple.  All shades, but I’m especially fond of lavender.  Why?  No clue.  It just is, and I love that reality.  There was a time in my life when I would have told you my favorite color was white because it symbolized purity and innocence.  At least, that seemed like a good church girl answer, a right answer, and Lord knows that I was always looking for the right answer – even to questions that didn’t – shouldn’t – have a right answer.  Someone told me once that their favorite color was iridescent, and I distinctly recall feeling this overwhelming sense of shame at not having come up with that one first, in spite of the fact that one shouldn’t have to “come up with” their favorite color in the first place.  Being a people pleaser has been part of my personality for as long as I can remember; it’s practically written into my DNA, but when you’re looking for the “correct” favorite color and a suitably good explanation to match, something is wrong.  Years later, my favorite color is unapologetically, inexplicably purple, and I’m quite happy with that.

I don’t have any scars to remind me of childhood misadventures.  My heels are covered in scars from the blood gas tests done on me as an infant born three months too early.  I have burn marks on my arms from handling pizza pans still hot from the family’s pizza oven.  There’s a fading scar by my right elbow from the night at the Weapons School when we were all too tired and too giggly and I fell off my ever-present stepstool and sliced my arm open on the wooden edge of a 3D map.  And I have four significant scars from biopsies, as cancer is a very real threat in my family.  Even without childhood misadventures, my scars can tell you quite a story in and of themselves.

I don’t have a “thing I do” when I drive through a yellow light, but I used to kiss my fingers and then tap the dashboard twice and the windshield once.  It was a college thing, I think.

I drink my coffee the way my mom drinks her coffee: two sugars and a dollop of flavored creamer.  Coffee is a special thing with my mom and me.  Sitting down and chatting over a cup of coffee is a tradition we’ve had for years now, even across the miles.

Growing up, I went through the gamut of scientist phases – I was going to be an astronomer, or a paleontologist, or an archaeologist.  I even majored in archaeology at one point, after I decided that I didn’t have the stuff to be an investigative journalist like Woodward and Bernstein.  I then realized that archaeology was a lot more than doing digs, so I moved on to majoring in Communication.  My dream job at the time would have been to become a communications coach, teaching business people how to effectively communicate their ideas – especially in front of large groups.  During my last couple of years of college, I was dead-set on going on staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and doing campus ministry; God clearly had other plans, and I ended up enlisting in the Air Force.  12 years later, I have a commission, completed Weapons School (with a cool scar), and I’m in a career I love.

While I watch a variety of TV shows, my favorite is Supernatural.  I discovered this long-running show this summer, and I binge-watched 12 seasons in my spare time.  I love the show because very rarely is anyone all good or all bad; these are people with broken pasts, broken hearts, and broken lives trying to make the world a better place than they found it.  That’s probably a pretty good description of any of us, and I love that they’ve taken a show that mirrors many of the struggles and drama faced in the real world and managed to couch it in a supernatural setting.  The actors themselves are phenomenal, but also down-to-earth and out to make the world a better place too.  The fandom – or the Supernatural Family / #SPNFamily – raised more than $300,000 in a matter of days for Hurricane Harvey relief through a CrowdRise fund set up by Jensen Ackles, and Misha Collins’ Random Acts organization has been finding real, solid, meaningful ways to help and change the world for years now.  Jared Padalecki’s Always Keep Fighting (#AKF) campaign really opened doors to depression and suicide awareness, and I’ve talked to more than one person who has said that his openness about the struggle is why they are still here today.  I love that a single show with some amazing people can have a ripple effect with a global impact for good.  Don’t we all hope for a legacy like that?

The movie that I loved that I’ve only seen once and will never watch again because I cried all the tears was P.S. I Love You.  I am a profoundly hopeless romantic, and that movie did me in from the moment it started.

I like pineapple on my pizza if the pizza is Hawaiian.  The flavors meld so well.

The first concert I went to was Jars of Clay.  I spent the entire evening waiting for them to play Flood, and it was awesome.

I’m divorced, but I have a little girl, and she is my entire freaking world.  My daughter tends to spark my creativity in new and exciting ways, so you’ll probably read more about her in the future (with her permission, of course).

