By Chris Burcham
For nearly 3 years now I’ve been battling major depression and anxiety. While I’ve known people with depression my entire life, I’m sad to say that until I actually began suffering through it, I really didn’t understand what it meant. It’s different than just feeling sad. Depression pervasively affects your entire life. If you think you might be suffering from anxiety or depression, be sure to seek help. Here’s some of the things I learned the hard way about mental illness, depression in particular.
5. It usually hits men in their mid-twenties
I had heard of postpartum depression, and knew some girls who were depressed in high school, but little was ever said about when men get depressed. I just assumed it happened at various times and in different ways. I had friends and family who had dealt with stuff like this, and I always figured I was the lucky sane one. I escaped depression! I’m a paragon of health! High school became me counseling friends and family members, always having the answers for their problems.
Then I hit my mid-twenties and my world crumbled around me. I was working a thankless customer service job in finance, fresh out of college, when I got a call from an angry customer. They had repeatedly called and frustrated that my department hadn’t worked out their problem. Finally, through the magic of phone queues, they reached me. I answered as cheery as possible when she cut me off. “You should just go home and kill yourself.”
It was like something triggered in my brain. The rest of the call was a blur of me trying to compose myself and get rid of her. I took the rest of the day off, startled that something as common as an angry customer rattled me so hard. Slowly I began to devolve. What started as feelings of worthlessness began warping into marathon sessions crying on the bathroom floor, panicking that I would have to go to work. I would joke that I was going through a quarter-life crisis, or figured that it was a passing phase. I was getting married the next year and was stressed out from that, so these feelings would pass once everything calmed down, right? The worse it got, the more upset and down I became, losing interest in hobbies and general life activities. That was when I learned the truth.
4. You know you’re being irrational
No one should ever lie on the floor of their bathroom crying, let alone daily. As time went on I just hated myself and hated life, cursing myself for letting my emotions get the better of me. Happiness, something that used to be so easy to come by, I only now had fleeting glimpses of. I shouldn’t have been letting so many self-doubts invade my psyche and tear my world apart.
The worst part was that I knew all of that to be true while on that cold floor. Logically, you know that these feelings shouldn’t be happening. I was engaged to an amazing woman, had great friends and family, and worked a steady, albeit horrible job. Being disgruntled about your work my brain could understand. It sure as hell couldn’t figure out just why I was feeling this way, even though I knew I had no reason to. I had a good life, but here I was being broken down to my foundation by a problem I didn’t truly understand.
3. The system makes it hard to get help
At my worst I was terrified of making phone calls. My anxiety flared up as a result of my depression, and the thought of talking to a stranger horrified me. My problem slowly became worse until after a while I worked up the courage to ask my mom for help. I was 24.
My mom stepped in and contacted my insurance company and began navigating the bureaucracy that governed how you were covered, what psychiatrists were available, and the wait times. The earliest time we were able to secure was 3 months in the future due to a shortage of psychiatrists. I was lucky enough to be able to secure a visit with a therapist a few days later that week. The therapist saw how much of a wreck I was and bumped up my psychiatry appointment as an emergency measure.
I was lucky. I was not harming myself, and I was not a danger to myself or others. I had the benefit of a family member who helped me to take the first step, and a therapist that recognized the extent of my problem. Others aren’t so lucky, and the stigma and difficulty in securing help can be a death sentence.
2. Unless you’ve been through it, it’s tough to understand
High School-me always had the right thing to say to someone going through a hard time. “It’s not so bad…” “It’s just a phase…” “Think of all those people that have it worse than you…” and the always useful “Just try smiling!”
Just like every high schooler, High School-me was a know-it-all jackass.
Being on the opposite end of the conversation now at this point in my life, I realize just how wrong and hollow my words were. One of the hardest battles with depression is guilt, and your brain latches on to any possible little criticism it can find.
“It’s not that bad…” Well then why do I feel this way? I’m so selfish.
“Think of all those people who have it worse than you.” Here I am, whining about my own imaginary problems when others are dealing with real issues, I’m a horrible person.
“Just try smiling!” I physically can’t. What’s wrong with me?
And with that, brain chemistry I couldn’t control became my fault. To me, I was the cause of my own misery, acting out of purely self-centered need for attention. No matter how much my therapist told me it was a disease and hard to control without treatment, deep down I just viewed myself as a broken, horrible person. I didn’t feel like I deserved the love that others gave me. I couldn’t figure out how I was convincing my wife to stay with me, even though she proved her love for me thousands of times over every time I needed her help.
1. Sometimes it’s just a symptom
I recently found out I have adult ADHD. I discovered this after meeting with one of the leading psychiatrists in the field and explaining my treatment history. It turns out in my case that the anxiety and depression are symptoms of something that’s gone unnoticed my entire life. ADHD. I was one of the unlucky ones who lacked the hyperactivity portion of the disorder, so any warning signs flew under the radar as just signs of being an underachiever. My test scores were always near the top percentile, but I couldn’t put effort or focus into my work growing up.
It turns out that depression can be a major symptom of ADHD and by manifesting now we have just barely caught the culprit behind my abnormal brain chemistry. I’m still taking medication for depression, but my ADHD drugs and change in therapy have made led to a night and day effect in my life. I’m able to function and contribute, I have hobbies again, I finally have self-worth.
If you know someone who is having problems with depression or anxiety, try and get them to seek help. Depression is an illness, only different from others by being misunderstood.