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Why we need to be vulnerable about our problems

(Source: Dollar Photo Club)

“Life with bipolar: a PSA.”

“How a dream helps me survive depression.”

“The anti-suicide manifesto.”

“It’s about thriving, not surviving: lessons from a hospital.”

“He is here.”

“My friend couldn’t handle my depression.”

“My depression doesn’t make me any less of a person.”

These are all headlines of articles or blog posts I’ve written and shared with the world about my mental illness. I’ve written for my personal blog, for Seventeen magazine and (of course) for I Am Second.

The point is, I’ve written about depression a lot and for a lot of different places. There are a lot of strangers nowadays walking about their lives with the knowledge that a certain Karis Rogerson, whom they’ve never met or brushed shoulders with, suffers pretty severely from depression.

And this doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I embrace this fact. Bring it on, I say. Let the masses know. Let them read and weep with me, rejoice with me, suffer with me, heal with me.

The only way, I believe, to have anything good come from this illness I live with is to be open about it so others can take hope. And that’s about 90 percent of why I do what I do: you guys. I write about depression for you; for the young girl who didn’t realize it’s OK to feel despair; for the young man who doesn’t understand why his new bride can’t get out of bed; for the grandmother who wants her husband of 50 years to smile again; for everyone who’s ever brushed shoulders with depression and felt its bite.

My go-to coping mechanism is a blade. At least it was, up until October, when I went to the hospital and (for maybe the 10th time since college) swore never to cut again.

But I also do it for me. That’s the other 10 percent. I write painfully honest pieces that explain exactly how I’ve suffered, why I’ve suffered and how I’ve coped because that helps me to cope.

My go-to coping mechanism is a blade. At least it was, up until October, when I went to the hospital and (for maybe the 10th time since college) swore never to cut again.

I’ve made that promise before, so many times. I’ve gone months without doing it. But I come back to it, like an addict to her drug, every time. I can’t get away.

But this time, I know I’m not going back.

The difference between this time and all the others is that now when I see sharp objects, I’m not as tempted. I’m more free, and I have a hunch that’s because I’ve been so vocal about my struggles recently.

I wrote a blog post soon after leaving the hospital; a few weeks after that, my Seventeen article was published; and now I’m writing these articles for I Am Second. The more I write, the more I air my issues, the less hold they have over me.

I’m sure there’s some philosophical concept to explain this, something about how secrecy festers inside of us while sharing frees us. I’m not smart enough to know the name of that, or the philosopher who coined it. I’m just barely smart enough to recognize its effects in my life.

The more people know about my depression, the more free I am to be myself and to shrug off its restraints. I’m not saying that talking about depression is going to cure me, because I’m still (often) weighted down by its presence. But these days, when I feel it hovering over me like a cloud or a ghost, its powers are muted.

Because so many people know what I’m going through, I can walk up and say, easily, “Hey, depression is hitting me. Will you pray for me/hold my hand/give me a hug/distract me?”

And because most of my friends know what I’m dealing with, they don’t recoil in shock and horror. They take it in stride. They pray for me, hold my hand, give me a hug or distract me.

The more I talk about depression, the more normal it becomes. And the more normal it becomes, the more its powers fade.

The more I talk about depression, the more normal it becomes. And the more normal it becomes, the more its powers fade.

Part of the impact of depression comes from the stigma. It isn’t talked open openly, freely, the way we talk about physical illnesses. Even AIDS, which is still stigmatized to an extent, seems to be accepted more than depression. We can allow that someone did not choose to become HIV positive. It’s hard to believe someone did not choose to be depressed. And so the depressed keep their feelings a secret, hiding them under their beds where they grow in danger.

We need to stop that. There is no shame in being depressed! (I’d like to call attention to the exclamation point there — I’m a journalist, so as a rule I don’t believe in using them, but this is really important and I want you to realize that if I were sitting across from you telling you this, my voice would be raised and my fist would probably bang against the table. It might be scary, but it would be good for you.)

So I’ll say it again: There is no shame in being depressed. Let go of anything that tells you it’s shameful. Let go of anyone who tells you it’s shameful.

We need friends who can understand and help us conquer this beast. And for that to happen, we need to speak about it. Openly. Without fear of reprimand. We need to be more avenues for people to share their stories. You need to be free to talk about what you’re going through. I’m incredibly passionate about this.

So that’s why I tell my stories. Even though I always feel worse after a piece is published in which I try to defeat depression. Even though I’ve lost friends. Even though some people might get scared away. Even though it’s hard.

Vulnerability is the path to healing, and it will be so worth it one day. It’s worth it today, to hear how my sharing has helped others. And it will be worth it in the future, for me. For you.

Karis is a grad student at NYU in New York City. Here writing has appeared online with Seventeen as well as Good Housekeeping. She blogs at karisrogerson.com.

If you’re struggling with thoughts of self-harm, there is hope. You can call 1-800-273-TALK to chat with someone about it. For a list of other resources, visit the website of To Write Love on Her Arms here.

(Photo source: Dollar Photo Club)

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