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Help s not just for other people

Today at the Side Project blog, a personal perspective on depression from Vaya Pashos, who is one of the millions in Australia who have it

Image © 2005 AP via AAP/Kevork Djansezian

There is always someone more depressed than you are.

Perhaps that’s why it’s so hard to ask for help. You don’t want to be the selfish person that wastes time using up someone’s attention when they could be giving it to the person more depressed than you.

What right do I have to take up people’s time and attention when for the most part, I’m fine?

What right do I have to blog about mental illness when there are people impoverished and at war and oppressed in the rest of the world? I don’t know how to help those people today. I only know how to write this. (And even this took me three days longer than I said it would.)

When the media asks ‘RUOK’? They don’t mean me. Do they?

I’m not the poster girl for depression, although I do wonder what that poster would look like. (‘For a fun time, call Vaya! But if she doesn’t answer, it means she’s staying in to watch Cupcake Wars and question her life choices’).

I basically just have the garden-variety kind of depression. It’s part of my life and I manage the weeds when I need to. So when people say ‘reach out and ask for help’, I figure they can’t mean me, because I already got help.

I’m on an anti-depressant, which sounds serious to say but it isn’t. I take a tablet every day, like I brush my teeth every day. I can’t really tell what it does like I can tell what toothpaste does; but like toothpaste, I notice when I don’t use it.

I check in about my mental health at the GP every year and I make sure I like my doctor. I made an appointment with her this year and apologised for having only my mood to talk about. She said: ‘I’d rather treat your mental health than a cold.’ Amazing.

I see my current psychologist (they’ve changed over the years as my circumstances have) about once a month - I’d go more often but I’ve used up the 10-session rebate so I’m rationing my visits to make sure I can still afford the good ice-cream.

I have mindfulness apps on my phone that I usually ignore and a handy book on behavioural psychology (The Happiness Trap) with exercises I also regularly ignore but hey, it’s there.

This is not a dramatic revelation – many people have these sorts of reinforcements to help with their mental health. I could list about 30 of my real-life or internet-friends off the top of my head that have similar safety nets.

But even with all of that in place, back in June a friend of mine got a call from me. She didn’t even get a greeting when she answered the phone, just the howling sobs of a distant madwoman. I’d had a run of disappointing news and my safety net just wasn’t strong enough. I was sitting in my car so I could cry loudly without disturbing the cat and the neighbours.

I’d scrolled through my phone, wondering which poor sap I could burden with the task of bucking me up at that exact moment. I filtered out friends with young babies, friends overseas, family I didn’t want to freak out (Mum, don’t freak out when you read this), friends I didn’t want to disturb at work. And I landed on someone who also has depression – someone who’s been more depressed than me. But I called her anyway because I knew she’d get it without me having to explain much. And because in that blur of a moment, those people saying you should ask for help probably did mean me. I think?

Help is variable. And I didn’t know what sort of help I needed that night - I just had to sob down the line to my mate until she eventually said something that made me laugh and then I was cry-laughing, which always feels ridiculous.

Sometimes a chat helps. Or a hug, or a text, or a tweet. Or an episode of Parks and Rec. An adorable internet meme never goes astray. Here’s a winning formula: 1x baby animal + 1x animal of a contrasting species = 10% mood booster. Sometimes I might need to sit an event out, or sleep. For some, help needs to be more serious: stronger medication, frequent psych appointments, a stay in hospital, time off work.

I can talk about this pretty freely, but a lot of people in my life aren’t exposed to that side of me. On the weekend I told a new person about my mental health. She’s my sister. We’d never spoken about it before. The Greek community doesn’t talk much about this sort of stuff. I don’t even know the Greek word for depression. (Okay, I also don’t know the Greek word for cauliflower – I’m a little rusty – but you get my drift).

Every time I tell someone new, it helps, even if I feel guilty for being an attention-thief. Sometimes I just have to say out loud, ‘I’m not 100%’ and it doesn’t have to be a big deal.

You’re not always going to get an ideal response when you open up about mental illness. I got this reaction once: ‘Why? You don’t need to be depressed; do you know how sad MY life is…?’
Let’s all assume that no one is ever in the mood to play the Whose Life Sucks More game. It’s a real downer of a game. If I wanted to play a game that stressed me out, I’d play Jenga.

During a mental health check, your doctor will ask you if you’ve ever contemplated suicide. It’s an extremely confronting question. I haven’t. I know people who have been at that point, which is why my issues can feel trivial. There’s always someone more depressed than me. But that doesn’t mean I’m in a queue to get access to support. There is no hierarchy. Pain is pain.

Sometimes there’s a reason, or an event. A friend dies. A job offer you were counting on dissolves. You can’t fit into pants. Not just one pair of pants. ALL PANTS. Sometimes there’s no reason and you just lose all motivation.

So even if you don’t know what sort of help you need or who to ask, just keep asking. You don’t even need to use words – there are some pretty specific emojis available. And you don’t have to call The Helpline numbers at the bottom of your screen– but they’re there for you anyway. It works both ways. Check in with people. Ask them if they want to talk about their feelings, or if they’d prefer to talk about Game of Thrones instead. That’s okay too.

This is all just my stuff. You have your stuff. My partner is Bipolar II. He has his own set of stuff that I don’t always know how to navigate through. That’s right – we’re a Double Depression household! Want to come over and sit with us in our pyjamas and eat cereal and ignore the dishes? Let’s all muck in and figure it out together.

I keep waiting for someone to hack into my medical records and write ‘LOL! She just cries a lot because Beaches is a very sad movie! There is no depression. As you were.’

And most of the time, there isn’t.

It’s an ebb and flow. A to and fro.
Keep talking.
There’s enough love to go around.

Visit Sites We Like for helpful mental health contacts, and follow @vayapashos on Twitter for many unnecessary tweets about television/life.

The opinions expressed in The Side Project blog do not necessarily reflect those of The Project or the Ten Network.