Around a third of us experience depression or anxiety, but it's so little talked about that each of us tends to feel like we're the only one. Let's share our stories and dispel that feeling!

In Good Company

By Marianne Elliott

Marianne Elliott Marianne is a writer, human rights advocate and yoga teacher. She is author of Zen Under Fire a memoir about Afghanistan, coming 2012.

Depression runs in my family. My grandmother experienced depression. Two of my uncles have experienced severe depression. And then there’s me. I’ve been through two episodes of clinical depression, the second while I was in Afghanistan, complicated with post-trauma-related issues.

Well, actually, maybe that isn’t so much a “family run” of depression so much as a normal family. If I remember my “abnormal” psychology studies correctly, depressive disorders affect about 15% of the adult population. Yes, I put the “abnormal” in speech marks on purpose. Because really, what’s so abnormal about something that affects 15% of us? Huh?

Nothing. That’s what. And four out of a family of about 45 is probably pretty representative. Maybe even a bit low. Let’s face it, the odds are that some more of my cousins will experience depression in their lifetime.

Especially my female cousins. Because for women woman, the rates of depression are higher. Some studies suggest up to 30% of women experience depression.

What’s my point?

My point is that depression is common. Really, really common. It’s an experience many of us share. If you are currently depressed or have experienced depression in the past, you really are in good company.

Here in New Zealand one of my favorite media campaigns involved a past All Blacks (NZ’s national rugby team) captain talking about his experience of depression. It was a major success. I believe his courage and willingness to share his experiences saved lives.

Why?

Because one of the cruelest things about being depressed is how bad we feel about being depressed.

I remember when I was in Afghanistan, beginning what ended up being a fairly lengthy period of anxiety and trauma-related depression, being given this really good advice by a colleague:

“accepting our feelings a little more, and judging them a little less, is a great stress reducer”.

She told me at the time that she had come across those words in a World Food Program staff well-being pamphlet which, in retrospect, suggests the United Nations is more concerned about the mental health of its staff than I often give it credit for.

But despite the obvious wisdom in those words, I found it hard to really take them on board because I was so busy judging myself for my depression. Why couldn’t I cope, I asked myself, when everyone else could? What was wrong with me?

Now I wonder, how many other people weren’t coping either? And what difference would it have made if we’d all felt able to be more honest about how we felt.

Which is why I have been writing about this ever since. It’s why I wrote my book, Zen Under Fire, which is coming out from Penguin New Zealand in 2012. I write about my experience of depression because I want you to know that if you experience depression, you are in good company.

And I want you to know that I have learned that it is possible to come out the other side of that darkness. With professional help, the loving support of friends and family who actually understand what you are going through (and space from the ones who don’t) and self-care practices that help shift the balance of chemicals in your body and the patterns in your thoughts – you can and will see a brighter day.

Until then, as you take each day as it comes, you are in good company my friend. And I am always here to remind you that there is nothing wrong with you. This, whether we like it or not, is simply part of the mysterious, magical and frail miracle that is being human.

Lots of love,
Marianne

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Cross-posted from http://marianne-elliott.com/2011/11/in-good-company/.

{ 2 comments... read them below, or add one }

  1. Tor says:

    Oh Marianne, you have the wonderful ability to get involved with awesome projects that are so close to my heart and my experiences. And this certainly is one of them. Thank you for pointing me to this site. xx

  2. Art Rosch says:

    Bingo! It’s more than 15 percent…it’s epidemic! I come from a family in which suicide is prevalent. Lately I’ve been just plain scared. I’m using all the tools
    I have, all the practices, to keep my head above water. I recognize “the depression voice” when it tells me that these feelings are permanent, that I’ve failed, that my writing will never be read, and so on and on. It’s lying. The depression is not permanent. The darkness will lift and the texture of my life will change. And I haven’t failed. My career may have done a belly flop but I’ve achieved something far more important. I’ve made myself into a good husband and a decent human being. That has taken some work, believe me! This is brilliant, Marianne. You’ve found yet another way to serve people. Oh, how I wish I lived in New Zealand!

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