Depression lies. Attention seeking? Maybe…

Recently, I read that singer Katy Perry had done a 4 day full access livestream to her life as a lead up to her new album. As part of this, viewers could watch her sleeping, doing yoga and even taking part in a live streamed therapy session. During this session, she and her therapist began talking about her recent and dramatic hairstyle change and her motivation behind it. It came out that Katy has been suffering from depression, and has even struggled with what sounds a lot like suicidal thoughts. When questioned further, she admitted to having written a song about it on her last album, ‘By the Grace of God’. 

The internet blew up, full of criticism of Katy, calling her an attention seeker, accusing her of trying to benefit from the mental health struggles of others to sell records, and a number of other horrifying and cruel comments that I won’t even repeat here. 

As someone who suffers from depression, my heart went out to not only Katy, but anyone who has ever been criticized for speaking out about their mental health struggles. Many people seem to be under the very mistaken impression that depression affects only a certain type of person. Reading through comments about Katy and others who have bravely chosen to speak out is horrifying. Things like “you have more money than you’ll ever need – what could you possibly have to be depressed about?” Or “oh poor {famous person} life is so hard in your fancy big house, who are you to talk about struggle?” Or, my personal favourite – “you have nothing to be depressed about, it’s all just attention-seeking”.

The thought that your financial status, job or even fame would preclude you from suffering from mental health problems is horrifying and laughable. Depression, and mental health problems in general, doesn’t give two flying figs who you are, what you do, how much money you do or don’t make, or where you live. It affects people of all ages, races, and genders. It does not pick and choose, and it most certainly does not discriminate. 

Speaking about this with my psychologist recently, she gave me a big, tough statistic. 

Most people will, on average, suffer 3 major depressive episodes throughout their lives. 

That stat is staggering. Note that I didn’t poor people, or homeless people, or any other marginalized group. That sentence didn’t give any indication of to whom that is going to happen, except to say that it will happen to most of us. We all think it’s not going to happen to us, that we are fine and can push through alone, and sometimes we can. Until we can’t anymore. The Canadian Mental Health Association stats say that 1/5 of us will suffer from some kind of mental health issue in our lives. I’m not just talking depression either. I’m talking anxiety, PTSD, bi-polar disorder, and any of the other diagnoses that fall under the mental health umbrella. And the worst part of that is that probably a majority of people are still suffering in silence, afraid to speak out because they are worried about how it will impact their jobs, their relationships, and how they are seen by everyone around them. 

It needs to stop.

There have been a number of high-profile celebrity deaths lately, including the frontman for Linkin Park, Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell, both of whom had openly suffered with depression and addictions issues. Both of these men, along with countless others each day, got to the point where there felt they could no longer battle the demons in their heads. These deaths left people reeling, and asking themselves, as we all do when we lose someone like this, “Why didn’t they speak out? Why didn’t they ask for help?” 

Therein lies the problem though. We essentially crucify people who do speak out, picking them apart, criticizing, questioning, especially when it is someone in a position of fame or power. 

We accuse them of attention-seeking. 

Of course they are seeking attention! 

They are asking, begging, crying, for help. And so often our responses are to brush them off, to scoff and look down upon them as being weak, or pathetic, or in it to sell movies, or books, or interviews. Until, of course, someone can’t take it any longer and kills themselves. Then we go back to wringing our hands and asking “but why???”

I have watched people I loved and cared about very much fight these kinds of demons for most of my life. 

Some have fought hard and found a place that they feel safe and can cope, and others have lost their battles. Losing people you know to suicide is always hard, but when you have to try to process these kinds of losses as a teen, it can make someone even more sensitive to it. Life is hard, it is complex and complicated and crappy but it is also wonderful and exciting and fun. It’s tough to remember this though, when the black cloud of depression is hanging over your head, whispering lies and half-truths and bullshit in your head. Depression lies. Take a second, think about it, and say it output loud with me. 

DEPRESSION LIES. 

I know how hard it can be to look at things through the lenses of your own struggles. Maybe you are working at a job you hate, something that gives you just enough to pay the bills and disentangle leave you much extra. Seeing someone who has been blessed with all the fame and fortune that you could ever want talking about how hard their life is, or how tough it is to be them, really pisses you off. Of course your first thought is going to be “pffft. Oh poor you. Sucks to be you doesn’t it? Try scraping and scratching to survive each day, to fight to make sure there is food on the table and a roof over your head and then come talk to me about suffering.” It’s natural. But you know what? It’s not a competition. 

