I have depression. It runs pretty deep. It also runs in my family. I suppose I was screwed right from the beginning. Genetics and all that. Along the same lines, high blood pressure runs in my family as well. I knew a long time ago that I had to keep an eye on both. High blood pressure was out of my control, for the most part. Therefore, I had no problem going on medication to control it. Depression was a different beast. I resisted getting help for that.
Utah leads the nation in antidepressant use. Why is that? I'm certainly not a mental health expert, and my beliefs are only anecdotal. But it is my belief that the church has an awful lot to do with it. When I was growing up, my parents sent me to a counselor with LDS Family Services. I wasn't getting along with my dad, and the early stages of depression were beginning to set in. The counselor told me I needed to obey my father more, and follow church instructions to make my life better. Even though I made it clear to the counselor that my dad was an asshole, physically and mentally abusing me (as well as abusing the rest of my family), the problem was all on me.
The longer this went on, the worse it got. Eventually, I ended up going to Hawaii for six months to get away from my dad, and later went on a mission to further avoid him. Our relationship was toxic most of my life. But the depression continued, and progressively got worse.
As a missionary, it really intensified. I figured it was because I wasn't living a worthy life, or because I wasn't being the best missionary I could and should've been, I wasn't living up to my potential, or because I masturbated. (Seriously, what teenage boy didn't?) I was never told, and I never assumed, that it was something out of my control.
After I retuned from the mission, my depression got better for about a year, then began to progressively get worse. Again, I figured it was just God's way of punishing me. Why? Could've been anything. Maybe it was the fact I wasn't married, or because I had facial hair, or any number of infractions that I may have committed. At the time, roughly a year after I returned from my mission, I had begun my exodus from the church. The guilt still ran deep. I still believed, more or less. I still wanted to go to church, although I was less than diligent about attending. I wasn't consciously on my way out, but the path clearly was there, and I felt a massive amount of guilt about it. The mental conditioning runs deep.
My depression continued to intensify over the years, even leading to suicidal thoughts. I finally confided to my doctor about it, and he suggested medication. I expressed uncertainty about being medicated, and he told me something that changed my view of reality. He said, in essence, that depression was caused by a chemical imbalance in my brain, which is why chemicals (prescription drugs) helped correct it. Ultimately, it was all based on well established science, and had nothing to do with my perceived shortcomings in the eyes of God. I finally accepted the fact that I needed medication, and started using antidepressants, just like so many other residents of Utah.
Why am I sharing this story? I feel it's very important to remove the stigma from mental health issues. Depression, anxiety, and other forms of mental illness are quite common, yet they are radically misunderstood by the general population. Those of us who have dealt with severe depression for a very long time are fantastic at hiding it. We're really good actors, and can put on a happy face better than Oscar-winning thespians.
Treat everyone you meet with respect and kindness. You have no idea what they're dealing with. Endeavor to make the world a better place, one person at a time. Never judge someone based on outward appearances. This should be common sense, but experience has shown me that common sense eludes most people.
To those who are dealing with mental illness: I stand with you. Your path is difficult, but it is not insurmountable. You inspire me to keep going, just as I hope my story inspires you. We are still alive, which means we have a 100% success rate at making it through the day, and that's pretty badass. Never give up, because there's always someone who believes in you, and knows you're strong enough to keep fighting, even though you may not realize it. You may not have even met them, or know them on a personal level. Never give up and always keep fighting. It's absolutely worth it.
On a side note, every time I go to get my Prozac refilled at the Walmart pharmacy near my house, it's never ready. For the last year I've gone to pick up my meds, I'm always told that it'll be ready tomorrow. Doesn't matter how early I'd call it in, it's always tomorrow. What kind of fucked up Walmart pharmacy doesn't keep a two-year supply of Prozac on hand? They should NEVER be out of stock.
In any case, if you suffer from depression, please know that IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT. You are absolutely okay just the way you are. There is no shame in seeking qualified medical help. You matter. People care about you. The world is a better place because you are in it. Remind yourself of these facts daily, if you need to. It's exactly what I do to survive. Depression is an evil bitch, and I will continue to fight her every day of my life. She will not win.
Dedicated to my friend Molly. Thank you for being an inspiration to me. Keep fighting the good fight, and keep kicking ass. You have helped me see that I am not alone in this fight.