I recently spent four days in the hospital recovering from surgery.
I have a pretty large incision that’s visibly healing well. But, the cut is not where the greatest damage is.
Most of what was cut and stitched and cauterized is completely beneath the surface. They’re my invisible wounds. And when my doctor forbids me from lifting things, it’s not the visible cut she’s worried about, it’s the internal damage.
The outside of my body does not show the degree of injury and healing that is going on inside. I am very limited in what I can do in these early weeks of healing. I can’t work. I can’t drive. I can’t push a vacuum or carry groceries or even pick up my child. Although I may feel good and want to help take down the Christmas tree, if I do so my body could re-injure itself and require more surgery, more time off, and even more healing.
When you’re a person who is struggling with a mental illness like depression, you may look well on the outside. You probably find that people aren’t very sympathetic or understanding of how hard life is for you. People may tell you to ‘just get over it already.’ They may accuse you of not trying hard enough. They may say you’re overreacting, that things aren’t that bad.
Like the hundreds of stitches that are holding my insides together right now, mental illness is often hidden.
A close friend of mine was in the hospital at the same time I was. She was there for a different reason. She was severely, agonizingly depressed. She was suicidal. We were both healing and recovering. But the similarities stop there.
While I felt free to talk to people about my hospitalization and received much support and help, I’m not sure she felt the same way. She didn’t feel comfortable telling people in her life about her depression and hospitalization.
I posted updates on Facebook so my friends and family knew when I was struggling and could support me and cheer me on, and caution me to take care of myself and not overdo it. My friend didn’t. I had people bring my family meals and help with household chores. She didn’t.
I was not expected to bounce back when I came home. I’ve spent much time resting and allowing my body to heal and recover. My family and friends understand when I leave the room to rest. No one is shocked that Christmas cookies weren’t baked. No one has complained that laundry is piling up.
Contrast this with someone who has severe depression. Too often they receive little to no help, not much understanding, and no one tells them to be careful and not jump into life too fast.
If you’ve been depressed, has your experience been one of compassion and understanding? I would hope so, but my experience with clients has shown me that this is not the case.
As time goes on and my outside incision heals, it’s my job to remember that my insides take longer to recover. I have to be respectful of what my body is going through and force myself to take the necessary time to rest.
When you have depression, you deserve to take care of yourself, whatever that means to you. It might be taking your medications, being aware of your triggers, finding supportive people, and allowing yourself the time to heal.
Your healing may be in the form of getting a sitter once a week so you can take a long walk in the woods. It could be saying ‘no’ to obligations you don’t want to fulfill. It may mean making yourself call that supportive friend, sibling, parent, or spouse when you find that your depression is getting worse and you’re scared.
Mental illness should not be treated as something shameful. And when you find yourself in a deep depression, you should feel as if you can ask for help and receive it from those who care about you.
It disgusts me that even in this day and age mental illness is treated so differently than physical illness. Just because someone does not show wounds on the outside does not mean that there are not wounds on the inside.
Everyone is fighting a battle. Everyone deserves support and respect and compassion, despite where the healing is – in the body or the mind.
For you who are struggling, my hope is that you can find someone to share your story with. We are not meant to go through life alone.