By Heidi Fischer
I remember the first time I truly opened up to someone about the depression I often felt. I had been quietly dealing with it from about the age of 14, and it wasn’t until I was 19 that I truly spoke it out loud. On this occasion I recall sitting with a friend, and for close to an hour crying and feeling frozen in fear, unable to formulate the words. Terrified of what the person sitting beside me would think, and even more frightened of what it would mean to say things out loud. Luckily for me, they were patient.
I don’t remember the exact words I finally uttered, but I do know despite what I thought; a hole didn’t open in the earth that swallowed me up. It was hard, I continued crying, but my friend didn’t leave me, and this occasion lead to me continue to find ways to share my story more and more. It happened slowly and little by little. Over time I spoke more with this same friend, and learned how to be honest about my feelings. Eventually I spoke to other friends, and as I did so, something special began to happen. Not only did I gain the freedom that comes from honesty, I began to hear those words: “me too”. “Me too” are powerful words, especially to a mind that’s been drenched in depression. It’s my experience that depression wants me to believe that I’m the only one with my particular problems. That my mental illness is somehow shameful, my fault, and no one in the world has ever struggled like I do. And it’s easy to go on thinking such things when you are, like I was, immobilized by these thoughts.
After some time passed, and had I heard similar stories multiple times – I no longer was frightened to speak about my mental health with those closest to me. In my early 20’s I continued to struggle, and was fortunate to have a college teacher that often spoke about her battle against depression. Here was another person who had learned to speak about her difficulties, and her honesty affected me profoundly. It was due to her strength that I found my own, and worked towards seeing a therapist as well as a doctor.
Opening up to professionals’ is a whole different ballpark than talking to your friends. I again had to relearn how to say things out loud, and it took time. There were appointments that honestly took the whole hour to get a few sentences out. And yet again, over time it became much easier.
I am now in my mid-30’s, and I consider myself a full-blown mental health advocate. I have given many presentations, likely to over a 1000 people, and doing this is something that brings me great joy. I’ve been part of video projects, radio interviews, and much more. All things a younger me didn’t even imagine, let along aspire towards. I refuse to stay silent, and this refusal is part of my healing. Having Major Depressive Disorder, is hard work, but not having to fight it alone makes it easier.
As you read this you may be thinking, well that’s great for her, but I can never share my story. That’s what old me believed, and I understand that impulse. I promise you though that opening up, while difficult, comes with many benefits. I would encourage you to try, and provide you with some tips on doing so.
Choose that person you know will receive your story well.
Do you have that friend that you can always talk to and just understands? A special Aunt who listens and doesn’t try to give too much advice? A mentor who has helped you before? These are great people to try to start with.
Write it out.
When words are difficult to find, writing out your feelings can be a good starting point. In my experience it helps me to understand myself better, as well as express myself to others. This could be in typical writing, poetry, song, or whatever works for you.
Seek professional help.
Professionals are trained at both listening and helping clients with opening up. It is part of their job to be non-judgmental, and you don’t have to worry about confidentiality either.
You don’t have to share with everyone.
Once you open up, it can be a side effect that you now feel like sharing your story with everyone you meet. This isn’t to say that you can’t do this, but it can be advisable to take things slow, and in doing so protect yourself from over sharing early on.
Speaking your story out loud won’t cure you, but it can start you on your journey of recovery. 19 year old me never imagined that by opening up to that one friend, I was starting down an important path. I’m thankful for her courage and bravery. I’m thankful that I no longer sit in silence, and that by opening up I have learned I am not the only one.