Someone else’s suffering does not make your trials any less real or valid. 

Life isn’t a competition to see who can have things the toughest, or the best. My pain doesn’t make yours any less valid or real. We don’t look at someone who talks about their battle with cancer and think “oh, what an attention whore.” We don’t comment on someone with diabetes and say that they brought it on themselves. So why do we do that when it comes to depression and mental health? We, the general public, are part of the problem. We judge, we stigmatize, we criticize. But why? What good does it serve? Is it helping anyone? Probably not. 

Have you ever done a therapy session? I have, and do participate in them on a regular basis. They can be tough, and ugly, and scary. There are tears and self questioning and a whole lot of doubt. Anyone who is willing to not only share what happened in their sessions, but is willing to broadcast it live for any and everyone to see (and scrutinize) is brave as all get out in my eyes. She has said that she did it to let people know what therapy is like, people who might not have the opportunity or finances to participate, or who wanted to try it but were scared of the unknown. How many of us would be willing to do that? I’m going to be honest and say not me. I will talk about it with you guys, and will share as much as I can, but I am certainly not brave enough to let anyone watch me spill my soul or wirk through my disordered thoughts in a therapy session. 

In my sessions, I cry. A lot. I feel nervous going into every session, and feel drained when I leave. Every time. But I know that I am doing the hard work that I need to do to be a better, stronger, more mentally well person. I tend to suffer from anxiety, which causes me to question myself, a lot. The events of the last few years, and all of the changes that have come along with them have left me questioning pretty much everything I know about myself. If you’ve ever had to reinvent yourself, pretty much from scratch, you might know what I’m talking about. There are days when I look in the mirror and really have no clue who is looking back at me. I am used to being a strong, independent woman, and sometimes I need help to dress myself or wash my hair. That is a hard pill to swallow, let me tell you. I have worked pretty much my whole life, from picking berries and washing cars as a kid to babysitting and working at restaurants as a teen, to the military and university and my now-former career. I never thought that I would have to learn to live with a chronic pain condition for which there is no cure, or an injury that took away a lot of my independence. 

I need help processing those things. I need help learning how to redefine myself within the parameters and limitations given me, and I have to learn how to negotiate life and relationships as the “new” me. I have to learn how to make new goals for myself and figure out what now? And I have to do all of this under a sometimes crushing burden of self-doubt, sadness and grief. Counselling helps me do that.

Does that make me an attention-seeker? Some might say yes. I know I am blessed with a great life, but my depression doesn’t care. The mind and the chemical imbalances in it that cause depression can be kind of a jerk like that. And that is what it comes down to. And if wanting to use my struggles and my voice to help others who might be going through this makes me an attention seeker than so be it. If this puts me into the same category as Katy Perry, than all the cooler for me.  

If you are struggling, please, please  reach out to someone. A friend or family member, me. I promise you, someone will listen. The more we talk about this, the more normal it becomes. Speak out if you can. Share your story. Through our struggles, we can only become better. 

If you, or someone you know, is struggling, here are some resources for you. 

In Canada:

Canadian resources

In the US:

USA resources by state

Comments

  1. says

    You described it so well. I can’t even add to what you said other than to agree it should not be stigmatized. When you get the help you need, you can fight back to reclaim yourself. I’ve never understood why that’s a bad thing to be vilified for.

  2. BEATRIZ SPENCER says

    I know exactly what you are talki g about and have been there myself. With Chavo’s diagnose was my first big one. I was able to pull myself together and start learning about autism ao I could help him. Leaving Mexico and all my life there was another hard blow and then my nasty divorce. Depression is a silent demon that you have to work really hard to get rid of and like you said. It does not diacriminate. Here for you always my dear friend.

  3. says

    This is so true — Getting divorced, losing a child, a parents devastating illness; it is so hard to ask for help because you don’t want to burden people with your issues when they have so much going on already — so it’s so easy to withdraw inside where it lives in a dark dark swirl of negative energy. Then you withdraw from everyone — you don’t want to be seen as that needy person who is attention seeking or not attuned to others needs. It goes back to being taught to put others needs and thoughts before your own, not airing the bad part of your life to the world because that should be private, people don’t need to know what goes on behind closed doors, and being strong because you don’t want to look weak and unable to handle what life throws at you. We put on a brave front and are crumbling inside — it does need to get out there — it needs to be more accepted.

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