Outsmarting My Depression

I was depressed on Wednesday.

This is pretty unusual for me. I tend my more toward heart-pounding anxiety than flat, hopeless depression. And while anxiety causes more physical pain than depression and a good deal of mental anguish, it has one major advantage over depression: I know how to make it stop.

I can shut down anxiety with a pill. That sounds like some unrealistic magical whatever, but it’s true. When I have an anxiety attack, Xanax puts an end to it. Just stops it cold. This doesn’t solve my anxiety disorder and it comes with its own drawbacks (mainly that it makes it hard for me to *do* anything through the haze that comes over my brain), but it’s the psychiatric equivalent of an epi pen – you’re still allergic to shellfish after you get the shot, but the specific shrimp you ate ten minutes ago has lost its ability to kill you.

There’s no rescue drug for depression. You treat depression as a chronic issue and antidepressants are great for that, but they’re not perfect. Sometimes, even when you follow your treatment plan to a T, you still get depressed and have no easy way out of it.

For years I handled depressive episodes by holing up in my room and repeating cruel thoughts on a loop in my head: You’re worthless. Nobody cares about you. Nobody should. You deserve to feel this way. You’re worthless. Nobody cares about you. Nobody should. You deserve to feel this way. You’re worthless…

Help never came because I didn’t let anyone know I needed it, or at least I didn’t let them know in a way they could understand. I’d speak in a slightly lower tone than usual when someone called, for example, and then convince myself that if they really cared about me they would have picked up on it. Every interaction was a test rigged for failure. That’s how depression protects itself.

On Wednesday, though, I pierced depression’s armor. After many, many years of therapy and education I am finally smarter than my depression. I know how to fight back.

The answer – and I know this sounds cliche, but hear me out – is to ask for help. It’s not to hope for help, not to hint at the need for help, not to expect help, but to ASK for help. When the depression came over me Wednesday I put out a couple semi-cryptic tweets and received, understandably, little to no response. In the past, that would have been the end of it; I’d have stayed lonely and depressed until the weight of it all wore me out and I slept.

But on Wednesday I took an extra step. Instead of just waiting for people to read my mind, I followed my initial tweets with this: “If you do happen to care, now would be a good time to let me know.”

It was a little salty and borderline combative but it was clear, unambiguous: I need you to tell me you care. I need help.

And people helped.

People I’d only ever interacted with online told me they cared. People I’d never interacted with at all told me I matter. Days later I’m still hearing from people who apologize for not seeing my tweet right away but hope I’m feeling better.

This isn’t because I’m some super special amazing person. It’s because I’m OK and so are plenty of others. We don’t want people to suffer. We want to help each other. We appreciate each other and will gladly say so when prompted.

The Melissa of a few years ago would have been disgusted at the idea of openly asking for validation. She’d have beaten herself up for even thinking about doing something she’d have thought of as fishing for compliments. The Melissa of Wednesday knew better. Asking for help is not the same as fishing for compliments any more than wearing glasses is cheating on an eye test. I wasn’t trying to put one over on anybody; I was just trying to help myself see what was suddenly almost hopelessly blurry.

A social media site full of strangers isn’t the answer for everyone, but the same principle applies to friends, family, doctors, therapists and mental health hotlines: If you don’t let people know you need help then you’re very unlikely to get it. Don’t be shy or embarrassed or depression-style clever. Just ask for what you need.

Just ask for what you need.

Just ASK for what you NEED.

People care about you and want to help. You just have to give them the chance.