How are you? I am fine. How often do you have this exchange everyday? With your coworkers. Your friends. The store cashier.
Sure there are many times you expand and share your fabulous weekend or that story about the horrible traffic you were just in….
Half the time though it is just a formality.
For some, this formality is a daily…or hourly reminder that they are not fine. Because no one wants to hear about depression.
When I look back, my battle with depression began in college. This is when symptoms usually first express themselves.
I was functional. I had some friends. I got Bs. But there many days I skipped class. And just as many days where I would eat in the dining hall alone…I was careful to choose the times when no one went when I knew I would be eating alone. Subconsciously I knew I had a problem.
College was good in many ways. It presented new experiences but it was also a time of lost potential. I was lost. And my relationships and academics suffered.
After college, I had my first manic episode and had my first experience with medication. I was now aware of my illness.
I went through ups and downs but after the second episode five years later, the depression reared its ugly head and this time, masking it became a lot harder.
I was functioning. I had a job and was able to perform well. Maybe because it was something I could focus on and control.
My social life was nonexistent. I lived at home for two years. I never went out. My only friend was my mom. Then, one of my college friends needed a roommate. This should have been a great opportunity for change. My social life didn’t improve much. I just didn’t have the energy to be fun. I was a flat version of myself.
Two years later, I moved out and got a fabulous apartment. Great price. Great location. Walk-in closet. Balcony. A fabulous apartment that no one visited because I never went out.
My isolation grew worse.
I would lay on the couch all day on the weekends. Staring at the TV. Sometimes staring at the wall. Sleeping on the couch during the day. Ordering take out. I think for many people functioning with depression they use all of their energy during the week trying to put on the face of normalcy. They try to fool people into thinking that they are ok.
I managed to fool people at work. I would actually prepare an answer for when people asked the infamous “How was your weekend” question. An answer that differed from the real normal: nothing. I went to a barbecue. I went to a friend’s house. It was always vague because how could I say I went out for drinks to a place I had never been?!
Except my friend Ryan. One day he asked me if I had many friends. Yes, I had some friends in the area. (Did I ever see them? No.) This was a wake up call.
I decided to get a therapist. I picked her out of a book of providers. She was nice. But she wasn’t helping me. It felt like a chore to see her. But, I didn’t want to hurt her feelings by stopping. She WAS trying, right? So, I went for a while and told her what she wanted to hear.
The depression continued until my psychiatrist suggested a therapist in his practice. She was nice and yes, there were things that she said that I could predict. But, she listened-really listened-and she was able to provide concrete suggestions on how to move forward. She was the one that helped me get out of a horrible data entry job and into AmeriCorps. I moved from Virginia to New Jersey and I left the place that reminded me of my depression (except for my mom…she was the only part of Virginia I wanted to take with me).
As Dr. Patel says in Silver Linings Playbook (amazing movie that explores mental illness if you haven’t seen it), “you’ve gotta have a strategy.” A strategy that is constantly evolving as life circumstances shape your current reality.
It has taken me a long time but I am in a much better place. It easier to face the day (most days and even weekends).
I can thank Ryan. Because you can’t survive alone. You have to have a strategy. And someone to hold you accountable.