Why Aren’t we Kinder to Ourselves?

Empathy always starts individually

Depression makes my brain malfunction and misfire.

In practice, this means the illness hijacks my inner monologue and turns it into self-destructive propaganda. My brain becomes a megaphone broadcasting self-limiting beliefs on a loop. But after five years stuck in my own head, I’ve learned to recognize hostile takeovers and stall them.

While I can’t prevent the illness from acting up, I can try and keep myself out of harm’s way with coping strategies and contingency plans. I maintain a tight grip on my emotions as my kind of depression is often reactive. Under certain circumstances, it has the potential to intensify to such an extent it scrambles my thought process until I can’t function anymore.

For someone who feels everything keenly — a so-called Highly Sensitive Person, as per the work of psychologist Dr Elaine Aron — silencing my heart is often a matter of survival. I lost years of my life to major depressive disorder before I accepted I’d have to get out of it alone or not at all as no help was forthcoming.

Because America, among other things.

What little mental capital I manage to claw back from the illness on a daily basis I use to rebuild a life that works, under complex circumstances. But mental clarity is contingent on keeping my heart in check, shielding it from harm, doing battle with vulnerability.

This is problematic. My heart has always been my compass and intuition my guide. Both lead the way, reason follows. In short, heart and intuition generate curiosity. Once engaged, reason steps in, assesses the situation and does its due diligence. Only then do I take action.

Although depression keeps attacking my brain, it hasn’t corrupted either my heart or my intuition.

Instead, it rendered them temporarily inaccessible until they kicked in again.

And showed me the way forward.

Healing is only ever a word away.

Reconnecting with my vocation was contingent of turning the pen on myself. As a journalist, I was reluctant to do this until I realized it could help chip away at mental health stigma. And so I started documenting the reality of depression with radical honesty in the summer of 2018, digging a little deeper with every piece.

Depression is a universal disease no one is impervious to but the omertà that often surrounds it has led many people to die by their own hand. So far, I’ve been lucky to escape with my life but suicidal ideation remains a permanent fixture of my mental landscape, as is the case with many chronic depressives.

While I accepted long ago I’d always walk hand in hand with darkness, silence kills.

This is why I use my own life as material to foster understanding about the taboos associated with the illness. The driving force behind my work is to try and generate empathy among those who don’t have firsthand experience of the disease and therefore don’t understand it. Or still dismiss it as a simple attitude problem that self-discipline and a well-trained mind can fix.

To assume a depressive is in complete control of the workings of their brain is dangerous.

The onus shouldn’t be on the sick person to educate others about their condition and yet many of us take it upon ourselves to do so whenever we can.

If only to spare fellow sufferers from the stigma that so often blights our life.

Depression isn’t traditionally associated with intellectual and emotional fluency.

But live with it for years and it’ll turn into a teacher of sorts.

When outside help isn’t available, you must take a deep dive into your psyche until you understand exactly how you’re wired. Self-awareness is necessary if you’re to help yourself.

After spending five years cooped up in my cranium, I know myself well enough by now. To get there, I started out with who I was then tried to figure out who depression had turned me into. Only then was I able to reclaim a sense of self completely separate from my illness.

Chronic though it is, I am not my depression even though I conflated both for the longest time. Such is the power of depressive propaganda. It doesn’t let up until it’s destroyed what makes you you and you no longer recognize the person in the bathroom mirror.

My heart’s refusal to jettison vocation saved me and continues to save me on a daily basis. The worse things get, the more I cling to the page even though my ability to think clearly can vary under duress.

Challenging circumstances sometimes get the better of me and temporarily cause confusion, causing a breakdown which I systematically tackle the only way I know how: by writing about it as it happens. And being able to do this is a cause for celebration, oddly enough. For five years, I couldn’t articulate what was going on no matter how much I tried.

As long as I retain the ability to process current events in print, I’m able to put some distance between what’s happening and how my heart is handling it. Right now, I’m running exclusively on survival instinct. If I stop writing, I’m done for so I can’t and won’t let it happen.

Because the more I write, the easier I breathe.

Words aren’t just a way to dispel loneliness and let others in a similar predicament know they’re not alone; words are the building blocks of our shared humanity.

Just as it can divide and alienate, language can also bring us together.

Being open about depression is a matter of public health.

I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

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