coming out

Can I Just Say? #7 – The Trouble with the Closet

StigmaThe trouble with the closet is that you have to lie ALL the time. I lie about my day, I lie about why I stopped drinking, I lie about my weight, my social life, my job, my plans.

And the trouble with lying is that it hurts. It makes me feel ashamed. Because lying is something you do when you’re scared to admit something, when you’re ashamed to face it. It makes me feel alone. You know why? Because it makes me more alone. I’m more isolated because people don’t understand, because they can’t understand because I’m lying to them.

Shame and isolation – just what the doctor ordered!

Even my therapist believes that depression is something personal – something to disclose only to close friends and family. I want badly to disagree. I want to rage at the injustice, the silliness. If it were epilepsy, if it were cystic fibrosis or cancer, not only could I tell mere acquaintances, but they might sign a petition about the NIH. My family might organize a fundraiser or participate in a walk-a-thon.

Do you hear what I mean? People might support me. If my disease were different.

As it is I’m advised – by every single person – to keep it quiet.

As it is I’m left lying, using a pseudonym to share my thoughts.

As it is I’m getting tired.

The thing is, guys, that I’m not ashamed. The truth is that I’m not alone.

It’s tricky because you really do run the risk of being stigmatized, being called lazy or irresponsible, incompetent, unreliable. The thing is it’s probably not a good idea to come out as depressed in most workplaces, to most acquaintances. Eugh.

I just want to say that if you feel like it’s wrong, you’re right. And you have no reason to be ashamed. And you are not alone.

Photo by See-ming Lee on Flickr.

I say “affliction.” You say “totally normal and necessary part of the human experience.”

affliction afflactionI was recently told by a loved one that depression is not an affliction. Affliction has a negative connotation, and depression is something everyone goes through – part of the human experience.

I took a deep breath. I said that if anything deserves a negative connotation this does, but she didn’t budge.

It’s a common refrain – a gentle way to dismiss the pain depression causes, and it hurts to hear. So what’s going on here? Why are people so defensive of depression? I’ve thought of a couple options.

  1. They confuse the person with the condition. Not wanting the person to feel stigmatized, they feel a need to celebrate the disease.
  2. They are hesitant to accept that you’re hurting – or that your pain is profound – because they love you.
  3. They worry about their own mood health and want to believe that mood disorders are common and even positive in the long run.

I was relieved to notice that all of the explanations I could come up with were rooted in love and concern for self and others.

I shuffled through possible reactions and settled on “meh.” It hurts my feelings when someone disagrees with me about the nature of my condition – but only momentarily.

With this stigmatized, little understood condition, it often falls on us to be patients and educators at the same time. But what if that weren’t true? I love the idea of letting go of the need to educate, of the need to manage other people’s responses. I love the idea of just being a patient for a while.

My friend is not responsible for my recovery. I am. Does it really matter if I think she’s wrong headed on this particular issue?

I can respectfully disagree (maybe send her an article or two) and then let it go. I can stop worrying about the fact that “someone is wrong on the internet,” and focus on getting better.


Photo from Patrick Feller on Flickr.

Take That Suckaaaaa: Asking for Help #4

I recently had a birthday. Birthdays, for me, have been rough since I was a teenager. The rest of the year I can manage the desperation caused by my deep certainty that I’m not living out my values. Leading up to my birthday I’m paralyzed with guilt, frustration, and shame.

My close friends and family understand that I hate my birthday and so, understandably, tend to not make a big deal of it – leaving me to feel alone with the meanest of voices. Enter cycle of frustration: me woefully ignorant of why I’m feeling the way I’m feeling and unable to set things up so I’ll get what I need, my friends kindly trying to give me some peace and quiet, totally unaware that what I want is company and support.

Blame yourself for the infuriatingly stupid cycle, double down on the shame, get nonsensically mad at your friends, know that’s ridiculous, triple down on the shame. Eugh.

So, in keeping with my new tradition of asking for help in weird, awkward ways, this year I threw a small party. I invited only people I really like, and told them in the invitation that I was embarrassed but that I’ve been trying my ass off and what I really want is some validation and positive reinforcement. I opened my notebook to a blank page and people left me notes while they munched on Thai food and enjoyed some whiskey and NA beer.

It was the best birthday I can remember.

I was told that I was doing positive things for others that I never would have guessed. I was told that my friends were rooting for me, fiercely. I was told things that cut through the fog, things that made me honestly, happily proud of myself. I was told things that validated my seemingly glacial improvement and shamed that mean voice into silence. For once – silence.

Sometimes you ask for help and you get liverwurst. Sometimes you ask for help and you get kind words and actions that you’re not ready for, that you can’t really hear or appreciate. Sometimes you ask for help and you get thanks.

Sometimes the victory is in the asking, sometimes it’s in the helping. Sometimes it’s in the – TAKE THAT SUCKAAAAA!!!! Mic drop – you get to hurl toward that pesky, finally weakening, mean voice.


Take that Suckaaaa.



Photo by Lwp Kommunikacio on Flickr


Hey Guys,

On Saturday we surpassed 1,000 views of this blog. Can you believe it? We’ve had ten times the number of visitors in April (495) than we had in March (44), and it’s only the 22nd!

Most of the learning shared in this blog comes from conversations with family and friends about depression and joy and struggle. Conversations I rarely had before I was diagnosed.  Conversations that would have been so helpful years ago.

Mmmm. Conversation.

Mmmm. Conversation.

I’d like to celebrate this milestone by sparking a conversation. Or two.

Have a friend who needs a break? Recommend one of the books from “Books to Chill To.”

Know someone who’s suffering more than they let on? Send them the “Asking for Help” series and offer to set up a calendar. Or send them the “Reactions To Depression” post and tell them that you won’t always get it right, but that you want to listen.

Share your favorite post on facebook or twitter. Announce yourself as an ally to those who struggle with mental illness, or re-read the posts on treatment and make that call.

Whether you’re someone who’s feeling low or someone who loves one – basically if you’re a person – I thank you so much for your interest. Please email me at with comments, feedback, and suggestions. Tell me about a conversation sparked and make my month.

Defender of the Sentence Fragment, Believer in the Oxford Comma, and Friend to the Feeling-Low,



Photo by Ulisted Sightings on Flickr

Asking for Help #2

Rrrg. Asking or help is almost impossible. It can be embarrassing, scary, hopeful – overwhelmingly emotional. I don’t know about you, but I spend most of my time during depressive episodes trying not to be emotionally overwhelmed.

To make matters worse – in my experience you have to ask over and over again. I think this is mostly due to stigma and well-intentioned bafflement. Your friends and family don’t want to embarrass you (stigma) and they also have no idea what would help (bafflement).

Only one solid thing came out of my weird, awkward Asking for Help Event, and that was a shared google calendar. Five or so people signed up for a day each week. On that day, they were supposed to call me, text me, somehow check in. That’s it.

The result was extremely helpful, and a little disappointing.

Knowing that there was someone who expected to hear from me, or who was going to reach out, almost every day of the week was incredibly helpful. It felt like a safety net. It quieted the worry, the deep conviction that I was alone and that no one would or could help.

I no longer had to do math in my head if I felt a downward spiral coming on. “Should I call A? No. I called him last week. I should call  B? No, she wouldn’t understand this one. What time is it? Will C be awake? Oh! she’s got the kids today – I’m already too much of a burden on her…” And on and on in circles until I felt more desperate than when I began the deliberations. The calendar often allowed me to avoid that conversation altogether – which was priceless.

For the rest of the story – check out Asking for Help #3.