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John Tessitore is the Founder of the JCK Foundation, a non-profit devoted to ending the stigma of mental illness.

Why I Can't Stay Silent About My Depression

Why I Can't Stay Silent About My Depression

I wasn’t ready

I could feel my breath quickening and my palms getting sweaty as I waited. I had been in this room a hundred times, if not more, and I never felt so overwhelmed by the mere scent of the place. I stared at the drawers of files stacked upon one another, and then at the harsh neon lights on the ceiling, at the wooden chair I was sitting on, anything, just to be able to ignore the person facing me. She had been scribbling for the past few minutes, looking at her DSM, scribbling again, and I sat there, trying to convince her, or rather myself, that I didn’t care about whatever realization she would come to.

“Why aren’t you looking at me?” she asked.

I didn’t have an answer. Maybe it was because I wasn’t ready for whatever she was about to tell me. Maybe it was because I was trying to hide the panic on my face. Either way, I couldn’t answer.

 Me, happy

Me, happy

Welcome to the world of depression

Depression: the word rang too loudly in my ears. It consumed me; filled me with rage. The sound of it weighed down on my chest, pushed through my lungs, and stole the air. My therapist’s words were so blinding that I didn’t even notice when my parents came into her office to pick me up, when we scheduled the next appointment or even when we left the building. It was only days later, when I saw her again, that I asked the question that I had since the diagnosis: Where did I mess up? All she gave me was a look of sympathy, so I asked again: How did I do this to myself?

Dealing with my diagnosis was the worst part of my recovery; not because I was a stranger to the word “depression,” but because I was terrified of it. Terrified of what people would think of me; terrified of what I had become; terrified that I had let myself slip into this trap and that I couldn’t get out of it. The guilt that I had let myself become depressed kept me up at night, poisoned my every thought, and, most importantly, stopped me from healing. The guilt made me think I didn’t deserve to heal. My depression started off as a mistake, and as time passed, it became a punishment for the strength I lacked. The guilt came from the knowledge that I was ill, and even though I had no reason to feel this sad, I did, and I couldn’t make it stop.

I used to think depression, or any mental illness for that matter, came with a choice; that if you gathered the strength, you could get out of it. What I didn’t know, was that I would barely have the energy to be a functional human being, and that getting out of my depression would be the hardest thing I would ever do. I didn’t choose to be depressed; to disconnect from my body to the point where I couldn’t recognize my own reflection in the mirror; to contemplate suicide for hours on end or to go through different medication every month for half a year. I simply was depressed, and it took me nearly a year to accept that.

 With depression, not everything is as it seems

With depression, not everything is as it seems

Mental illness is a medical condition

Living in a society where feeling makes you weak, where looking for help makes you an attention seeker and where taking breaks and prioritizing yourself means you’re giving up, I was put in a position where my depression unraveled rather easily. Not being educated on mental health, and about how to preserve it, I never saw my depression coming, and I didn’t know what to do other than react negatively to it when I received the diagnosis. The guilt that came from my depression was the hardest part of my recovery because I had to remove it, I had to reeducate myself on how to view mental illness, not as how society taught me, but as it is: a medical condition.

Instead of discriminating and blaming the people who have a mental illness for what they are living, we should educate society on how to deal with such issues, so when someone receives a diagnosis, instead of being afraid and feeling confused, they know that they have support. In any given year, 1 in 5 people experience a mental health or an addiction problem, so we cannot keep on pretending like the problem is small. By building a negative climate around the subject, we are teaching people to stay silent about their struggles, to belittle their issues, and we are discouraging the recovery for millions of people. We cannot keep on staying silent about this matter, because every day, more and more people are struggling with mental illness and our outdated ideas have become more harmful than ever.

 Mental illness is a medical condition

Mental illness is a medical condition

My guilt came from the ideas on mental health that I grew up with, ideas that were so deeply rooted in my head, that it took me months to unleash myself from them. If I had lived in a world where I didn’t have to carry the shame of being mentally ill and where I could openly talk about my struggles without others making a deal out of it, I’m sure I would have felt a lot less guilt about my depression. We need to change the way we perceive mental health, not only because we have been silent for too long, but because we owe it to the people who carry the weight of our society’s judgement on top of of their own struggles.

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