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Look at me

written by Jess Matthews 26/06/2017

Until very recently, I have found it very difficult to accept that I am suffering with depression.

I think that perhaps part of my inability to accept my illness was the idea of ‘how could I be depressed?’ I would constantly beat myself up about the way I was feeling; “I don’t deserve to feel bad because I don’t have a bad life.” After all, I have it better than a lot of people; I have a warm loving home, a brilliant family, awesome friends, and a good future ahead of me. And yet, here I am. In the depths of despair, surrounded by darkness and my inner voice telling me I am not good enough and that I am a burden.

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But, I have come to realise that mental illness does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from, what you look like or what you have. I see it as an illness; a flaw in chemistry that has a lot of external triggers or causes, but which is primarily caused by an internal imbalance of brain chemicals, and therefore is out of my control.

I think, also, a huge part of my inability to accept depression as a part of me was my fear of judgement. Everywhere you turn there are discussions of mental health. Yet there is still such a huge stigma surrounding it that talking about it felt impossible. I was afraid others may see me differently and that people I know would disassociate themselves from me. For so long, I avoided the word ‘depression’ like the plague.

I ran as fast as I could from it, but it chased me.

Then, it caught me.

And instead of trying to struggle out of its grips, I surrendered. I said to myself “I am suffering with depression” and the more I said it the more I realised the word isn’t actually scary. It is only as scary as we allow it to be.

Once I started saying this to myself, I began to talk to the people around me. As wonderful as my friends and family are, few of them understand. I have been met with various combinations of “you’re not depressed, you’re just a bit fed up.” Perhaps I am not the only person afraid of the word depression.

Talking about depression requires a lot of courage, especially as it is not something that is obvious in appearance; it is easily hidden with a smile, a nod of the head, and a convincing “I’m okay.”

You see, depression is a lot more than feeling a bit sad or a bit fed up. Anyone who has suffered with it will know this. But I guess, to those that haven’t, it is a difficult concept to understand. And therefore, it is difficult to know what to say or how to react when a loved one opens up about their illness. But that’s just it; depression is an illness -  much like asthma or diabetes are illnesses.

Talking about depression requires a lot of courage, especially as it is not something that is obvious in appearance; it is easily hidden with a smile, a nod of the head, and a convincing “I’m okay.” But if you look closely enough, you will notice the tiredness, sadness, and hopelessness that depression has embedded within me. I have found that most people would prefer to ignore the signs of depression, simply because they don’t understand, and/or feel uncomfortable. But by talking about depression, the stigma can be erased.

I wrote this poem in the hope of raising more awareness and understanding of what depression “looks” like.

Look at me

Look at me, look at me,

tell me now, what do you see?

do you see the crippling pain in my eyes?

or do you turn away, preferring to look at the sky?

do you see the exhaustion etched deep within my face?

or do you pretend you don't notice, as you stare into space?

do you see the sadness in the way I move?

because I see the way you disapprove.

do you see the way my hands shake?

I know you pretend to not see this painful ache.

I wish I could make you understand,

that I am under depression's command.

It fills me with fear and makes life feel dark,

it makes the world feel bare and stark.

You should know that depression doesn't always come alone.

Anxiety; depression's best friend also lies deep within my bones.

Please don't tell me to 'get a grip',

Or patronise me, saying 'it's only a blip.'

But please don't be afraid to ask

how I'm feeling- if you care, it's not such a task!

Please don't look away and pretend you don't see,

And please don't think any less of me.

This pain is such a heavy burden to carry,

But you can help make it less scary.

 

Look at me, look at me,

tell me now, what do you see?

Do you see the way I laugh, chatter and smile?

The way I pretend to be happy although I'm in pain all the while?

Do you realise that my smile is a mask?

That my words are lies and my laugh is an act?

Do you see how hard I work?

You say, "oh that's why you're tired" with a smirk.

But this tiredness is one sleep won't fix

It's my soul that's tired, it's not a trick!

Do you see me meeting my friends?

I know you think it's easy for me to attend.

I wish I could make you understand,

That I cannot be better at your demand.

One good day doesn't vanish the bad,

and sometimes when I smile, I really feel sad.

Please don't tell me I should "just be happy"

Please don't be mad when sometimes I'm snappy.

Some days the darkness feels unbearable,

and I worry I'll never get rid of this label.

Other days depression feels defeated,

as if the battle has been completed.

You see, I have some ups - but many more downs,

and I need you to help me when I'm down on the ground.

 

Look at me, look at me,

tell me now, what do you see?

Look carefully, look closely,

Don't worry - I won't think you're nosy.

Appearances can be deceiving,

and so we must learn to be perceiving.

Your Ignorance won't make it go away,

but it will make me feel betrayed.

We must learn to understand.

We must learn to hold each other’s hands.

You see,

This storm can be withstood.

You can help me rediscover the good,

But first you must really see:

so look at me, look at me.

Tell me now, what do you see?

Depression is not contagious, and suffering with it does not make a person weak. It also doesn’t change who you are as a person; I am the same person I have always been. There is so much more I would like to say on this subject but I’ll leave you with this short and succinct quote that I stumbled across a few days ago:

“Depression isn’t a bad word”

So, let’s not be afraid… or at least a little less afraid than we were.

If you would like to write a blog post about your experiences of stigma or related issues, email info@timetochangewales.org.uk

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