For years, I have painted myself into a very analytic corner.  Always good at academics and very logical, I would wistfully look at my creative friends and wish that I could be more like them.  For some reason, I associated free-spiritedness with creativity and assumed that they were mutually inclusive.  Only in the last few months have I begun to embrace the reality that I am a creative as well.  I love to write – can’t you tell?  I’ve been singing for years, and making music really makes me happy.  I was a theater kid in high school, and while I don’t act anymore, I am ridiculously excited for my friends who are pursuing that art form…because I get it.  Making something where there was nothing before, or where there were just words or notes or colors, that sets my soul on fire.

Something else that sets my soul on fire is advocating for mental health.  Although I just wrote this blog entry, and it has nothing to do with mental health – and it has everything to do with mental health.  As someone who has struggled in silence for years, I have found my voice and my will to fight for myself and others as we walk forward in this.  Depression is something I’ve known every single day for as long as I can remember; it is truly a thread interwoven in the fabric of my life.  But it isn’t my entire story.  It may have shaped part of my story, and experiencing it may have been the spark that set fire to this passion of mine, but I am so much more.  So are you.

So there you have it – part of my story.  There’s certainly more to follow, and as this blog continues, the story will continue to be written.  The point is that we have stories, and they aren’t defined by our struggles.  The fact that I’m still here writing, and the fact that you’re still here reading means that hope is the other thread that’s been making its way through the words, through the painful parts, through the fall-down-laughing hilarity.  Because hope is as real as any of it, and hope is my story.

 Your Story

We should talk about your story.  No, we need to talk about your story.  I really want to talk about your story.  I don’t mean the story of the mental illness battle you’re fighting right now.  Not entirely, anyway.  That piece is only a chapter, or a page, or a thread weaving its way between the words and the moments, but it isn’t your whole story.  That is part of it, and it is important, but its importance exists because it is part of your larger story – and that larger story encompasses so much, and it needs to be told.

I want to know about your favorite color – why it is what it is and why others aren’t your favorite.

Tell me about the scar on your left knee from that childhood misadventure that you have absolutely zero regrets about.

How about that thing you do when you drive through a yellow light?

I want to know how you like your coffee.

I want to know about your favorite place in the world, and I want to hear all about that place you go when you just need to get away from the world for a bit.

Tell me about falling in love.  Tell me about falling out of love.

What do you want to be when you grow up?  If you’re grown up and not living the dream, why not?  What’s stopping you?

I want to watch you get excited as you tell me all about your favorite TV show, especially if you’re part of a fandom.

What’s your favorite memory?  What’s your least favorite?

If you’re a person of faith, tell me all about what that journey has been like for you.  If you aren’t a person of faith, I want to know all about that journey too.

Talk to me about that movie that you loved but you’ve only seen once and will never watch again because it made you cry all the tears.

Do you like pineapple on your pizza?

What was the first concert that you went to?

Tell me about your spouse and kids.  If you don’t have a spouse or kids, tell me about what you imagine them to be in the future.  If you want nothing to do with having a spouse or kids, tell me about that too.

I want to know about the things you hope for, the hobby or sport or instrument or event that sets your soul on fire.

I want to know about places you’ve been, people you’ve met, things you’ve seen.  The monumental and the mundane, the beautiful and the ugly, the big moments and the fleeting seconds.  I want to know about all of them, because they make up your story.  Your story is wild and weird and wonderful, and it is so incredibly important.  Do you see that?  The thing that you’ve been fighting – and surviving – is huge, and it may color some of your experiences, but it isn’t the whole story.

You are important.  You matter.  You were made for something incredible, and I want you to see it and know it and breathe it and believe it with every fiber of your being.  Your story was meant to be told, and it is so much more than the depression or anxiety or whatever it is that you’re dealing with right now.  It is so much more because you are so much more.  Please know that.  Please tell me your story.

Self-Care & Break Glass

Let’s talk about self-care. This is another buzzword that gets thrown around a lot, but I want to break it down a bit into something more practical than the vague advice to “take care of yourself.”

Ideally, we should be engaging in self-care all the time. Should. But when depression creeps up and tries to take me down, I’ve got a kind of emergency checklist that I go through, with very specific things to do so I can own the depression, rather than letting the depression own me. Let me preface all of this by saying that these aren’t done in any particular order, but they are all important.

  • Hydrate

Drink a glass of water. Not soda. Not alcohol. Water. Dehydration adds a ton to the physiological effects of depression, to include headaches and sluggishness – which no one really needs. If you’re like me and struggle to drink water sometimes, use liquid or powdered flavoring specifically designed to make water easier to drink.

