Dear Friends and Family,
I was first diagnosed with depression and acute anxiety when I was twelve years old, and at seventeen I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I’ve been in therapy since then and have worked with many doctors and therapists over the years in order to find ways to treat my symptoms. In addition to therapy, medication, and occasional hospitalisation, I have also used alternative treatments such as acupuncture, reiki, meditation, and yoga. I exercise at least three times per week and I have a healthy, balanced diet. I enjoy these activities, as the sense of wellbeing I gain is crucial to my mental health and physical fitness. I include this information not as a humble-brag, but as evidence of my commitment to keeping my symptoms in check.
No matter what I do, I still experience intense periods of depression, like I am now. Given how much of my life is devoted to preventing depression, I cannot help but feel that each of these episodes is a setback, which makes me feel as though I’m not successful, and that even my best efforts are fruitless. This is very painful.
Another painful aspect of depression is its tediousness. Though my depressive episodes very in length and severity, my thought processes and feelings are basically the same in each case. They include, but are not limited to
- If I were [stronger/more intelligent/more creative] I could easily overcome this. I’m just not good enough.
- I am a failure and I will never succeed in any of my endeavours.
- Because I cannot easily identify or appreciate the good things in my life, I am a bad person who is not worthy of love or compassion.
- I am a burden to those who love me. They would be better off I were gone
These thoughts gain momentum over time, sometimes slowly and sometimes very quickly. In these instances I become overwhelmed and I feel that I’ve lost control. It’s hard for me to communicate during these times, even on a basic level. The thought of socialising makes me anxious, and I worry that being around you or telling you how I feel will somehow make it worse. I will often cancel plans with you because I worry that I will burden you with my pain. I would rather isolate and suppress my feelings, and this often makes them unbearable, sometimes to the point where I feel suicidal. Sometimes I act on these feelings out of desperation. I know that it’s selfish, self-centered, and ineffective, but the shame of behaving in that way is not always enough to make me stop and think about what I’m doing.
I understand that it hurts you to read those words. You may tell me that I don’t need to or shouldn’t feel the way that I do when I’m depressed because you don’t want me to continue to hurt myself by thinking that way. I wish that you wouldn’t say those things. I understand that you want me to stop beating myself up, but I need you to listen to, acknowledge, and accept what I feel. If you disagree or don’t understand, I want you to say so, but when you make a negative judgment about my feelings, you are actually hurting me more. I’m sorry if that upsets you, but I think it’s important that we be honest with each other.
There will be times throughout my depressive phase when I feel better. I will be able to laugh, enjoy your company, and take on responsibilities like grocery shopping, going to the bank, or working. This doesn’t mean the dark days are over. I will inevitably feel discouraged as soon as the bad feelings return. You can help me through this by giving me as much praise, encouragement, and support on the “bad” days as you do on the days when I am productive. Sometimes I can spend the whole day working or running errands and still manage to clean every room in the house, but other times it takes all my strength just to get out of bed and watch a made-for-tv movie. I know this sounds like a strange thing to congratulate me on, but right now I need to take it one day at a time.
If I have offended any of you, I am truly sorry. If you feel unappreciated, or unloved, I am very, very sorry. The sole purpose of this letter is to put some of my more persistent thoughts and worries into words, with the hope that it will help you understand what I’m going through and what my needs are. I love all of you and your friendship means everything to me. I have a feeling that together we might get through this. It may not be today, tomorrow, or the day after that, but someday, and maybe the next time this happens it won’t be as bad.