I’ve gone around in circles, deciding whether to write this post. Since it’s the longest day of the year, and I’ve had a few extra cups of coffee, the spinner has landed on writing it.
I’ve been thinking about control and perfection, in relation to communication. Through Facebook, twitter, Instagram, blogs, and even e-mails and text messages, we’re in the habit of presenting highly curated versions of ourselves to the world. Even when we expose ourselves as out-of-control or imperfect to our list of friends, the presentation is still…calculated in some way. Each day, we carefully choose what to like and what to share, in order to present a specific version of our selves to the world. And if a Facebook post or a tweet reveals too much, it can be deleted, as if it never happened.
Our social media timelines aren’t that different from the work of fiction writers or filmmakers. We’re creating our life narratives. Sometimes we’ll write quickly, with rambling sentences and careless errors, but more often we return to edit and revise. Which version is more beautiful? Which is more true?
I’m writing this today, because the version of myself that I present to the world is, at most, only half true. The version I present shows a charmed life. Have you seen my beautiful family, my kind friends, the smile on my face, my busy job, the articles I’ve read, and all of the books, art, movies and ideas that interest me? I want you to see all of those elements, and I want you to believe that all is well in my world. Why am I so desperate to communicate the happy side of my self to a list of friends and acquaintances I rarely even see in real life? I suppose the truth scares me. If I publicly acknowledge that I’m living with depression, the darkness may leap up and swallow the light that I’ve fought to maintain. If I publicly acknowledge that I depend on medication to function and stay alive, people will know that I’m weak. If I publicly acknowledge that I’m not ‘normal’, people will treat me differently or avoid me altogether.
But as I write those sentences, I can see that my fears aren’t that scary after all. The darkness and light will always play tug-of-war, that’s the nature of existence. Today is the longest day, and in six months we’ll light candles on the shortest day. We’re all weak at some point, so hiding that fact is just silly. And nobody is normal. If someone were to treat me differently or avoid me because of my depression, well, who cares? The people I love the most already know about the irrational darkness that comes over my brain, and they still love me.
They know about my depression because they don’t just read my Facebook timeline – we actually talk, in real life. And when we have real, honest-to-goodness conversations, revisions are next to impossible. Once the words are released, I can’t rewind and rewrite the exchange to my satisfaction. For me, a red flag that my sadness is spiraling out of control, is when I stop picking up the phone. I avoid what I need the most – connection and conversation.
I’m writing this tonight because I want to live with more truth and more connection. If you’re fighting with depression, I want you to know that you’re not alone and that there are so many ways to get support. Please see a doctor or a therapist if the darkness is taking over. Seriously, make the appointment, right now. I created excuses for a long time. I didn’t have enough money. Then I was way too busy. And many times I rationalized that it was just hormones. Or maybe it was the full moon. Or because I’d eaten too much sugar, or I hadn’t gotten enough exercise, or, or… I felt way too much pride and fear, so I put off getting help for years.
If you love someone who’s depressed, keep reaching out and connecting. Remind them that they’re not alone; even if you can’t understand why they’re so sad or shut down, someone will. Mostly, just keep loving them, exactly the way they are.
Finally, here are some helpful resources I’ve found:
- The National Alliance on Mental Illness page of resources for depression
- The Depression Cure by Dr. Stephen Ilardi (I try to follow his six steps, but I also take medication)
- Any and all writing by Martha Beck