I am the eternal optimist, I bring the fun, I'm quick to compliment, eager to engage, always up for a dance and oh so very easily excited. As a life long devotee of Reebokism - 'Life is short. Play hard', I just figure life is all a bit short to take too seriously. I can add determined, kind, serial over-sharer and hard-working. But one word, I've never used to describe myself until recently is 'depressed'.
I'm the type that gets a thrill leaving hidden notes on my colleague's desks saying 'You're awesome' knowing that it will bring a smile, the one that always awkwardly cuddles too early on in friendships because I love easily and I have been pumping out a daily gratitude journal years before it was cool. So to be sitting in a psychologist's room hearing the words,'You have severe depression' just felt weird. Wrong. Me? That can't be right. He doesn't even really know me that well, let alone my extensive back catalogue of fun and frivolity.
I've hesitated writing this many times. Then hesitated whether to post many more. Maybe, I thought, just write it and keep it somewhere to look back on. Otherwise you'll regret it, I told myself. People will never see you in the same way. Once it's 'out there' in forever-land, perhaps I will have to be known henceforth as Sad Face Gabrielle. It'll embarrass my family, scare away potential clients, freak out my children and alienate those I haven't shared my diagnosis with. But then I pondered what was really fuelling alot of the doubts and hesitations - shame. The very same debilitating emotion that stops people reaching out when they need to the most.
The shame of being vulnerable and less than perfect in a world of social media photo shopped utopian lives - 'I see your flawless life and I raise you!'. The shame of not quite coping. For me, part of this shame lay in the confronting realisation that I judged people who had depression. It turns out I have been a lifelong 'depressionist'. I've spent all my days wrongly, but firmly stereo-typing people who have experienced depression. I guess I thought it happened to emo's, to forlorn poets, to songwriters who moped around writing sad ballads, to people who'd suffered through bad childhoods, to the types of people who always saw the glass as half-empty, to people who made bad decisions and steadily but surely stuffed up their lives, to drug addicts ....... I dunno, just not the likes of kind, happy, fun, hard-working me.
And it was that uncomfortable realisation that strengthened my resolve to share. To firstly, whole-heartedly apologise for my judgements and, secondly, to remind others, that it can happen to anyone. It is something that I NEVER, EVER imagined would happen to me. NEVER. Not me.
To be fair, this year, 2016, was pretty foul - a business in crazy growth that had me running around like a deer in headlights, the constant strains that a working mother juggles, some serious and heart-breaking illnesses amongst family and friends, and the shock of having a melanoma diagnsosis - but that wreaks of justification. And the reality is, I don't need to be able to explain how I've arrived at a diagnosis of depression. It doesn't matter. And I am sure it doesn't help.
The joy de vivre that has always pumped through my veins upon waking, ran very dry. Every new day landed like a heavy weight on my chest. Days were spent blinking back tears and swallowing red raw lumps. Uninspired. Small. Bitter. Numb. Lacking confidence in everything about myself. I avoided social activities because the energy required to make small talk was too much. Besides I didn't want friends and family, the very people I should seek out, seeing me like this.
It's seeing someone's success posted on Facebook and rather than congratulating them with a thumbs up, feeling a painful hot surge of inadequacy shoot through my stomach. Attempts to jot down bullet points on positive things about my life (cause that's my way) and the page sitting empty. The booty I shook late at night dancing with friends for many decades was achey and suddenly excruciatingly self-conscious. In fact, I couldn't even bring myself to listen to music, let alone dance.
After a few months of seeing a psychologist and using mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy techniques, I can sense 'old me' slowly stumbling along the long road home. The optimist is able to see this experience as a blessing. Humbling. An opportunity for increased empathy. Resolve to take better care of myself.
With New Year's eve upon us, I really want to share this for anyone who might not be feeling happy and joyous about it all. Finding nothing celebration-worthy, maybe you're sadly locked away too scared to tell the world how you are feeling. Previously, I may have thought that you should just embrace Tay Tay and shake it off. Surely? I mean it's New Years Eve FFS. Now I realise, you don't have that simple choice. It's not that simple. And it's yucky.
I want to reach out to anyone that, like me, never imagined that their rose-coloured lense on life, could tarnish to an opaque black. And, wow, also to those of you who know the feeling of life-long depression episodes like an irritating summertime blow-fly that hangs close-by no matter what you do - I can't begin to imagine. For those whose isolation intensifies as their social media feed fills with jubilant photo-shopped images of oh so perfect new year's eve fun. For those who want to tell their friends and family but even the thought adds to their sense of shame. Or those who have bravely tried but had it fall on deaf ears or unhelpful self-referential replies - 'well, I remember feeling like that once, but I just, you know, got on with it...'.
For those that can't look in a mirror because that sallow skinned, vacant eyed stranger looking back at them only confirms the feeling of hopelessness. Who hears the pop of a champagne cork from celebrations down the road, and feels a warm tear trickle down their cheek. This is for you.
This is a loving, simple hug (too soon?) from afar from me to you. That you do belong here as much as anyone else. That you count. That you're loved. That you've done your best, and it's ok to feel like this. That we all stumble along, fall and eventually find the strength to pull ourselves back up. And as you sit alone, as much as it might feel impossible right now, you will laugh and dance or golf or sing or write or look into the eyes of your children with love again sometime. We don't have to be shiny all the time - that is not reality, but we do need to remember that we still matter all of the time. That is the reality.
This is for you.
Where to go for more help:
Beyond Blue - https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
Black Dog Institute - http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/
[photo credit: Getty Images istock]