I have many stories about why mental health matters to me. Family, patients, and my own. Anyone can hope to de-stigmatize mental illness, but semi-unfortunately, I cannot *just* preach to eliminate shame from the conversation. So with this in mind, I tell you about *my* fight with depression. Looking back, it's hard to decipher where my personality ended and my depression began. I was born the youngest of five and was naturally laid back. I've often groaned at challenges, felt unmotivated, and been tired and sensitive. And without anything alarming, these can easily be written off as adolescent tendencies or maybe senioritis. College came and went, I fought with the turmoil of wavering friendships, failing classes, fallen romances; the usual millennial heartaches. I had a challenging time and often said I felt depressed, but mostly because it was in my vocabulary and dark humor was a crowd pleaser. It wasn't until post-grad that my definition of this word changed.
I began my first real world job, working in mental health, of all things. I anxiously began my first nursing job at McLean Hospital in January of 2016. Days dragged. Months dramatically and slowly passed as my routine remained the same. It consisted of snoozing my alarm, using every ounce of energy at work, and falling almost-asleep on the bus ride home. On the walk back, I would reward myself for merely existing-- with sour patch watermelons and yellow Gatorade, and on bigger occasions, a steak and cheese sub. I changed out of my work clothes and ate as the fog filled my head, and after a long day of fighting it, I climbed under the covers. Tears filled my eyes as I would try to sleep it off again. Months blurred together as I constantly excused myself for oversleeping and constantly being exhausted- emotionally and physically. I thought I was "adjusting" to the new job. And I can still hear myself explaining this to a friend-- defending myself over the phone (she asked if I thought it was “something more” and I adamantly said no.)
I write this not as a melodramatic cautionary tale, but because I still feel like I should have known better. Working as a "mental health professional," you'd think I would have it covered. But I didn't...at all. And that is truly frightening. Even working in mental health 40 hours a week, I was blind to my own depressive symptoms and completely lacked insight. My own depression gave me tunnel vision. Thankfully, relief came that summer as I began to dissect and accept what had happened over that dark winter.
I now make it a point to talk about and take accountability for my own mental health (for me, that means therapy, "self care" etc etc) and getting involved with people and causes (Thropic!) that support and embrace this. I'm hoping I can get people talking before time passes and you end up feeling like you "should have known better."