It’s Ok to Not be Ok - Being Honest About Depression
Recently, Haley Epstein, a very close friend of the family, came home from her freshman year at college to speak at her high school suicide prevention assembly. Haley talked about her experience with anxiety and pointed out that what people see on the outside isn’t always a reflection of how she feels inside. That is all too common in people who suffer from anxiety and depression and the reason why it often goes undiagnosed. Haley was open, candid and encouraged others to start the conversation, reminding everyone that It’s Ok to Not be Ok.
Haley posted the video of her speech online to spread awareness and help others. The video was viewed and shared thousands of times. It was an honest, heartfelt, and inspiring speech, but the well-intended comments that people posted using words like courage, brave, and strong hit a vulnerable spot in me. As someone who has struggled with depression for 30 years, I’ve been in many similar situations throughout my life and could only imagine how Haley may have been feeling.
What does it mean to be strong and brave?
While hearing these wonderful words can be healing and moving, they can also add fuel to the fire of self-doubt that depression and anxiety provoke. And therefore, the message of It’s Ok to NOT be Ok becomes buried in a self-fulfilling prophecy of what society thinks being strong, brave, and courageous should look like.
What does it look like? What does it mean to be strong and brave? What makes me different than someone who is weak? Why is it bad to be weak? Are weak and vulnerable synonymous? I don’t consider myself strong so I think about this a lot.
Conquering my fears
I have not been able to work through adversity in my life because of strength; it actually is because of fear! The fear of living my life without my dad at age 13 and the fear of how I would survive after my mom died when I was 28. The fear of being diagnosed with the same disease that I watched kill both of my parents. The fear of my kids losing a parent like I did and the fear of them developing lung cancer. The fear of not being able to mentally and emotionally sustain the ‘strength’ that others see in me. I had a lot of fears, and they are what drove me, not strength.
Advocacy has given me some control over my fears. I say that no amount of therapy could have helped me work through my losses and my lung cancer diagnosis like my advocacy work has. I actually think that the advocacy work may have been a survival instinct because no amount of good or sense of accomplishment or making a difference can diminish depression. It’s real, scary, lonely and can sometimes be debilitating.
Starting my honest conversation
I’m really good at putting on a face, but Haley has inspired me to start the conversation and be honest. Here it goes...Some days I’m completely fine and others I don’t want to get out of bed, shower or talk to anyone. Some days I have the energy to take on the world, and others I just want to hide from the world. Some days I’m optimistic and others I beat myself up and feel worthless. If only it was as simple as snapping out of it...I hate the negative feelings and wouldn’t wish them upon my worst enemy. I know I’m not the only lung cancer patient who struggles with depression.
I talk a lot about Hope in lung cancer and focusing on silver linings, which are all very real, but so is the pervasive unwanted guest that so many of us live with. I’ve learned how to get through the dark times, but only with medication and coping mechanisms I’ve learned over the years. For me, the best coping mechanism has been finding a purpose and meaning in tragedy -- a positive response to the physical and emotional marks lung cancer has left on my body.
Finding your voice
Depression, like lung cancer, is still so misunderstood because only those who live it can understand the daily struggle. Thank you, Haley, for reminding me that It's Ok to NOT be Ok! Here is the link to Haley’s video. Hopefully, it will inspire others and allow more people to accept how they feel, start the conversation, and get help if they need it.
Read Part I, It’s Ok to Not be Ok - Depression and Lung Cancer, here.
Do you think singing through your lung cancer diagnosis is therapeutic?