I wrote this seven months ago and planned to share it. Then I didn’t. It sat in Evernote waiting for the right moment. As a friend of mine says, there’s never a good time so just do it. That’s advice I’ve ignored.
Depression, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, fear…these are things society seems to think are weaknesses. To admit to any of those is to admit that you’re weak. We think of mental illness in terms of mental institutions, but the phrase actually describes something far less visible. I once heard it described in a TED Talk this way: “The opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and it was vitality that seemed to seep away from me in that moment.”
I’ve struggled with deep rooted depression since childhood, not sadness, but clinical depression which most people don’t notice. I routinely feel like I’m not qualified for my life and I’ve been on and off medication most of my adult life. When I was younger, I contemplated the end of my life multiple times. As I grew professionally, especially over the last few years, I started to see depression as a weakness and I kept it to myself. Instead of talking to friends about my challenges, I would take a shot. Instead of sharing what I was feeling, I would have solitary breakdowns. When you feel these things you know they are irrational, but you still experience them. Depression isn’t just a bad mood, it completely rules your life and for some, ends it.
I hit rock bottom in mid-2013, a point when most of you might think I felt on top of the world (details below). In 2013 I went to the ER twice including a 24 hour hospital stay the day after opening the Zappos Campus, thinking my all encompassing anxiety was actually a heart attack. Anxiety and depression were winning…every day was painful…and no one knew.
In a very brief moment of clarity last fall I reached out to friends who had observed my behavior for help, including one you might know (hint: he’s a doctor and he raps). I started sharing my struggles with my close friends, then my team at SHIFT and later quite openly with more people. Today, thanks to a lot of things but mostly the support amazing people, I’m better than I’ve ever been. I admitted to the world that I felt inadequate, was scared and sometimes depressed. And guess what, no one judged me. In fact my vulnerability made my relationships stronger and gave my friends a chance to love and help the complete me.
Depression, like cancer, kills people daily. But we (even those suffering it) often see it as a weakness. However it manifests itself: anxiety, sadness, confusion, anger, self-destruction, overreactions, it’s a challenging hurdle to deal with. For the past three years I’ve had friends who have stuck with me, tolerating my behavior and later challenging me to talk about what triggers the symptoms of the disease I fight. Bottom line, it’s because of those people that I’m strong today. I’ll never be “depression-free” but because of the power of authenticity I am better today than I’ve ever been.
What is the power of authenticity? The strength you find within yourself to share the things you are most afraid people will find out. Things like depression which you believe cause people to see weakness in you. But by sharing with those who care about you, you create a circle of coaches who see the barriers you put in front of yourself to help you to push past them. Depression, in my mind, is like the tackle sleds you workout with as a football player. You need a coach to tell you to push and push because you know you can’t push that massive object with an overweight coach standing on it for the entire 100 yards. But he knows you can do it. So he pushes you. And when you get to the goal line you realize you could have done it all along.
Find a coach. Tell him/her that you don’t know if you can push the sled to the goal line and just start pushing. You’ll get there.
Let’s together be a force in the world to change how we treat our friends who suffer from mental struggles. Let’s create a world that celebrates people for all of their broken ankles. And if you’re among those who don’t understand these feelings, take a moment to watch this TED Talk to give you a glimpse into what depression is like for some of your friends. http://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_solomon_depression_the_secret_we_share.html
Here’s a link to what I wrote in January 2014 about my experiences with depression and anxiety in late-2013.
A note about me: Thanks to an army of “coaches” my life is incredible. I no longer require medication, my health is good and I’m happy. So, mom, don’t worry.