  • Eat

Eat something quasi-nutritious. By “quasi-nutritious,” I mean avoid the processed junk food. I say that as someone who has a sweet tooth eight miles wide and never met a carb I didn’t like. I’m also an acknowledged emotional eater, and if I’m eating my feelings in the form of a carb-fest, I’m only going to feel worse. So I try to get some protein in there. I’ll snack on nuts or a protein bar. Fruits and veggies are also good; I’ll grab a banana or those little bell peppers to munch on. Bottom line: I don’t feel like prepping much, so I go with what I can grab easily – but I consciously avoid the slippery slope of indulging in my comfort foods. Even if I tell myself that I should have those comfort foods – because, hey, I feel like crap! – there will be regrets later.

  • Workout

This one is tough…and I love a good workout. But when I’m depressed and have no energy and everything hurts, the absolute last thing I want to do is lace up my shoes and workout. So my goal is to simply move. Maybe I take my daughter on a walk outside, and I talk myself into getting to the next stop sign…then the next tree…then the next light pole. Maybe I turn on some music and have a dance party. Maybe I message a friend and say, “Hey, I’m struggling right now and absolutely don’t want to workout but absolutely need to. Can you meet me?” Maybe we’ll lift, maybe we’ll run on the treadmill, maybe we’ll just walk around the track and talk about life. Honestly, in this case, it doesn’t matter what you or I do, as long as we move.

  • Brush Your Teeth

Yes, it takes energy, but no one feels worse after brushing their teeth. This is just good for you.

  • Shower

Take a shower. I will feel a million times better once I’m clean…but it can be so difficult to find the energy. Try anyway.

Backup plan: Soak in a bath. Throw in some soothing Epsom salts. Light some candles. Treat yourself.

Backup backup plan: Use some refreshing cleansing wipes, deodorant, and some dry shampoo. If you’ve got some lotion that smells great, put some of that on too. That will get you only halfway there, but if you’ve got zero energy, it’s a step in the right direction.

  • Get Dressed

If I’m already clean, it’s time to put on clothes that are not the same comfy pajamas I slept in. That doesn’t mean I get to opt for a clean set of comfy pajamas…unless it is already night time and it took me all day to get to this point on my checklist. I need to put on clean clothes, and they should be clothes that I feel great in, that give me a confidence boost. (Clothes that make me feel like a busted can of biscuits should probably be removed from my wardrobe anyway, just on principle.)

  • When Did I Last Do Something I Enjoy?

If it has been awhile, either go do something you love or schedule it – and tell a friend about it so you are kept accountable to doing it. Maybe it’s golf. Or playing guitar. Or hiking. Or painting. Or woodworking. Or writing. Whatever it is, give yourself permission to do something that you enjoy, and go do it.

  • Speak Up

This one is really difficult. Depression already makes me feel isolated, and I tend to believe that no one wants to be around me anyway. But it is important to speak up. On one hand, this could mean setting up an appointment with my therapist if I haven’t checked in recently. On the other hand, it could mean reaching out to friends and saying, “Hey, I need some help here.” It should be so easy, but it isn’t. It’s like the Bible story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet; they would have been fine washing His feet, but some of them freaked out about Him washing theirs. In the same way, we’re eager to help friends in distress, but we get really weird about allowing those same friends into our messes, into the less-than-perfection that is the struggle with depression. Where we see weakness in speaking up, however, there is strength. When you’ve told a friend you’re struggling, also letting them know that you got out of bed and took a shower gives them the opportunity to celebrate with you in that victory. Speak up. Ask for affirmation. Ask for a hug. Heck, ask a friend if you can pet their dog, if that is something that works for you. Ask.

I think that one of the most admirable examples of this was back in May of 2015, when Jared Padalecki (where are my Supernatural fans at?) was in a difficult place and asked his Twitter followers for some messages of love. His fans were quick to respond, reminding him to #AlwaysKeepFighting. We are bred to believe that reaching out like this is selfish, attention-seeking, and akin to fishing for compliments. It isn’t; it’s asking for what you need at that moment. Do it. Speak up, and speak up courageously.

  • Meditation

Take a minute and focus on breathing. This does not require becoming a yoga master, a jedi master, or any other kind of master. In fact, there are a ton of apps you can download to help with this if you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing. This helps me to focus and get past the persistent fog that depression creates around my brain.

