Bringing a dark secret to the light

by Kristin on January 5, 2010

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Photo by Jaredmoo

Happy New Year, friends. I didn’t exactly go the resolution route this year, but it does seem like a good time to come clean with people, right? So here it goes: I’m not as open and transparent as I appear to be.

Sure, everyone has some secrets, and everyone should. A blog is not a place to spill all, all the time. There are several things about me that only my husband knows, which is the way it should be, I think.

But there are other things that I keep secret for the wrong reasons: I don’t want people to know something about me because I’m embarrassed—it doesn’t fit the picture of me I want to paint. Or maybe it’s something I’d rather be in partial denial about. Sharing it makes it more real—then I have to face it.

When we keep it to ourselves, we face it alone

I know how important it is, though, for people to know they aren’t alone. I was reminded that again last night, when I went out on a limb with this tweet:

I am typically a decisive person. Indecision is a clear sign that I’m inching toward depression. Anyone else have odd red flags like that?

It was the closest I’ve come to openly sharing this truth: I have struggled with depression.

And as soon as I shared it, people rushed in to fill the scary void. Several people responded with their own red flags. Others supported me with care and concern. A few even sent me private messages to reach out with their own struggles and fears about depression.

I immediately knew I needed to start blogging about this part of my past, and how it touches my present.

I’ll start by sharing the bones of my story

I certainly can’t cram it all into one post, but it feels good to at least bring the subject up. I blog about my divorce, my parenting struggles, my complicated feelings about God and faith. Why has depression been the big taboo subject—the one I am most ashamed of, and least able to examine rationally, with hope and even humor?

Maybe we should start a Depression Anonymous group. I’ll go first:

I’m Kristin, and I have struggled with depression. I was probably borderline depressed for many years in my teens and twenties, but after the birth of my second child it hit me full-force. It was like the tectonic plates had been gradually shifting over time, and everything was poised waiting for the one significant hormonal event that would trigger the earthquake. It didn’t help that I was in a lonely, unhappy marriage, or that we moved away from friends and family a year later.

I’ve been taking anti-depressants since 2003, and they’ve made a world of difference. They probably gave me the energy and hope I needed to make other important changes in my life. Once I thought I could taper down and stop taking antidepressants, because I didn’t like the idea of being so dependent on drugs. I quickly discovered, though, what an enormous mistake that would be. I guess I will take them for the rest of my life, if I need to.

I don’t think I’ve really been depressed since the drugs kicked in, but every couple of months or so I get a twinge of some weighty mood or feeling that takes me right back to those darkest days. It’s a really scary feeling, and I have to shake myself as a reminder: I am not there, I am here.

January has been the most difficult month of the year for me, ever since January 2000, when I was seven months pregnant with my second child. But I will face this January with the support of my community, rather than facing it alone.

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  • http://margodill.com/blog/ Margo Dill

    Thanks for sharing your honesty here. I know it must have been hard.
    Margo

  • http://swandive.typepad.com Rachel

    I am right here, so grateful for a partner to walk in the open and light with.

  • Jules

    I’m here with you as well. Depression is a struggle for me. Hard for people
    to detect since I’m so out going, ect. Some don’t take it seriously. Anyway you are not alone in the journey! :)

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    Thank you for sharing. I hit a wall of my own over the past few weeks and am only now starting to sort things out. I wouldn’t call it depression, but rather a sense of despair and feeling overwhelmed. I love how you ended the post. Yes, we really do need our community (both on and offline) to support us. I wonder if the retrospective nature of this time of year coupled with the anticipation of the new year makes it such a tough time for so many.

  • http://www.ejly.net ejly

    So many struggle. And so many do well. Stay in touch with yourself, and your honesty which is a core part of you, and be well.

  • http://hughlh.com Hugh Hollowell

    Right there with you. I live on that razor thin edge often, where I could go either way. I have struggled with this for years. Only my community keeps me sane (and functioning).

    Facing depression is something you must do yourself, but you should never face it by yourself.

    Hugs and prayers your way.

  • A

    I’m right there with you too and still struggle with that and severe anxiety…. some days are better than others. Lots of hugs and it definitely helps to know you are not alone.

