The first time I met with the Big D, I was a teenager in a new high school full of children I found strange and scary. Up to then, I liked school. I was a good student (I think). But in the middle of my first year in high school, we moved to a big city, with a big house and a much bigger school than I was used to. Not only was the school different, but the kids, too. They were so totally different from the kids at my home town, it felt like I was thrown into an alternate reality. Except that, it wasn’t. It was my new reality, and I had to cope with it. When I arrived, it was one day before their mid-year exams,  which I was forced to write, even though the work was different from my old school. There was no way to catch up that quickly – and the teachers were – to say the least – not accommodating and helpful either.

Pretty soon, I started hating school. The kids could not accept my being different from them (coming from a conservative, much smaller community), and I could not fit in with any group who were so totally against my own values and beliefs.

Pretty soon, I was lonely, alienated, austracised… all by myself. And school became like jail to me. I remember writing a poem in class, once, about wanting to be free from this jail. 

It took my parents a while to realise that I – who had many hardships before – was not going to bounce back on track this time. So I was about 16 when I was (finally) diagnosed with major depression and started the journey along this path.

When you suffer from depression, anxiety and other related mental illness, there’s a constant struggle in your mind beween  whatwe are supposed to be thinking and feeling, as opposed to whatweare actually thinking and feeling.What we are supposed tois what other (“healthy”) people will be thinking and feeling. We know so well what we are and aren’t supposed to think and feel, because that is what society (family and loved ones included) expect us to think and feel. Instead, what we are actuallyexperiencing, is clouded by this life consuming illness taking over our minds – i.e. our thought processes – and in the end, our lives. Not having a mental illness, makes the understanding of this energy draining parasite extremely difficult, resulting into that phrase we all know too well: “Come on, just snap out of it!” Or something similar.

Depression (and related illnesses) is one of the most (I would even dare to say THE most) misunderstood and unrecognised illnesses of all times. As with all unknowns, society tends to attach a label to something that seems “different”. Even in the technologically advanced era we are living in today, this “unknown” illness is still hugely misunderstood and sufferers are still experiencing rejection and the consistent stigma attached to having a mental illness. Every time I apply for a new job, I have a hard time deciding whether I should reveal my depression beforehand or not. Should I decide to conceal it, and the employer finds out – would they think I had concealed it and might be lying about other things too? Should I tell them, and they would forever be checking my progress, expecting me react erraticly so they could get rid of me… or is this employer a well-informed human being who would not treat me any different than he/she would a diabetic or physically disabled person?

Even in my country, there are still medical aid funds NOT accepting depression as a “valid” and treatable illness, so you have to pay for the most expensive medications yourself. But related illnesses like bipolar disorder which requires more medication and which are equally treated by medical professionals, are paid for – sometimes in full – even if prescribed the exact same meds as for depression. Yes, it happened to me.

It is part of life to experience ups and downs or excitement and drawbacks, and it is considered “normal” to feel a bit “down” when trying to process disappointments, etc. But having depression is not the result of a drawback, not a temporary setback in life. It IS your life, and you can not just get up and shake off the feeling. It IS a valid and treatable illness, but it will not just go away, so instead of trying to cure yourself, you should start to manage it alongside your life. That said, it is still a difficult journey – one which I very well understand.

There are days that I literally have to drag myself out of bed. Only because I have a responsibility towards my children – to get up, pick them up from school and take care of them. Not because I feel like getting up, but because I have to.

There are days that I don’t feel like showering or brushing my hair. Who cares what I look like if I’m not going anywhere?

There are moments that I drive in my car, when the thought cross my mind: If I drive my car over the edge of the road and disappear off the face of this earth – would someone even miss me? Even though I have a loving husband and family.

There are times that I can’t  stop crying for no reason, and yet it feels like my life is meaningless and over.

How do I just “shake it off”?

No, I can’t fix it on my own. You can’t fix me, either. 

Would you tell a diabetic to “shake it off”? Would you tell them to get up and do something until their sugar levels are normal? To “fix” themselves?

NO. Yet you expect me to fix the chemical imbalances, the serotonin and dopamin levels in my body.

Ignorance is bliss, but knowledge is power.  Even if we don’t feel like it, we have a responsibility to ourselves and others just like us. To get the message across that depression is a lifechanging illness and although we can’t fix it, we can learn to manage it, to live with it.  

We have to convince others that even though the tunnel is dark, there is light at the end. Even if the light is far and dim.