In some of my recent discussions about current events, antiracism and white supremacy, I’ve found that many people are doing a lot of self-reflection on their own thoughts, biases and actions. As they’d continue to speak, I would think to myself: this is nice, but have your actions changed? Do you treat people differently? Do you live your life differently now? And those thoughts led me to the realization that in the past, I’ve done that same thing about my depression and anxiety. It was a good thing to realize my own mental health issues, but did anything change?
I’ve posted about something similar before, about being afraid of both the known and unknown of depression. But this is a little different, and it’s something I’ve been holding for a while: understanding the ‘why’ behind depression isn’t always enough. In my own experience, it wasn’t enough for me then, and it’s not enough for me now. In dealing with my own depression, I thought for a long time that understanding the ‘why’ would mean that I’d automatically change and become a new and improved person. Unfortunately, that it wasn’t true – but I’ll explain it a little more.
Before I continue, I want to acknowledge that there are countless answers to the ‘why’ of mental illness, and I am in no way trying to discount those experiences. When I’m talking about my mental illness, I’m talking about mental health disorders that aren’t related to trauma or past experiences (for me, that’s clinical depression and Generalized Anxiety Disorder). Back to the post.
I have knowingly lived with depression and anxiety for more than seven years. In that time, I’ve been to a number of therapists and had plenty of sessions where I dive into my childhood, adolescence and adult life as my therapist and I tried to find the root cause of my depression. And in learning more about myself and all the factors that have led to me being who I am – family history, having a predisposition to mental health disorders, being uneducated on mental wellness, relying on others for validation, etc. (and etc., there are reasons for days) – I thought there’d be a moment where I’d find something out about myself and finally say, good. We found it. The main reason. The answer to ‘why.’ Now I can go on living my life. But that didn’t happen, even though I was spending so much time trying to find that moment.
But one day (I honestly couldn’t tell you when this was), I was reflecting on my own behavior and attitude when I realized that I was avoiding doing the work to live with depression and anxiety. I’d been hoping that there was an explanation for it, some reason I could point to and say that’s the reason. That’s why I’m like this. It’s because of someone else. And looking back, that was because of my shame. It was because I thought that if I didn’t find someone to blame for my depression, I’d have to blame myself. Because someone’s at fault. Right?
And that realization was frustrating. It’s frustrating to see in others, and it’s especially frustrating to see in myself. There is a battle, among some of us, to admit that we live with mental health disorders. But admitting that they exist is only part of the equation. Is it really helpful if we own our mental illness, but we don’t adapt? If we don’t put in the work, and try to live differently? I’m not here to speak for anyone else’s experience but my own, but I’ll tell you that understanding ‘why’ wasn’t enough, and once I accepted that, I started working to do things differently. And while that makes it sound like a cakewalk since I did that, it hasn’t been. It’s been hard, sometimes impossible. But depression is a beast, and this is one aspect of it that has helped me in my fight. I hope, in some way, it can help you too.
When I was teaching nurses and nursing students, or teaching Mental Health First Aid to the public, I’d advise them not to ask “Why” the patient felt depressed. You could get a long list of responses for why they felt depressed, and what are you or the patient going to do with them?
I agree we all want to know, but there is never always one clear explanation/reason for why we become depressed. So I think we need to move on past the why eventually, and start changing the things that maintain our depression and learn new effective coping strategies to relieve our depression.
Great, thought-provoking post Nathan. Caz
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I agree! It starts with how we’re taught too, so thank you for advising them to not ask why. More people need that mindset!
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I find this post to be motivating and helpful to our community, because of your raw, vulnerable self-expression, which seems to be a theme throughout your posts. Thank you for this. It is much needed. Be well, my friend.
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Thank you for reading, and thank you for sharing your insight – it can be so hard to learn how to express ourselves for who we are, and encouragement goes a long way to changing that.
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Absolutely! Keep up with your amazing blog… it’s very encouraging as well!