    A

  • http://hollyhouse.blogspot.com Jennifer

    So, what you see, Kristin, is that your depression, while yours and yours alone, does not make you unique (although you are a unique and unrepeatable gift). See how many people have responded to tell you of their own struggles. I won’t go into mine right now, but I will say I had that same shame for a long time. Over a period of years I became very outspoken about it and I will tell anyone and everyone about it now, because knowledge can make a huge difference in the life of a hurting person. One thing I’ve learned is when those short, intense moments of depression come, don’t fight it. I mean, sure, take your meds and talk to the right people, but let it wash over you, test its edges for any kernels of truth. It’s okay to wallow in it, even, for a time. Then push back against its walls and come back into you. Thank you for being public about your struggle. I know you will be a resource for others in pain.

    The other point I want to make is how small, in a good way, Twitter and other new media, make the world…that is my forthcoming post today.

    Much peace and many blessings to you.

  • Trina

    aah Kristin, you often reflect how all our comments and sharing allow others to know they are not alone – glad you can accept that for your self too. Life’s hard sometimes, isnt it? Sharing can be so hard too, yet, sharing can be so helpful. Regarding acceptance of what is – oh lordy – can I relate about the meds. I used to pride myself on being so strong, and not taking so much as an aspirin… then along came a dreaded companion – Rheumatoid Arthritis – well, lets just say I fought the inevitable – to no avail – and now take prescriptions with grace and acceptance.
    Thanks for sharing, it takes a community, doesnt it?

  • http://www.howtomatter.com Jeb

    For me, sharing a secret feels like releasing a burden. Not just the secret itself, but the assumptions I have about how others will react to it. Finally putting it out there lets me stop worrying about reactions and, rather, see them for what they are. Regardless of whether my fears were founded or not (and usually, they’re not), ditching assumptions for the truth always helps.

    Thanks for sharing a bit more of yourself KT. With the exception of the ridiculously large quantities of content you manage to post, it appears you’re human. Cheers.

  • Kirstin

    Thanks so much for posting that–I’m sure it will illuminate a number of other dark corners out there, and for the better.

    My sweetie has had several episodes of severe depression over the years. The last one hit while I was at a low emotional ebb myself (having just weathered the end-stage-cancer and death of a parent). The surprise good thing about the situation: I had absolutely no energy to “cover” for him or try to hide what was happening (as I had in previous episodes)–so I just didn’t. I let people know what was going on. If there was some expectation I couldn’t meet or handle, I let people know why. If I was having a rough day, I was upfront with friends about the reason for it. To my amazement, the world didn’t end. In fact, people were kind and supportive–and I discovered that my sweetie and I were far from alone in wrestling with depression and its related fall-out.

    Bless you.

    (Been reading for a while, first time I’ve responded. We’ve met IRL–at Jane’s place in the country.)

  • http://www.sundayschoolrebel.typepad.com Sam

    So weird about depression – why is it okay (in my mind) for anyone else to have depression, but for me, I didn’t want to admit it. I was right there in the closet with you, Kristin. I honestly think I suffered more from a SAD situation – winter was always bad for me, and you know we don’t even have bad winters here in South MS.

    Fortunately, I got pregnant three years ago, and all those pregnancy hormones evened me out. Seriously. The breastfeeding prolonged it, and here I am, not even considering depression as a factor in my life. I promised myself the winter I got pregnant, that if I felt as bad as I did the years before, I would tell someone, I would get some meds. I didn’t need to, after all, but even giving myself permission to do that was powerful.

    I’m so glad you felt you could share this with us, Kristin.

  • http://julieannemery.wordpress.com Julie

    Hi Kristin, I’ve been reading for awhile but never responded. I saw your tweet last night and felt so thankful for your presence and honesty. For those of us who struggle with depression on and off (me too) it just feels so reassuring that we’re not alone in this – not totally broken but instead in company with some wonderfully talented, beautiful, blessed people. I find these dark months the hardest. It’s good to be with you in this – even in cyberspace. Bless. Julie.

  • suzi aka suzigurl

    You’re in good company. I call it “better living through chemistry.” It is so important to have community, and good on you for “coming out” to yours. It is a hard thing to live with, as no one can “tell” unless you tell them. Like an invisible broken arm.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Everyone! As I recently said on Twitter, I’m “overwhelmed in the best possible way by all of the encouragement & support I’ve been shown today since writing my difficult post. thank you.” Again and again.

    Margo, thanks for recognizing and valuing honesty. It can be hard to come by, but it’s much easier when you have friends/readers who appreciate and embrace it.

    Rachel, I love that vision, of us walking together in the light. It’s so peaceful and pleasant, and such a true description of what we should be striving to do.