  • Faith

If I do this right after meditating, I’m normally in a pretty solid place to pray and journal through the thoughts and emotions I’m experiencing. This is also when I specifically read Bible verses that counteract the junk Depressed Me wants to believe. Psalm 139:13-16, Isaiah 41:10, Isaiah 43:4-5, Zephaniah 3:17, Malachi 3:17, Galatians 3:26, Ephesians 2:10, and Romans 5:8 are some good go-to verses. I will also use this time to listen to praise music, although I may crank it up and sing until I’m hoarse, because that is good for the soul too.

  • Thankfulness

What am I thankful for? It can be really tough to be thankful for anything when depression is weighing me down. For that reason, I keep running list of things I’m thankful for, and I reference it when I need to. Gratitude has a funny way of taking the edge off of depression, if only for a while.

Break Glass

We’ve all seen the Break Glass In Case of Emergency signs, normally covering a fire extinguisher. I keep a Break Glass In Case Depression Is Kicking My Butt kit, but I just call it the Break Glass kit for short. I put this together on my good days to be ready on my bad days – and this is really important. Self-care requires that you be proactive; it requires that you be prepared. Part of owning depression and not letting depression own you is being ready to deal with and overcome whatever that creepy monster wants to throw at you. Putting together a Break Glass kit is a large step in becoming an active fighter in this, rather than a passive victim – and that helps to create a better mindset overall. Once I’ve decided to fight, I’ve been known to whisper, “Screw you, depression, I’m going to go take a shower.” Suddenly, that thing that felt so difficult and so draining is now a victory dance and flipping off that depression monster that wanted to take you down.

What’s in my Break Glass kit? A bottle of water, some flavoring packets/liquid, a protein bar, a snack pack of almonds, my iPod with a dance party playlist and a praise music playlist, refreshing cleansing wipes, dry shampoo, nice smelling lotion, a journal, verses I’ve picked out ahead of time, and my growing list of things to be grateful for.

I keep this by my bed, ready for the next fight – a fight to take care of myself when everything in me would just rather not.

As a final thought, if you know someone who is struggling with depression, and you want to support them but just don’t know how to do it in a meaningful way, consider putting together a Break Glass kit for them. Maybe you could include reasons why they matter to you, and tell them why you are grateful they are in your life. It’s a concrete way to fight alongside someone in this struggle and demonstrate that they aren’t alone.

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves! 😉

The Struggle Bus

In the last couple of weeks, I’ve had more than a few conversations about The Struggle Bus.  This is a term that we often apply to just about anything involving some semblance of difficulty — a morning where the caffeine just isn’t kicking in, the concept in school that you just can’t wrap your mind around, or one of those days when parenting is really, really hard.  In these recent conversations, however, The Struggle Bus was the term du jour for the ongoing fight with depression.

One of my friends voiced how tired he was of The Struggle Bus, a sentiment that I shared and understood.  For some people, trips on The Struggle Bus are episodic; they come and go with relief in between.  For others, years have been spent on the journey, and they are worn down from it.  Regardless of how often or how long, time spent on The Struggle Bus isn’t fun; it’s exhausting.  That exhaustion plays a large role in many people’s decisions to end the trip permanently.

That’s not the right answer.  It’s never the right answer.  But in the midst of the fight, what keeps us going?  What keeps us from giving in?


Hope that this ride will be short.  Hope that getting out of bed, taking a shower, and putting on clean clothes will be the first steps in a day that improves from there.  Hope that the depression won’t be defining.  Hope that the depression won’t get the last word.  Hope that there’s still music to make and stories to write and sunsets to be in awe over and stars to wish on.  Hope that there’s more, and it is vibrant and beautiful and better.


I think there might be another layer to this, though.  Have you ever kept hanging on because you knew someone else was hanging on too, and if they could do it, maybe you could as well – even just for today?

Here’s the thing: we need each other.  We isolate ourselves, but we need each other.  We feel alone, but we need each other.  Do you understand me?  We need each other.  In this fight, it’s a Struggle Bus — not a Struggle Unicycle.  Take a look around; there are other people on board this thing.  We all believe that we’re by ourselves and staring out the window into the grayness, but there are other people riding, and they need encouragement and hope as much as we do.  We have the chance to bring that to them.

I know, I know.  Before you put me on blast and tell me that you’re barely getting through the day as it is and how can I possibly expect you to find what it takes to help someone else, hear me out.  Sometimes, giving hope and encouragement to someone else looks exactly like getting through your day.  Someone else might choose to hang in there because you did — no extra effort, no special words, nothing more cosmic than what you’re already doing.  And trust me, I know that there are days when just functioning should earn you a ticker tape parade.

