When Depression is not a dirty word. Owning up to mental health.

This week is the decade anniversary of my moving to London.  Is this a depressing article, on the contrary, it is a joyful one.  So the title … yeah, about depression, but also in the owing up to it, the owning of it, and the liberation of saying out loud ‘I was, and still get, depressed.’

Let me explain.  I am in South Africa, mid-winter.  Sitting outside, the sun only just gone, with candles and a glass of wine and having a little chuckle to myself.  This for me, is England summer.  The days are warm, the sun shines all the time, and even though our houses are chilly early morning and night, it is so mild. Gets cold I know, but I have to smile when others are complaining and lighting fires and I think about the winters in London, and the SAD syndrome I suffer from every year. I get massively depressed in winter in the UK, I know I shall, and I do, and the best part of it is that I admit to it.

At first, a new recce to the Seasonal Affective Disorder, I was sort of taken aback at the absolute honesty of those who admitted to depression in winter.  Curious as to the easy admittance of those around me suffering from it.  But more, was intrigued that so many I met, openly talked about being depressed.  I never did.  I never really knew anyone who did. Mental health is a real thing in the UK,. not just in winter, and addressed, talked about, support groups in hand, a subject not to be hidden, but dealt with. Being depressed at times, was acknowledged.

Sort of wondering how to put this.

Growing up in South Africa, I hardly ever heard the word, depression. My mother, I learnt, took lots  of tablets, and later I learnt, some for depression, but it was never spoken about.  One never admitted to it, why I don’t know.  She never spoke about it. I didn’t know anyone who was depressed, or even just anxious, we simply dealt with life.  Life in London, was tough, I thought it circumstantial and smiled my way through it, especially when I came back to visit and like no, I wasn’t going to tell anyone how tough it was, how depressed I was, what would they think of me? A failure?

So it took some time, coping. It took some time.  Still never recognised the situation, until I found others in the same situation. Openly claiming to be depressed. But wow, aren’t you just supposed to deal and get over it? Like family secrets, is it not supposed to be way, way back in the closet?

Yet, my friends in England, famous people, the media … all addressed the situation.  Mental health and the effect of depression, particularly in the winter when the SAD syndrome is most prevalent.

Monty Don,. a secret crush of mine, wonderful gardener and personality, when interviewed in the Guardian in 2018 and in his books, speaks openly about the SAD syndrome and depression.

‘What do you hate most?’

Depression. Uncertainty. Crowds. Parties. Lack of sunlight.

A man talking about depression, uncertainty, crowds (get that), parties (get that too) and lack of sunlight – wow, I get him even more. Being open about mental health is not only important, it is essential and if everyone could just talk about it, then our struggle with mental health is a positive one, one to be addressed and shared, and solved. One can only solve a problem if one is honest about it, let it out, talk about it, and deal with it. And it is not a dirty word, but part of our journey.  Why do others still find it difficult to mention, or own up to it?  Why is that?  Does it lessen us in some way, make us weaker, hell no, it makes us stronger for the diagnoses and living with it.

I face the oncoming winter in the UK. I know the lack of light will get to me, that February will be my ‘Macbeth month’ and at times, I find it hard to deal with it.  I know that things happen, and have happened, that have seen me in the spiral of depression but I also know that facing it, admitting to it, and dealing with mental health issues is so good. I am a different person in winter there, but then, when spring comes … I know the life is back in my veins and I love it.  We have to go through the seasons to explore ourselves, and muster what is good and admit what is bad.  And it not just in winter.

So, here in the winter of not my discontent, I am not depressed when the sun rises and keeps me company. Natural light is the making of me in some ways. Rather I find myself depressed at the many who have to brave the cold in shacks, without heat, jobless and begging at the stop lights. I find myself depressed that they live depressed lives every day. Having to beg, never thinking things will be better. Hopeless.  That I find depressing. That they cannot even think about being open about mental health and finding support for it. When you have nothing, you are allowed to be depressed about it – so no, I am fine here, but depressed at times for the situation of others.

So what am I saying? Yay for finally being open and admitting that I am a depressive person, through environment, through situation and through circumstance.  That in England I can go and find help for it. That I know it does not lessen me, but empowers me to admit to it.

And it is wonderful! Mental health is as important as physical health and I have learnt that now. It is not a sign of weakness but part of my life.  Death, divorce, re-location, relationships, they are all party to the depression that I have experienced but take me out, not at all, it is the growth of me, because I admit, I do get depressed and I do seek help for it, and it has made me a better person.

So positive yes on the owing up to mental health. It is the stuff in the creation of many novels, discussions, politics, world events. It is the small stuff of positive change. When I sit here and wonder at how I survive the British winters, and love them still, even if I get depressed at the lack of light, the darkness and greyness, I know that by saying, it happens, I value the coming of the light, the first signs of spring and the impending summer all the more.  And it is good.

Talk about your depression. Talk about feeling low, about how life gets the better of you sometimes and in the harnessing of being depressed,. you will find that that sometimes, your admitting to it, is true, situational and really, just ok.  Saying you are ok when you are not, why? Say you are struggling and you have mental health issues, and get depressed sometimes – it is the most freeing thing you can do.

And you know what? I miss the British winters sitting here – there is something in her seasons that lifts my soul to another level, the contrasts are amazing, and exhilarating, and to get that high, I have to go through the low of the British winter, no sun, grey but with such promise of what is to come.

Life giving. It is a decade of moving, and a decade of growing. And more importantly, a decade of embracing not only my physical health, but my mental health.

PS. Dark now, but still mild. Nothing like the winters in the UK but I go back to another winter now, and so ready for it.

Images: Unsplash, the medium and the torch.