Depression is a malicious manipulative liar. It tries to deceive you into believing all sorts of destructive falsehoods about yourself.
But for me, that wasn’t even the worst part.
I have battled clinical depression for almost half my life. It started with the dreadful sadness and frequent crying spells in my teen to early adult years. But I could never pinpoint the exact reason why.
“Yes, some things in my life sucked but it wasn’t THAT bad was it?”
After skipping two weeks of school just sitting in the halls doing nothing, I eventually ended up in the school social workers office. She was certain I had depression, highly recommending that I speak to my family doctor and start taking anti-depressants.
Unfortunately, she was the only one who thought so.
The Cultural Stigma of Depression
You see, in many cultures, the concept of depression as a medical condition doesn’t exist. A person who experiences symptoms of depression should simply ‘get over it’, and ‘be strong’.
Anyone who cannot deal with it on their own is ‘weak’, ‘spoiled’, ‘doesn’t have enough faith in God’, or has been ‘taken hold of by demons’. Not to mention that voicing such feelings, especially to anyone outside your immediate family is dreadfully taboo.
Because of these deeply ingrained beliefs, there is extreme social stigma attached to seeking out professional help or pursuing medical treatment for mental health issues.
Not a single friend or family member was supportive. All telling me that I was strong enough to handle this on my own, I was over-thinking things, or that I would get hooked on the medication if I started.
I listened to them.
My mental and emotional state got worse. I had no motivation or interest in anything.
I was crying all the time, and I was exhausted for no reason. I felt so incredibly alone.
But honestly, the worst part for me was the pervasively destructive thoughts from my loved ones. That I could simply will my way out of this. I felt so alone, Iike a total failure when I proved not be ‘strong enough’ to ‘get over it’.
The Many Faces of Depression
Depression had reared its ugly head once again.
But this time, it came in a different form. At this point in my life I was married with a few kids.
I noticed that I was always incredibly frustrated. I would yell at my kids all the time, and constantly berate myself for being a terrible mother. I felt like everyone else was better than me, and that I was useless. The tiniest things would overwhelm me and cause me to burst into a fit of tears. Except these weren’t tears of sadness like before. They were tears of anger, rage, and disgust.
All I could think about was how inadequate and worthless I was. How I wished that I had never existed. But surely, this wasn’t depression because I wasn’t, well…sad!
It was my family doctor who noticed the change in me during a routine checkup. She handed me a mental health questionnaire for anxiety and depression. After assessing it, she promptly wrote up and handed me a prescription, telling me to start taking the medication immediately.
I ran it by my loved ones and was once again met with disapproval from most.
“Western doctors just prescribe pills for anything, even when you don’t need them.”
“You’re being weak.”
“You need to see an exorcist, demons are doing this.” (Yes, I was actually told this by multiple people).
This time, I DIDN’T listen to them.
I decided to listen to MY body and MY heart, because nobody except ME knew what I was going through.
I chose to put my health first and take care of myself for my own sake and for that of my children. Because I could guarantee that none of the naysayers would be stepping in anytime soon to take care of my kids, clean my house, or pay my bills.
The mental health challenges that come with depression are nasty. But I dare say that when cultural stigma is a factor, the loneliness, conflict with loved ones, and shame can be worse than the depression itself.
Here are 5 things you can do to help:
- Speak to and seek help from a professional that shares a similar cultural background as you. (Or at the very least, has a strong understanding of the social dynamics rooted culture.) He or she will be much better equipped to help you navigate your unique challenges.
- Engage in physical activity. Exercise releases feel-good endorphins that will contribute immensely to your mental wellbeing. Try going on daily walks or joining a women’s gym.
- There will be many naysayers, but unless he or she is providing you with shelter or food, ignore them. In a respectful manner of course.
- Learn about and educate your loved ones on the medical nature of depression. You would be surprised how many people are simply unaware that clinical depression is actually caused by physical changes in brain chemistry.
- Don’t forget that there is SOMEONE out there in your life who believes in you. You just might have to look harder to find him or her.
When you rise above, you will be so much stronger, you will inspire so many. And nobody will be able to knock you down.
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