You’ve seen the semi-colon. Maybe you’ve been intrigued; maybe you’ve rolled your eyes. Regardless, we can’t bring humanity to an issue we aren’t willing to shed light on. It’s illusive and easily camouflaged by jokes and smiles. It masquerades as “moodiness” or “sensitivity,” when in reality, this disease is a killer.
I was diagnosed with chronic depression when I was 23, but like alcoholism, it wasn’t something I was going to be “cured” of. At 25, I sought relief by striking my legs with the blunt end of a toothbrush. The bruises were easy to hide, but the emotional trauma was not. At 29, pregnant with my daughter, I confined myself to my bedroom for most of the summer in order to avoid contact with the 3-dimensional world. I chose my depression medication over breastfeeding my baby because the hopelessness that accompanied the medication withdrawal was too much to handle. The fear of reliving that summer prevents me from even contemplating the thought of having another child.
This week is Mental Illness Awareness week, and it’s vital that we take the social stigma off of depression and other mental health issues. It’s for us to recognize and reach out to those who need help. For us to see the Robin Williams’ in our lives who cover up feelings of worthlessness with telling of jokes. Because if we have everyone laughing, no one will see us crying, right? Which students of ours are holding a pencil in their hand on Monday, but are contemplating a bullet in their head on Friday? How many of our fellow educator colleagues live in fear of the mental illness labels and don’t seek professional help?
I am a regular [relatively speaking] 30-something math teacher in a Minneapolis suburb, and I suffer from chronic depression. Eleven years ago, I sought help, and at the age of 34, I can manage my condition in a healthy way. I still trip over my feelings of hopelessness. But I now have the tools I need to rise higher after falling. If you’re struggling, please know you aren’t alone. If you know someone who struggles, reach out to them. They will probably push you away. They will probably push you away again. And again. And again. But every time you give your hand to someone with depression, they are given the opportunity to reach for it, rather than reaching for something destructive.