Just living – and encouraging someone else and giving them some hope to keep going – has a way of flipping the script on depression, even while riding its Struggle Bus.  Depression – insidious beast that it is – tells us we’re alone, that we’re worthless, that we matter to no one.  But if the very act of living is giving hope and encouragement to someone else, that flies in the face of the lies depression wants us to believe in our darkest moments.

There’s one tiny catch, however. You have to speak up. You can’t encourage someone else by getting through the day if they don’t have a clue how unbelievably difficult it can be for you to do just that. I’m not saying that you have to announce your fight on social media (although if you want to continue to take down the stigma that way, be my guest).  But tell someone.  Move seats on The Struggle Bus and sit next to someone who was convinced they had the whole place to themselves.  For starters, if you’ve been suffering in silence, I want you to know that you don’t have to do that, and telling someone makes the burden a little lighter.  But telling someone also opens the door for that person to glimpse hope on your good days.  And I pray for a lot of good days for you.

If you are watching someone else, and you know their struggle, and you are encouraged by them, speak up.  Tell them.  It doesn’t have to be flowery, and it doesn’t have to be awkward. But finding out that choosing to stay and live and fight is a choice that is giving hope to other people can be a shot of adrenaline for someone.  You can give that to them.  You.  Who doesn’t want to know they matter in the life of someone else??

For the record, you matter. If you’re riding The Struggle Bus, you aren’t alone.  There are days when I might be sitting right next to you.  I keep riding because I have hope, and I keep riding because I want to give hope.  It doesn’t make the journey less exhausting, but it sure makes it worth it.

Real, Or Not Real?

In Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, specifically in the third book, Mockingjay, Peeta’s grasp on reality is so tenuous that he has to ask “Real, or not real?” in order to discern truth from lies.  In much the same way, when I am in a depressive episode, it is incredibly important to be able to tell the difference between what is no-kidding real and what depression wants me to believe.

For example, we often talk about how depression is isolating.  I don’t want to get out of bed, I don’t want to get out of the house, and I certainly don’t want to socialize.  Part of that is the energy drain; another part is the thought pattern created by depression.  I don’t really want to be around people; depression wants me to believe that people don’t want to be around me, that I am a burden, and that others merely tolerate me anyway.

Real, or not real?

When I’m not depressed, the question seems laughable and the things that depression would like me to believe seem ridiculous.  But when I’m deep in that darkness, they seem legitimate – overwhelmingly so.  So I ask myself the question, “Real, or not real?” and I think about what I know to be true.  I think about what I’ve experienced.  I think about my friends and family, and I know that depression is a big fat liar.

So depression moves on with its insidious, accusatory game.

“You’re a whole bucket of crazy.  Do you think anyone could ever love you like this?  No one will ever be willing to deal with a person like you in their life.”

Real, or not real?

My depression is not my defining feature.  Granted, it likes to take center stage when it can, but it doesn’t get to very often.  Are there guys who will run screaming for the hills the second that my crazy shows a bit?  Yes, and I don’t want them anyway.  I know that I’m actually a pretty great person, and if depression is stopping someone from dealing with me, they can keep right on walking.

So depression tries again.

“You do realize that no one else actually feels this way, right?  You’re literally the only one who has ever dealt with this.  You’re broken, you’re alone, no one understands, and no one wants to be bothered by you trying to explain it.”

Real, or not real?

It seems silly to even type depression’s argument, but the heavy weight of it when I’m struggling cannot be overstated.  In this moment, I think about the number of organizations that exist to help people with depression and mental illness.  I think about the 22 veterans who take their lives on a daily basis.  I think about the number of celebrities who didn’t get help and the handful who did.  I am not alone.

I have close friends whom I let know when a depressive episode has kicked off.  One of them knows that I drink a particular type of tea when I’m feeling down; I’ll ask her over for some tea.  Whether it’s a real invitation or not, she knows that I’m riding the struggle bus and need some support.  Another friend is familiar with my “fight’s on” mantra, and I simply let him know that it’s one of those fighting days.  There are others whom I simply tell outright.  The conversation is no longer awkward; I’ve built trust with them and they with me.  They make it completely, utterly, wonderfully impossible to believe the lies that I am alone and that no one understands, because they walk with me in the darkness.