    Jules, I think that’s true of me, too—I’m very extroverted and lively, so I don’t come across as the typical depressed person. Maybe that dichotomy is one of the things I’m having a tough time making sense of. Anyway, thanks for being there.

    ed, I know that “sense of despair and feeling overwhelmed” all too well. That’s probably what best describes where I’m at now. I think because I have been clinically depressed before, it’s easy for me to connect the dots between the minor and major bouts. Thanks for being part of my community of support, and be sure to let me know how I can support you, too.

    ejly, yes, clearly I’m not alone! And I’m also proof that someone can struggle with depression and still have a very happy, fulfilling life. I realize there are many forms and levels, but we can be well.

    Hugh, it sounds like you are wiser than me, and have shared your struggles with your community for quite a while. I am learning and beginning. Thanks for the hugs and prayers, and for the reminder of why God has placed us in community.

    A, I’m glad I could encourage you, just as you have encouraged me. Take care these cold, dark winter months.

  • karen/daisy17

    Oh, my friend, I can so relate to this post. Depression has come and gone for me over the years, and it scares the shit out of me when it rears its ugly head. To know what helps you steer clear of it is a blessing – there are many people who don’t know how to deal with it and struggle with it for a lifetime without reprieve. Thank you for sharing this with us – I’m sure that it was difficult, but I can tell you that you are in excellent company – and I know that there are people who will be helped by knowing that there is another path for them to consider.
    xoxo

  • erin

    kristin! i saw your tweet this a.m. and have been thinking about it all day….i’m so glad you posted with such honesty. i know that was hard. i really resonated with what you said about “odd red flags.” the really great thing is that you’re aware of them. i’ve been thinking today about what mine are: i’m an outgoing, social person….but when i notice that i’m ignoring phone calls or turning down invites to hang for no good reason…that’s when i stop to do a mini-inventory (“why do i keep turning down opportunities to hang with great friends?”). i’ve struggled with depression for years…but when i’ve taken big steps in talking about it like you have today, i discover more and more people who struggle, too, and who’ve really wanted to talk with someone about it….and so they tell me, and the community widens. i don’t really feel a stigma attached to it anymore because i’ve discovered how common it is. there’s a lot of us out there, which makes me feel more normal :-) ….i just wish it was seen as more “normal” in the church.

    keep noticing your odd red flags, and take care of yourself with the same kind of grace you’d extend to anyone else. you’re worth it. xoxo

  • Vicki

    Isn’t it weird that people are “allowed” to have physical ailments – migraine, diabetes, heart trouble, arthritis,the list goes on – that require drugs to allow a “normal” life. That’s ok. But depression is harder to bring up. It’s “all in your head”. You should try to get off the drugs. You shouldn’t talk about it.

    My Dad takes a daily pill because he had a minor heart attack years ago. Why should it be weird that I take a daily pill to keep my body chemistry in better balance, to avoid breaking into tears over something nonconsequential, to prevent minor frustration and stress from flaring into anger. Eek!

    Better living through chemistry is right. Thanks Kristin for talking about it and everyone else too. We’re all as “normal” as anyone.

  • Elaine Tolsma-Harlow

    I think the Christian community has made the subject of depression even more taboo. I believe it is the perception if we have the joy of the Lord we won’t be depressed…right? That horrible misconceptions has made it even harder for people to ask for help. I once saw a church sign that said something to the effect of If you have God in your life, you won’t be depressed. I nearly drove my car through the sign. How awful for those people in that congregation if they get depressed, where is their support?
    My mother-in-law suffers from very severe depression that has affected our whole family. But it has also brought us together and with that comes the knowledge that we are never alone, we have each other to lean on.
    I’m glad you have your support group & also glad that you put it out there. Hugs to you Kristin!

  • http://www.ordinarymer.com/ Meredith

    Thank you.

    There’s a whole lot more I could probably say, since I’ve struggled with depression a great deal in my own life and I have had experience with anti-depressants as well, but really, all that really matters is that you spoke up. You’re helping take away some of the stigma attached to depression so that one day, people won’t be embarrassed to talk about it.

    So, thank you.

  • http://www.aneccentricmagnolia.com roxanne

    How brave, Kristin, to reach past the taboo and start talking about depression. I blog as tinkerbell the bipolar faerie ~ my way of poking fun at my illness. I blog openly about my bipolar experience. At the risk of seeming self-indulgent, I want others to know they’re not alone, and to become better informed about mental illness. The secrecy fuels the stigma. It’s a chain you have broken by sharing your story with us.

  • http://www.orangeshirtguy.com Dave Thurston

    Dude (aka Kristin): You Rock! (exclamatory verb, Gibraltar, and/or Peter).

    PS: You look a bit taller – did you lose some weight off the tops of your shoulders?

