By Nancy Boutot, Manager, Financial Empowerment, National Disability Institute
Two years ago, not long after turning 50, I wrote my first blog about living with clinical depression, a diagnosis I received when I was 26. Yes, you are reading this correctly, it took me 24 years to be comfortable enough to talk about it openly. Since the time that blog was published, I have slowly opened up more about my depression… and now with an additional diagnosis of anxiety. I’d like to say I have accepted my depression although, really, it changes from day to day. I can solidly say I have accepted it for the most part. I’ll always have my days when I don’t, and that can happen at any time… a good day or a bad day. What’s changed, what hasn’t? Read on.
First, let’s take a look at what hasn’t changed over the last couple of years. Globally, millions of people still have depression, including me. I still don’t let people see me when I’m too depressed to get out of bed or brush my teeth or take a shower, and I can’t stop crying. However, I do talk about it more, and tell people why it is that I don’t want to be social on occasion. The World Health Organization still says depression is the leading cause of ill health and disability worldwide. And, there is still stigma attached to depression and a lack of understanding of what it is.
What has changed is that I know that depression is nothing to be ashamed of. Talking about it more has helped me realize that, and I realize that acceptance is required to maintain the ongoing process of recovery and resiliency. I’ve also realized it is okay not to be perfect. Who wants to be perfect anyway? Boring!
Over the last two years I have also come to appreciate my depression. After all, imperfections and diversity are a natural part of life. I embrace the diversity all around me every day. So, I am learning to embrace my diversity as well.
Another thing that I have noticed over the past couple years is that some of my favorite people, whom I love and who love me, are appreciative of the fact that I have opened up the depression dialogue. And that is for several reasons. First, most people have experienced depression themselves and are too ashamed to talk about it. Second, if someone does not have depression, most likely they know someone who does, and me talking about it helps them understand some of the actions and behaviors of their friends and loved ones. Lastly, since depression manifests in different ways, I can help people understand that depression is not always about being depressed, but it can also manifest as anxiety, restlessness, apathy, fatigue, feeling irritable and the list goes on.
Something else that has changed is I feel I am more empathetic to those around me and I use that to help people whenever I can. To be a listening ear when someone needs to talk, offer a hug when someone is sad, offer unconditional support, encourage people to seek professional support and remind people that it is not their fault and that they are stronger than they know. Lastly, I make people laugh. Part of this is a bit selfish of me. I do like to make people laugh because their laughter makes me feel better. We’ve all heard that laughter is the best medicine and sometimes it’s true. Have you ever called a friend for emotional support and the conversation turns into a fun filled conversation, laughing and joking until your cheeks hurt? If not, I highly suggest trying it because the last thing you will say before you end the call is, “Thanks… I really needed this!” And just as important, I limit my time around negative people and people who will bring me down. This is not always easy, especially when some are family members and people I cannot avoid. However, my mental health comes first.
Another change is that I have gone back to therapy and am taking it seriously. It is not always easy to find the right therapist, someone who you feel comfortable with and who fits with what you need. But persistence can pay off. Lastly, I also try to take time for me each day, even if it is only for a few minutes. That could be taking a few minutes to meditate or step outside and breathe in the fresh air. I also subscribe to a couple of listservs that deliver health and happy information to my in-box every day.
So I will end this blog by sharing some of those resources and remind everyone that you are stronger than you know.
Happify.com sends a daily email that includes an inspirational short story, sometimes a link to a video, and an inspirational quote: https://www.happify.com/.
Mind Body Green sends me weekly emails dedicated to inspiring my best life, and includes podcasts, health recipes and more. https://www.mindbodygreen.com/.
Nancy Boutot is a Manager of Financial Empowerment at National Disability Institute (NDI). She provides training on Social Security work incentives, benefits planning and work supports and other asset development strategies to empower individuals and communities to maximize financial capabilities. Prior to joining NDI, she spent eight years with the Agency for Persons with Disabilities in Florida and 14 years directing nonprofit community-based employment programs in Florida and New Jersey. Ms. Boutot earned her bachelor’s degree from Northeastern University, a Master of Science from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey and is also a certified Community Work Incentives Coordinator (CWIC) through Virginia Commonwealth University’s National Training Center.