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Breaking the Cycle

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06/10/2009

Breaking the Cycle photo 1

Grand Canyon

I often feel like a walking contradiction.

I went to a theater camp for six years and was president of my BBYO council in high school, but am now terrified of even opening my mouth in a business meeting with more than three other people.

I know that if I watch any crime show after dark, when I go to sleep that night I will more likely than not dream that I was the victim in the most recent episode, and will sleep fitfully at best. And yet, I am currently obsessed with CSI: Miami, and will watch two or three episodes in an evening after getting home from work.

I’m terrified of regaining the 50 pounds I lost a few years ago, and yet if you put donuts, biscuits, ice cream, popcorn, corned beef hash, brownies, pretzels, nuts, cheese, or even a jar of peanut butter in front of me, I will lick the plate/bowl/carton/jar clean.

I refuse to cross the street against even the flashing “don’t walk” sign, or outside the crosswalk, and yet I’ll hurl myself out of a plane at 120 miles per hour from a height of 12,000 feet? That’s right, this past April I went skydiving.

Perhaps most ironically of all, I wrote an entire post about how my long, long, long list of fears had paralyzed me long enough, and how I wasn’t going to let fear and anxiety keep me from living my life any more, and promptly decided that I was not going to post it.

Because once more, I was afraid.

I was afraid to admit to the world (and, even worse, my mother), that I don’t have it all together.

I was afraid to admit that there are days when I can’t bring myself to do anything after work other than eat a few bowls of Cheerios for dinner and watch TV for three hours before crawling into bed.

I was afraid to admit that there are times when I’m so paralyzed by fear of not doing a good enough job at work that for anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes, I’m unable to do ANY job. I stare at a blank Word document. Or I write a sentence, read it back to myself, erase it, and start the process all over again.

I was afraid to admit that my fears aren’t just idle fears anymore, that my perfectionism and desire to live up to everyone’s expectations are no longer simply a quirky byproduct of being raised in a middle-class Hyde Park family.

No, that ship sailed a long time ago.

What I was afraid to admit to my mother, my father, my brothers, my friends, my boss, my colleagues, all of you Oy!sters out there—and to myself—was that I’d spiraled back into depression.

But here’s the thing. I know I’m not alone in fighting this particular demon.

Breaking the Cycle photo 2

Sunrise over dead sea from Masada

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, Major Depressive Disorder is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. for individuals between 15-44, and it affects approximately 14.8 million American adults—6.7 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older—in a given year. It is estimated that women are twice as likely as men to suffer depression.

Add to that the findings from a National Mental Health Association survey that 54% of people believe depression is a personal weakness, and it’s no wonder that the same study found that 41% of depressed women are too embarrassed to seek help. All told, 15% of depressed individuals commit suicide.

Those are staggering statistics. And yet if depression is so prevalent—last night during a single episode of the Rachel Maddow show I saw commercials for Pristiq, Cymbalta, and Abilify—why are we all so afraid to talk about it?

So here’s where I end my cycle of contradictions.

Here’s where I stand up to myself, to my own fears, and to the rest of the world, and say that the time has come for those statistics to change, and the stigmas, too.

Here’s where I admit that I may not be posting my original piece, but that I’m not going to be afraid to be the (slightly imperfect) person I am anymore. I’m not going to hide my battle with depression, because it’s not something shameful.

It’s a medical condition, just like diabetes, hypertension, arthritis, or cataracts; you wouldn’t shame your next door neighbor for his cataracts, would you? You wouldn’t be ashamed to admit to your mother that your arthritis was making your backhand a little less powerful on the tennis court, would you?

I’m not going to ask you to share your own stories in the comments, because I know how deeply personal mental illness can be—though of course you’re welcome to share if you’re so inclined.

I’m not going to ask for your pity or sympathy or to cry on your shoulder—my pity party ended a long time ago, and I’ve got a great therapist to listen to me whine and blather on and on for an hour every week.

I’m not going to ask you to donate money to specific mental health organizations, or to lobby your local representatives in favor of or against specific legislation related to mental health issues, or to sign up for any number of mental illness/suicide awareness events that are being held in the Chicago area in the coming months.

But I will ask you to take the time to learn more about depression (and mental illness in general).

I will ask you to understand that just because someone is depressed, it doesn’t mean they hate their life, or they’re permanently unhappy, or you need to preface every conversation with them with “how are you? Are you okay?” (That’s not to say that there aren’t situations where additional concern is warranted, but I think you understand what I’m saying).

I will ask you to be honest with yourselves and—in a textbook case of “do as I say, not as I do,” since my family is reading about this current struggle of mine for the first time here on Oy!—your loved ones.

Don’t become one of those NIMH or NMHA statistics of people who would shame others, or who would neglect to seek help for themselves.

Don’t be afraid to admit to yourself that you’re not perfect. None of us is, as Jacey and Dana touched on recently, and Cindy wrote about last fall after interviewing Leslie Goldman.

Don’t be afraid to confront your fears and stand up to stigma.

Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re afraid.

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