What does “talking about the elephant in the room” mean to you?
Living with mental illness is hard enough as it is, but what makes it so much worse is the feeling that we aren’t supposed to admit to feeling the way we do. To me, talking about the elephant in the room means being honest and open, and sharing the truth about your struggle. Trying to hide the reality of living with mental illness just compounds suffering, and reinforces the stigma that keeps people from getting help.
How do you take ownership of that elephant?
I first began taking ownership by talking about it to other people. First, “safe” people, like my husband or my therapist, or close friends that I trusted. Then, other people who I thought would probably understand. Then, I finally took the step and wrote about it publicly, first on my blog, and then in an essay in The New York Times. Once the article came out, I knew I had no choice but to accept that mental illness is part of my life, and there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
What helped you come forward and speak up about living with depression?
After I was hospitalized with depression, I initially said I wouldn’t tell anyone what happened to me outside of the people who were there when it happened. But I realized eventually that by hiding, I was hurting both myself, and all of the other people out there who are struggling. I started to see that when I shared my own story, other people would begin to open up about their experiences. It became clear that so many of us are suffering in silence, and so by speaking up about what I’ve gone through, I could help other people feel like they aren’t alone.
What is the best advice that you can give to someone struggling?
What I wish everyone could remember is that what is happening to them is not uncommon, and it’s not their fault. Depression is not a personal failure. The "depression voice" is one that tries to tell you that you’re wrong, it’s you, you need to feel bad, it’s all your fault, but none of that is true. If you’re in that place, you need to tell someone, and you need to let them try and help. We often think that because it’s happening “in our heads” it’s something we’re supposed to get over by ourselves, but once you’re in the hole, it can be incredibly hard to crawl out - especially when you aren’t able to trust your own judgement. Reaching out to your support network can make a big difference.
When you're in pain and hope is hard to find, how do you remind yourself that it is still there?
The scariest part about depression, at least in my opinion, is that not only do things begin to feel hopeless, but it really starts to honestly feel like you will never feel hopeful about anything again, there will never be a way out, and that any time you once thought things were okay, you were wrong. I’ve learned to be very open and to tell people as soon as I’m finding that those thoughts are creeping back in. That way, when I start to honestly believe that everything is hopeless and meaningless and futile, I will have other people around who can say, “it’s the depression”. I know I won’t actually be able to remind myself of anything when I’m feeling depressed, but at least I can trust that I have other people around me who are thinking clearly, and who I can rely on to try and get help. The tide always turns if you can just hang in there long enough.