Being depressed is not a decision or choice. Regardless of your circumstances, your experience with depression is valid and worthy of support.
The stigma around mental health just won’t quit. Even though it’s more acceptable to talk openly about anxiety and depression in our society today than it was 50 or even 20 years ago, the stigma still harms people every day.
Societal stigmas around mental health make it extremely difficult for people to access mental health care. If you’re struggling to see your depression as a valid illness, this story is for you.
Sinister societal messages urging us to equate our worth to our productivity and to refuse help in favor of individual success are harmful to everyone, but especially to those of us who live with mental health issues.
We often receive this sentiment from the people in our lives through microaggressions. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I’ve been called lazy, when in reality, I was suffering from depression and couldn’t find the motivation to eat, let alone write a paper for college.
I’m sure we’re all familiar with the line, “Just look at your life and remember how lucky you are. Be grateful!” when in reality, your depression has nothing to do with how your life compares to others.
It’s hard not to internalize this constant messaging. I grew up believing that I had no right to feel depressed because I had a loving family and a roof over my head. I didn’t have to worry about when I’d get my next meal, and my parents could afford nice clothes and fun summer vacations.
How could I ever be depressed when some people are so much less fortunate?
While I do have many things to be grateful for, this invalidating belief made it extremely difficult for me to address my depression and learn to cope with it in a healthy way. I subconsciously minimized my experience in order to avoid the stigma and my depressed feelings altogether.
I pushed through high school and college by denying my own right to acknowledge and feel my feelings. Obviously, this wasn’t a healthy coping skill.
“I was stuck in a limbo of desperately needing help and refusing to admit to myself just how ill I was.“
Telling myself over and over again for years to keep my feelings inside and that it “couldn’t be that bad” may have helped me avoid stigma in some ways, but the thing about emotions is that the more you try to avoid them, the more they can overwhelm you.
Underneath my facade of mental wellness, I was breaking. I spent hours lying in bed each day, tormenting myself about the work I was putting off until the pressure got to me and I finally completed the assignment.
I started losing interest in the things I love, like eating food and creative writing. I shed an unhealthy amount of weight and couldn’t even muster up the effort to brush my teeth at night.
I thought something was wrong with me. I desperately wanted to try my best, but I thought I was too lazy to get there. It turns out, laziness was never the problem.
On top of constantly minimizing my mental illness, the invalidation of my depression caused me to lack healthy coping skills. I had the hardest time opening up about my feelings to friends, family, and even a therapist because I was so scared of being judged or worse — blamed.
In fact, these messages in society are so prevalent — in passing comments and in the media — that this fear is so ingrained in me, and I still struggle to open up verbally to this day.
As a writer, I’d try opening up my journal and venting about my problems. But because I’d internalized such harmful, invalidating beliefs about my mental health, my journal entries were stuck in that mindset. My written reflections didn’t help me cope because they parroted the stigmas I heard all around me and from my internal critic. There was no one to question my beliefs or point out flaws in my thinking.
I reached my lowest low in September of 2021. I was stuck feeling overwhelmed by every little thing that went wrong, I was struggling with suicidal ideation, and I lost sight of my values and goals. I lost so much weight that my doctors were concerned and advised me to drink two weight-gain beverages per day.
At the same time, despite the hard-to-ignore physical changes, I still kept telling myself that there was no reason for me to feel so bad and to just get over it.
I was stuck in a limbo of desperately needing help and refusing to admit to myself just how ill I was.
Finally, I hit a breaking point. I could no longer imagine a future, and in order to protect myself, I decided to go to the emergency room to be admitted into a psychiatric hospital.
I’ve been in therapy since 2012, but this was when recovery really clicked with me. I realized that berating myself for being unable to do things I think I “should” be able to do wasn’t preventing me from being depressed but actually making it so much worse.
I learned that in order to recover, I must do the opposite: face my feelings head-on and accept that I’m struggling — to have self-compassion and acknowledge the reality of my situation. Then, and only then, can I address my mental health issues and begin the journey to recovery.
Your depression is valid because all of your emotions are valid. When you deny your own feelings, they’re bound to make themselves known to you sooner or later.
Depression is an illness that impacts both your mind and your body. When I was at my lowest low, my body suffered. I lacked the motivation to eat, which was so hard because I absolutely LOVE food. I just didn’t see the point, and soon, eating became so difficult that I lost my appetite and a bunch of weight.
Weight loss, weight gain, and other physical changes are not uncommon with depression. So, if you’re having trouble validating your emotions, paying attention to these physical impacts can be another way to help you find validation.
Bringing my body back to a healthy weight was a huge part of my recovery, and self-validation allowed me to realize that I needed to take action.
The stigma around mental health in our society leads to widespread invalidation of depression and other mental illnesses. I won’t let this pervasive mindset whittle its way into my psyche anymore.
Today, I’m dedicated to validating myself and my feelings.
Whether I choose to write it out in my journal, chat with a close friend, or vent to my therapist, validation has improved my mental health by leaps and bounds.
If you lack support in your own life, you can access educational resources and positive mental health spaces online (like this one!) to help you seek validation.
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