There were names littered throughout my family which sounded cold and scary, but which almost universally meant good things. I remember Lexapro. I remember wanting to thank him for making people happy when they used to be incapable of it. When you are a little kid and you see people who are depressed — whose emotions seem to make no sense, wholly untethered to whatever good things may be happening to them — you just want it to go away. You don’t quite blame yourself (though you are often inclined to try to fix it in the way a child would), but you know that it means people don’t want to go out for a picnic when it’s sunny. They sometimes don’t even want to get out of bed. And you know that this is bad, and that it makes you sad by extension.
I remember hearing a friend say, more offhand than anything else, over lunch: “Popping pills is never good. It only makes the problem worse.” I doubt that they would have said the same thing about a bacterial infection, or a heart disorder, but they seemed quite content in disapproving of certain medical solutions to things like depression or anxiety. To them, the symptoms were as much imagined as they were harmful, and there was nothing a little talking couldn’t do to make it go away. I tried not to get offended at this, but I would lie if I said they didn’t fall just slightly in my esteem after that conversation.
Of course, no solution is ever the same — ever universally effective — for anyone. In a family that struggled with mental illness, there were a million responses that led to health. There was therapy, there was exercise, there were medications. But each step in that direction was a good one, and one that made the child me excited and hopeful for the things we would all get to do this summer. If people were happy, then we could go camping. We could go to baseball games. We could go on vacations. I didn’t know what depression was, but I knew that it took everything away.
I remember when one person finally stopped taking Lexapro. I remember them saying, “I feel good without it. I don’t feel like the days are so long.” And, now that they were happy to be awake, neither did I.
When we dismiss mental illness as being largely self-imposed or trumped-up, we are telling sick people (and the families their illnesses touch) that they are feeding their sickness. We are even vaguely implying that they want to be sick. But depression (and other mental illnesses) destroy people, and their descent is out of their control. Because depression is not just a bout of sadness, it is a period of not being yourself — of not even recognizing who that self is. It is being in a fog which prevents anything good from reaching you, which takes away the sense and joy of successes and amplifies failures a thousand times over.
To hear someone tell you to “get over it,” or that you can will your way out of it, only makes you hate yourself more.
Like all sicknesses which run in the family, growing up with depression around you will always make you question your own perception of reality — you never know when you may be looking at something through a prison you are not even aware of having entered. No one thinks that they are sick until they are, and prevention is only a concept when the disease is as amorphous as the spectrums of the human mind. And when I have found myself, for days on end, unable to see the light or reason in anything, I knew that I may one day have to look for solutions that go beyond the character-building wisdom of “work out more often.” And if that should ever include taking medication, or seeing someone who can explain me to myself, that is nothing to be ashamed of.
Because I remember the little girl who looked at these adults who were supposed to know better, who were supposed to teach her how to be appreciative and energetic and joyful, and not knowing how to wake them up. I remember how painful it is to see people who have everything and cannot love what is just in front of them. And though the solution will never be the same for everyone, and though the illness is harder to see and to understand for everyone, it is important to always remember that it is not selfish. It is not something that people wish upon themselves, or revel in when they have it. When we are sick, we must take care of one another — even if we cannot see their wounds.