  • Anita Cater

    I was in therapy and medicated after our first child was born for anxiety with extremely difficult thoughts. I’m so open about it now and often am met with: “thanks for telling me your story, I wish I had known and I probably should have gotten help but didn’t.” As my psychiatrist said, you’ll feel better if the instructions are followed. I’ve often said to new moms, if you feel horrible, don’t worry it’s actually normal for 50% of new moms, but it is diagnosable and there is help. I really enjoy hearing other people’s comments and your story. If someone isn’t or hasn’t dealt with anxiety/depression, they know someone who is. Thanks.

  • http://mydarlinganodyne.blogspot.com Kat

    Thanks for revealing the parts of you that you have a hard time sharing. I struggle with depression, too and I find that it does help to ask for support. Excellent post!

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Jennifer, it can be really nice to NOT be unique, can’t it? :) I’m very happy to not be unique when it comes to depression. This advice you gave feels just right, too: “One thing I’ve learned is when those short, intense moments of depression come, don’t fight it.” To fight wildly against something we can’t beat (at least not in that way) only wears us out and makes us feel even more defeated. Thanks for your ongoing support, friend.

    Trina, yes, sharing can be so hard, but so helpful. We are very odd creatures, when it comes to what we choose to be “strong” about (or at least pretend we’re strong about). You’ve been such an important, reliable part of this supportive community—thank you.

    Jeb, this is SO true—especially the second part of it: “For me, sharing a secret feels like releasing a burden. Not just the secret itself, but the assumptions I have about how others will react to it.” My assumptions about how others will react are on some sort of speed. It’s ridiculous. I’m going to have to figure out how to calm those monsters down, more regularly. (And your last comment made me laugh out loud. CLEARLY I’m human! I’m just an extra wordy human. :)

    Kirstin, thanks for sharing your experience with depression, from the perspective of a spouse. It sounds like your family learned a lesson that will positively impact you the rest of your life. How wonderful it is to be “far from alone in wrestling with depression and its related fall-out.” (And now that we’ve reconnected, we should meet for coffee or lunch some time!)

    Sam, YES! What is it about depression that makes us so strange and illogical about treatment? I’m so glad your pregnancy evened things out for you rather than doing the opposite, and that you shared about it here. I certainly don’t want people to think that having a baby is the beginning of the end. :) In fact, I was thinking about that particular baby of mine, and how for the first year of her life she often felt like the only good and happy thing in our home. Everything else seemed to be falling apart, but she embodied the peace and contentment I craved.

    Juli, thanks for speaking up and letting me know you’re out there. This is such a beautiful, true way to think about all this: “…it just feels so reassuring that we’re not alone in this – not totally broken but instead in company with some wonderfully talented, beautiful, blessed people.” I just want to breathe than truth in and sit with it for a while. Thank you, and blessings to you.

    suzi, “Better Living through Chemistry”—ha! I love it! Thanks for your friendship and sense of humor in the messiness of life.

    (All, I’ll be back to respond to more comments! Thanks for your patience and for surrounding me with so much goodness.)

  • http://www.internet-bard.com KatFrench

    KT – Like you, I had mild depression throughout my teens. For me, it was a hormonal birth control that set me over the edge to a place where not-managing it wasn’t a viable option. I’m unfortunately one of those people who get worse, rather than better, over time on medications. I’ve had the best results with a combination of therapy, nutrition and exercise. Obviously, this doesn’t work for everyone.

    The hardest thing for me was to recognize that those methods are EXACTLY like meds for people for whom meds work best–I can’t just refuse to manage my depression and pretend it’s not there. It’s much like a diabetic who theoretically COULD manage their insulin levels with diet and exercise–but won’t.

    I know what it’s like to hold back. For me, it hasn’t been the depression that I’ve kept “in the dark”–but there is a “thing” I don’t share. And at times, the not-sharing colors everything else. It becomes the elephant in my mental living room.

    I’m glad you’ve gotten the elephant cleared out of your mental living room, and gotten so much support and encouragement. :)

  • http://beyonditall.net carla

    Thank you for opening up to us. When I started my personal blog (I also have a business based blog) and spilled my guts about my past eating disorder and current body image issue, people were very open and sympathetic. I was scared to death at first and I prepared myself for whatever responses I would get.

    I was reminded that I am not alone in this. Sometimes we keep things to ourselves so much we forget the rest of the world exists when it comes to our struggles.