Depression is real.  The fight is real.  The head games are real.  The thoughts are not.  But when someone is in a depressive episode, it all feels very, very real.  So let me tell you this:

If you are so deep in the tunnel that you can no longer see the beginning or the end, and it is pitch black and all you seem to have are the thoughts screaming at you and reminding you of how desperately alone you are, I will stand with you.  I will stand with you and walk with you in that darkness until we find the light.  You are not alone.  I am not alone.  One step at a time, we’ll get through that tunnel together.  You’re worth it, and so am I.


So, You Know She Struggles With Depression, Right?

“So, you know she struggles with depression, right?”

I am deployed, and no one here has a bathroom to themselves; community bathrooms are the standard, and privacy isn’t exactly expected.  I was in the community bathroom, and I overheard this conversation. Two women were talking about a third woman, and one of them was talking about how great this third woman was.  She had nothing but really positive things to say about her; she was a great co-worker, their interactions were positive, and she apparently had this ability to make everyone she talked to feel like they were the most important person in the world right at that moment.  It was at this point that the second woman said, her voice condescending, “So, you know she struggles with depression, right?”

Cue the sound of the DJ record scratch off in the distance somewhere.  Suddenly, inexplicably, all of this woman’s awesomeness was somehow overshadowed and cancelled out by this single reality in her life.  You could feel the dynamic change.  The first woman just responded with a disappointed, “Oh.”  The conversation was clearly over, and both women left the bathroom. I wish I had said something, but I didn’t get the chance. And, honestly, I was heartbroken that the conversation had gone the direction it had; we’re still treating depression like it has this big scarlet letter attached to it.

This woman struggles with depression. That means she fights it. The fact that she’s still around means that she is engaged in battle against this thing – and she’s winning. She hasn’t given up; she hasn’t given in.  The day-to-day fight may have been defining, but the depression itself has not defined her.  She’s clearly still out to make the world around her brighter and better, but she’s being treated as the subject of bathroom gossip by those who cannot tell the difference between perceived weakness and actual strength.

In the past couple of years, I’ve been very open about my struggles with depression.  It is counterintuitive to do that, and I’ve been told that I have to be careful because it may impact my career in the long run.  But I firmly believe we can’t destigmatize getting help for mental health while at the same time telling people to keep quiet when they own the struggle and get help. I’d rather be led by those who are honest about not having it all together 100% of the time than by those who fake it to the point of being unapproachable.  I don’t think I’m alone in that.

My depression is a daily struggle, although some days are much worse than others. I can normally tell about 3-5 days before a depressive episode is about to begin. I just feel different, although if I can get some sleep, I can normally “short-circuit” a spiral…right up until I can’t. When a depressive episode hits, I wake up in the morning and I just know. It’s as though a switch flipped in my brain overnight, and I wake up with this indescribably heavy feeling of sadness.  (Many have suggested that the Dementors in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series are excellent analogies for depression; one feels as though they will never be happy again.)  In spite of a full night’s sleep, I have zero energy, and regardless of what needs to be accomplished, my motivation is non-existent. In this moment, I have learned to say to myself, “Fight’s on.” Sounds all warrior-like, huh? All gritty and determined and badass.  The reality is that fighting the depression looks a lot more like getting out of bed. Getting some semblance of a workout in. Taking a shower. Putting on clothes that aren’t my comfy pajamas.  Eating something quasi-nutritious. Listening to music that I’ve already set aside for this situation. Praying and meditating. Letting a trusted friend know that the fight is on.  Fighting depression looks an awful lot like normal life, and yet it feels like this epic struggle that is going on with the same constant, subtle undercurrent as breathing.

Why am I telling you this? Because we need to talk about it. We need to stop treating people like lepers because they are engaged in this unseen struggle. We need to be honest as leaders and followers and colleagues and friends and family and people. We post the number to the Suicide Hotline on our Facebook walls and we tell people to call if they are ever in a dark place, but we shy away from vulnerable, uncomfortable conversation…unless it is to talk about someone’s struggle as something that is to be whispered about and ashamed of.

I want this to change. For the sake of every person out there battling it out, I want this to change. And I want to be part of this change. So let’s have these conversations. And let’s keep having these conversations. Over and over and over again, until depression isn’t something that people whisper about in hushed tones – we acknowledge it, we deal with it, we walk alongside people on their rough days, and we don’t let it become the defining feature of someone’s life.

To that woman being gossiped about – you’re a badass, and you aren’t alone. Always keep fighting.