I’d like to share a couple of posts with you. First of all, this piece by Jeff Green, published today. (If you don’t know who Jeff Green is, he’s currently PopCap’s director of editorial and social media and used to work on U.S. games magazine Computer Gaming World, later Games for Windows Magazine.) Many people expressed surprise at Jeff posting this, because, to quote several commenters, “you wouldn’t know he had depression.” I’ve only met Jeff maybe once or twice, but it’s true; he “hides it well,” as it were. That doesn’t diminish his suffering in any way, of course — it simply means that he’s found ways (and help) to deal with it in a way that doesn’t affect his public persona.
Second of all, and related, this post from January of last year by me. I shan’t talk about that post too specifically right now since you can just go and read it, but I did want to contemplate the subject a little further today, as reading Jeff’s post shortly after he published it (and undoubtedly went back and forth on whether or not he should share it with the world) got me thinking.
I am a lot better than I was. I hit my lowest ebb just over two years ago when my wife and I decided to split. I won’t go into the specific details of that right now, but suffice to say that it was a mutual decision by the pair of us that was partly a consequence of, ironically, my own depression. I had left a job I hated, gone to PAX East for the first time (and had an amazing time) and then came back home to no job, no prospects and a thoroughly bleak outlook for the future. Depression at my situation (which was at least partially self-inflicted, I will freely admit — I could have stuck at the job I left, but it probably wouldn’t have been good for me at all) sapped my motivation and just made me want to curl up into my own private little world and not talk to anyone. It wasn’t the first time it had happened to me. It was a recurring pattern. And, realistically, there are times when it will likely happen again in the future.
The one thing that people don’t seem to mention about depression is that it can be addictive. Sometimes, when given the choice between 1) getting up to do something positive that you know will make yourself feel better and 2) slumping on the sofa staring at an interesting spot on the wall for several hours, all your brain wants to do is 2). It gets into the habit of doing 2) and it becomes a natural, conditioned response to anything that upsets you or frustrates you. Over time, it gets harder and harder to not do 2) even though there’s usually at least a small rational part of your brain saying “STOP IT! STOP IT! STOP IT!” That rational part gets drowned out by the bit going “staring at the wall is comforting, safe, and you won’t have to talk to any people.”
Getting over that stage is the difficult part. Fighting against the desire to do nothing and wallow in your own self-pity is one of the hardest things anyone suffering from depression has to do. Only then can you figure out exactly what to do when you pull yourself up off the floor/bed/sofa and make a conscious decision to do… something. Whether that’s simply trying to “get on with your life” or actively seeking help to if not “cure” your condition then at least improve it.
Sometimes even the most straightforward tasks can be made to feel like insurmountable obstacles to those suffering a depressive episode. That in itself can cause people to feel ashamed of their condition and not want to talk about it. Thankfully, I’ve seen a heartening trend recently: people overcoming the stigma attached to talking about mental health issues and publicly baring their souls about these important topics. Jeff Green’s post is just the latest example of people with higher profiles than me publicly “coming out”, as it were, and talking about this aspect of themselves that, however unpleasant it may be, helps define the person that they are.
Feeling able to write about it publicly and talk about it face-to-face are two very different things, however. I know that personally speaking, I still find it difficult to talk about depression with anyone except my very closest friends, but I’ll happily (perhaps the wrong word, there) post things like this to an (admittedly small) audience the world over.
The important thing to remember if you have ever suffered from depression, though, is that you most certainly are not alone and that there is nothing to be ashamed of. You may hate the condition and what it does to you, but that doesn’t mean you should hate yourself or feel you should lock yourself away in isolation. On the contrary, you should seek out people you feel able to talk about it with and then get some things off your chest. And you should seek help if you need it.