In our society there is a certain stigma around mental health issues. We all know that they exist, we know what they are and that some people have them. We can even see the numbers and statistics that say just how many people are affected. But we don’t talk about it. No one cops to it, no one admits to it, and everyone feels like they need to keep it quiet. The pressure of society makes people feel like it’s a secret, that it’s shameful.
I’m breaking that taboo. If I had fifteen minutes to stand up in front of the entire world and say something, I would say this:
My name is Nicki Simpson, I’m twenty-four years old, and I have bipolar disorder.
To be more specific, I have a type of bipolar called severe, slow-cycling bipolar. All that really comes down to is that my bipolar is really bad, and instead of my moods flipping multiple times a day they slide up and down over a matter of days, sometimes weeks. I spend several days going through a steady decline, sinking further into a manic depression, until I hit rock bottom. Then the next day I will suddenly snap back to being perfectly happy again.
It’s something I’ve come to accept now, and I’ve learned to manage and control it, but the road to get here wasn’t easy.
I went undiagnosed until nearly my twenty-first birthday. I suffered in silence for years – I can remember that feeling of hopelessness as far back as age twelve. I lived afraid to seek help because it meant I was broken; damaged in a way that couldn’t be fixed. I spent nights cowering, fighting that overwhelming desire to just escape it. To make it stop. To end it all.
Society made me believe that dealing with depression was a defect. That it was selfish. Why should I be so depressed when so many people have it worse? What did I have to be depressed about? Young, healthy, middle class teen with my whole life ahead of me. I had no excuse to be sad.
So I tried not to be. I told myself that I didn’t need help. Depression is just an emotion. I didn’t need medication and counseling to fix my own emotions, I just needed to feel happier. Think happy thoughts, not focus on the sadness. If I ignored it long enough, it would go away. Fake it ’til you make it, they say. And that’s exactly what I tried to do.
I passed the days forcing myself to push the dark thoughts to the back of my mind, but at night it got harder. Alone in my bedroom, in the hours before I fell asleep, it all came crushing back to the surface. It shattered my defences and I felt myself drowning in it all, in the compound mass of everything that I had been trying so hard to avoid. Some nights it was too much. Some nights I would sit in the corner and cry, some nights it was far beyond tears. And some nights, those worst nights, I would finger a bottle of pills or a razor blade and just pray for the strength to finally go through with it, to finally put a stop to the pain.
It got worse as the years passed and the mood swings became more radical. I could be experiencing the perfect day, every possible dream coming true, but once that downslide began there was nothing I could do to stop it. I spiralled downward into the depression and there was no fighting it. It was a trap, quicksand, and the harder I struggled against it the faster I fell.
But I couldn’t do anything but keep trying, keep fighting, because being depressed is selfish. It’s not a disease, it’s a state of mind. I couldn’t get help because there wasn’t anything wrong with me.
I have no idea how long I would’ve kept going on like that if it hadn’t suddenly taken a turn for the worse. It stopped affecting just my mind. It started with the fatigue. I couldn’t stay awake to save my life. I slept eighteen hours a day, waking up just long enough to work my part-time job and then immediately crashing again the moment I got home. Then came the headaches, persistent throbbing that medicine hardly touched.
After that I slowly started having a hard time using my right hand. It became difficult to grip things. I couldn’t lift anything with just my right hand, had to use both just to pick up a cup of water. I was losing my basic motor skills in that hand and it crawled up my arm to my shoulder. I was already starting to get anxious at this point, and then the slur showed up. My jaw weakened, my tongue became clumsy, and talking became difficult.
With a family history of stroke, I immediately caved and went into the doctor’s. After a brief exam my doctor informed me that it was the depression. The imbalance of serotonin had pooled in my brain, imitating the same symptoms of a stroke. So he gave me some anti-depressants and, sceptical that they would work, I took them.
Two days later I was calmer and happier than I could ever remember being.
I’ve come a long way since then. In three years I’ve learned more about how depression works and I’ve come to accept it. I may not like it, but it’s a part of who I am. And now I am reaching out and trying to help other people who are in the same place I was, who just need someone to tell them that it’s okay and that they are not alone.
Depression is an illness. It is not an emotion, or a state of mind. It’s a disease. It works much like diabetes; a chemical imbalance where the body doesn’t produce or absorb the chemical the way it’s supposed to. Some people are born with it, like me, and have to just manage their symptoms for the rest of their life. Some people develop it later in life and with proper treatment they can reach a cure or a remission at the least.
We need to reach a point where people are no longer ashamed to talk about their depression just like they talk about their diabetes or cancer, because talking about it is the biggest help. We need to reach a point where people aren’t afraid to seek out help. Where people don’t have to feel like there is something wrong with them simply because they are sick.
So I am here, taking a stand. I have a depressive disorder. I am not ashamed. I will not be bullied by the pressures of society. And I want you to know, whether you have been diagnosed or if you just think that you might, that you are not alone. You do not have to be afraid. And if you stand up and embrace your situation then you will make it that much easier for others like you.
And someday, maybe someday, it won’t be a taboo anymore.