I have written about depression in some of my novels, because depression is all around us. The pain of depression is profound and it affects differently. I can’t begin to describe how horrible it is when a family member or friend takes their own life, either directly or indirectly. It’s something that stays with you forever.
Here is my truth:
❗I battled serious depression when my first husband left our marriage, three weeks after our daughter was born.
❗I battled serious depression again, falling into bad decisions, when my mother died when I was in my early thirties.
❗I had what was once referred to as a ‘mental breakdown’ when my stepfather and father-in-law died within three months of each other.
❗My step-father, a Vietnam Veteran, had a severe case of PTSD, exasperated by a traumatic personal event in his life that occurred around the same time. He lived with depression every day I knew him (since I was four).
❗My mother died of cancer when she was 56. I believe depression played a major factor in accelerating her cancer. (Try living with an alcoholic with severe PTSD and depression and see how you do.)
❗My stepsister committed suicide when I was sixteen. I’ve been told that she most likely suffered from an undiagnosed and severe case of bi-polar disorder.
❗I have had work colleagues who have committed suicide. Deaths that seemed preventable.
Here’s the reality: Depression is all around us.
I struggled when my (now) ex-husband left. I had friends I could talk to, but I also saw a therapist. Not many of my friends could understand the position I was. Hell, I couldn’t even understand the position I was in!
When I joined my (ex) husband for what I believed to be marriage counselling, the counsellor spoke to both of us, then my (ex) husband, then lastly, me. As soon as I sat down for that final piece, the counsellor said to me: “Now this is off the record, but I must ask: Did you slap him upside the head when he said he was going to leave you with a newborn? Because I sure would have! The boy – and he is a boy – wants his cake and eat it too. Someone who does that to the mother of his child, to his wife of nearly ten years, is not worth sticking around for.” My (ex) husband gave me a ‘break up’ letter in the parking garage after that appointment. So, you can imagine how I spiralled afterwards.
When my mother died two years later, I spoke to a different therapist. I wanted to know if I was going crazy. Seriously. I was having a lot of confusing thoughts about my marriage. I also had a lot of anger toward my family around how my mother died, and what happened around her funeral. I was making really poor decisions. I was a serious mess. The therapist told me, quite simply, that I was grieving and “if people couldn’t see that, they could go jump in a lake”. Not quite the advice I needed to hear, but it made me realise I was going to be okay eventually.
Those few years were the worst of my life. Therapy helped. So did amazing friends who checked in on me. What I didn’t know then (hindsight and all), was my mother’s death was the demise of my family unit in Australia. My mother had been the glue. I felt isolated and alone. If it wasn’t for my daughter, I probably wouldn’t be here today.
So why do we always wear a mask to hide our depression?
It’s easy to wear a mask to hide depression – even just to hide our differences. Society struggles with different. We all want to portray the best of ourselves. It’s human nature. We don’t want to look like a failure because it seems too exposing. Let’s face it, it’s easy to show the world the best of ourselves. It’s harder to show the real story.
Perfection is a myth created by 1950’s television shows. It does not exist.
It’s our differences that define us. It shows who we really are. How strong we are. What we are capable of. We humans are astonishingly beings and, even though we are all different, we’re also all the same. We all suffer from down days. Many suffer from depression. Most are afraid to show their unvarnished self.
My Mum used to have a saying when she went out in public. How she needed to put her ‘face’ on. Yet my mother was beautiful. She had gorgeous skin and sparkling eyes. When she was happy, she radiated sunshine. But I also knew of her struggles and felt her pain deeply. She felt more comfortable wearing the mask and not sharing her pain with the world. I wish she had. When she struggled, we tried to help her. But she didn’t want to look like a failure, or to look weak.
I hope times have changed since then.
We need to do better. Here’s how.
We need to reveal our true selves. It’s time to shed the mask
and share how different we are, to celebrate our quirks but also not hide our pain.
Let’s be honest: ‘Thoughts and prayers’ are bullshit.
To help someone, you need to be there for them. Listen. Ask questions. Actions speak louder than words ever did. If you see someone struggling, offer a way to ease their day. Don’t bully them if they’re not acting as you would expect, or how to feel. Certainly don’t tell them what they are feeling is wrong! Everyone reacts, grieves, and deals differently in different situations. All we can do is be there.
Take the time to ask those in your life if they are okay. Do something that will make them feel special. Do something that shows you care. Show them some way that you are there for them. Be their person. If they don’t seem quite right, talk to them directly about it. Most importantly, listen.
Knowing someone is listening makes all the difference. I know it did for me.
Why am I talking about depression?
Why am I, as an author, talking about a topic so serious? Because I write about mental health and societal issues in my novels. I don’t write fluffy feel-good novels. I think it’s time these things are talked about. We need to normalise these topics in every day conversations.