  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    karen/daisy17, it’s strange, because I lived with it for so long without knowing that I was depressed—I just thought that was how life felt! Now when I sense it creeping in, I feel in one sense more scared and panicked, because I know what it is, but in another sense more calm, because I know it can’t completely take over. Anyway, thanks for standing by me. You all help me to be more brave.

    erin, it sounds like you and I are SO similar. When I first moved to this town, I was so depressed that I was completely incapable of meeting people and making friends. This is VERY unusual for me. I felt like I had become a completely different person. I’m the type who usually starts chatting with other moms at the park and before you know it we’ve exchanged phone numbers and set up a coffee date. I’m so glad I now know what was going on, and can keep tabs on red flags like that. I definitely want to reach this place you’ve reached: “i don’t really feel a stigma attached to it anymore because i’ve discovered how common it is.” And yes, we especially need to get there in the church.

    Vicki, YES, that’s weird. The stigma looms very large in that way. You described life without drugs in a way I completely relate to: They help you “avoid breaking into tears over something nonconsequential, prevent minor frustration and stress from flaring into anger.” Sometimes it seems like the knobs are being adjusted ever so slightly, but that those adjustments are the difference between a good life and a miserable one. Thanks for speaking up here—it’s good to “meet” you (at least I don’t think we’ve ever met before).

    Elaine, you’re exactly right: “I think the Christian community has made the subject of depression even more taboo. I believe it is the perception if we have the joy of the Lord we won’t be depressed…right?” And it makes me SO mad. Now that I’ve stepped out on this limb, by sharing my story, it makes me want to take on this important mission full-force! Thanks for all your support along the way.

    Meredith, thank you. It’s so good to know people are supportive, and there are other bloggers like you who are paving the way for more honesty and openness.

    roxanne, I completely admire your ability to not just blog about this, but to put it right in the title of your blog! I feel like I’ve only taken baby steps, but it’s all part of the bigger story and picture, right? “The secrecy fuels the stigma” indeed, and we can all work together to chip away at it, from different angles.

  • http://themoderngal.blogspot.com The Modern Gal

    Good for you for being open about it. I’m no expert, but it seems like confronting these things in the open helps you face them and manage them. And it especially helps to have support.

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  • http://www.halfwaytonormal.com/ Kristin T.

    Dave, I do feel a bit taller! Thanks!

    Anita, yes, aren’t all the stories and comments amazing and inspiring? Thanks for sharing your experience here, and for being someone who is willing to be up front with others in your life.

    Kat, the hardest things in life can end up being the best, can’t they? I’m glad you spoke up here, too.

    KatFrench, damn those hormones! Not getting the easy relief you need with medication must be really frustrating, but it sounds like you have kept at it, determined to find a solution that works for you. Exercise and diet are really important for me, too. I have low blood sugar, which manifests itself in a way very similar to depression (it’s just short-term and easier to manage/fix). I hope you can tackle that “elephant in [your] mental living room” some time soon, when the time feels right.

    Carla, good for you! And yes to this: “I was reminded that I am not alone in this. Sometimes we keep things to ourselves so much we forget the rest of the world exists when it comes to our struggles.” I can very much relate. (Btw, it’s good to see you here again!)

    The Modern Gal, yes, at least for me, confronting things in the open, and seeing the acceptance of others, is the best way. I struggle with these thoughts: “people think I’m perfect and like the way they imagine me, so what would they think if they knew the truth?” It’s good to know those fears don’t have much merit.

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  • http://www.google.com son

    The Modern Gal, yes, at least for me, confronting things in the open, and seeing the acceptance of others, is the best way. I struggle with these thoughts: “people think I’m perfect and like the way they imagine me, so what would they think if they knew the truth?” It’s good to know those fears don’t have much merit.

    was reminded that I am not alone in this. Sometimes we keep things to ourselves so much we forget the rest of the world exists when it comes to our struggles.

    KT – Like you, I had mild depression throughout my teens. For me, it was a hormonal birth control that set me over the edge to a place where not-managing it wasn’t a viable option. I’m unfortunately one of those people who get worse, rather than better, over time on medications. I’ve had the best results with a combination of therapy, nutrition and exercise. Obviously, this doesn’t work for everyone.

    Jeb, this is SO true—especially the second part of it: “For me, sharing a secret feels like releasing a burden. Not just the secret itself, but the assumptions I have about how others will react to it.” My assumptions about how others will react are on some sort of speed. It’s ridiculous. I’m going to have to figure out how to calm those monsters down, more regularly. (And your last comment made me laugh out loud. CLEARLY I’m human! I’m just an extra wordy human. :)

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