I don’t have a good track record for handling Hard Things well. When I was younger, scribbling angry rants in my journal was sufficient enough to handle stress. As I got older, my tendency was to escape rather than confront. Predictably, the older I got, the more serious life became, making it that much harder to keep fleeing rather than fight.
In my young adulthood, I learned that a big part of my inability to cope well, even when everything seemed fine, was due to depression – a mental illness that is so much more complex than “feeling sad all the time.” Sure, I had plenty of reasons to “feel sad”: a long-term boyfriend I trusted sexually abused me. A mid-faith crisis lead to dropping out of a conservative Christian seminary and losing a handful of friends. And, most recently, my father died of cancer two months before my wedding.
You could argue that my current depressed state is a result of being shat on by life, but I know it’s more than that. I was unable to feel happy and relax when I started dating my fiancé – a loving life partner it took me over twenty years to find. Not even moving to Colorado, one of the sunniest states in America, could change the way I felt inside. Depression is like trying to run through Jello while everyone else is sprinting past you. No matter what you do, no matter how much you want to, you cannot keep up. Even the most well-intentioned people who tell you to “Just cheer up” can be damaging, because they don’t realize it’s just not that simple.
In my case, being an escapist by nature as well as depressed was a deadly combination. Sometimes the healthiest choices are the hardest choices – who wants to admit to having a mental illness? Who wants to be that person who constantly withdraws, fearing that no one will understand? In many social circles, and sadly in many churches, depression is seen as more of a character weakness than a disease. I will never forget the first day of my last semester at seminary, when a student in my Intro to Counseling class stated that people who truly know Jesus will never be depressed. What better way to keep a depressed person in the closet by telling them their faith isn’t real due to something they can’t control?
It was easy to hide it at first. I thought doing some feng shui in my life would be enough: I covered my body in tattoos. I changed my name from Sarah to Beth. I moved 1500 miles away from the town where I grew up, dyed my hair black, and started completely over, but it still wasn’t enough. The real problem was on the inside, and ignoring it was as dangerous as closing the door to a room on fire in hopes it will burn itself out. I needed help, but I couldn’t admit it. I thought it would make me look weak, but the truth was I knew the steps I’ve have to take to get better would require strength I just didn’t have.
At some point, a decision must be made. No one asks to have depression, but the only person who could really help me was the same person standing in my way the entire time: me. It was me who had to decide to call my therapist rather than pick up another bottle. I was the only one who could understand this illness was bigger than me, and needed to be treated by seeing a doctor. I’d do the same kind of self-care for a cold, so why not for this?
Another critical step in my journey to getting better is owning my situation as it is, and not what I wish it was. Depression is a part of my life whether I like it or not. But it’s only a side plot, not the center of my story.
Beth holds a bachelor’s degree in English Literature from Kent State University. It was during college that she first saw her name in print as a columnist for her campus newspaper, The Daily Kent Stater. Now living in Colorado, she is the author of five self-published books. Follow her on her website sbethcaplin.com or @SbethCaplin.