And in the life that everyone sees, who I am is a friend, a son, a brother, a stand-up comedian and a teenager. That’s the life everyone sees. If you were to ask my friends and family to describe me, that’s what they would tell you. And that’s a huge part of me. That is who I am. And if you were to ask me to describe myself, I’d probably say some of those same things. And I wouldn’t be lying, but I wouldn’t totally be telling you the truth, either, because the truth is, that’s just the life everyone else sees.
Now, for someone who has never experienced depression or doesn’t really know what that means, that might surprise them to hear, because there’s this pretty popular misconception that depression is just being sad when something in your life goes wrong, when you break up with your girlfriend, when you lose a loved one, when you don’t get the job you wanted.
And to be totally honest, that’s hard for me to stand up here and say. It’s hard for me to talk about, and it seems to be hard for everyone to talk about, so much so that no one’s talking about it. And no one’s talking about depression, but we need to be, because right now it’s a massive problem. It’s a massive problem. But we don’t see it on social media, right? We don’t see it on Facebook. We don’t see it on Twitter. We don’t see it on the news, because it’s not happy, it’s not fun, it’s not light. And so because we don’t see it, we don’t see the severity of it.
But the severity of it and the seriousness of it is this: every 30 seconds, every 30 seconds, somewhere, someone in the world takes their own life because of depression, and it might be two blocks away, it might be two countries away, it might be two continents away, but it’s happening, and it’s happening every single day. And we have a tendency, as a society, to look at that and go, “So what?” So what? We look at that, and we go, “That’s your problem. That’s their problem.” We say we’re sad and we say we’re sorry, but we also say, “So what?”
Well, two years ago it was my problem, because I sat on the edge of my bed where I’d sat a million times before and I was suicidal. I was suicidal, and if you were to look at my life on the surface, you wouldn’t see a kid who was suicidal. You’d see a kid who was the captain of his basketball team, the drama and theater student of the year, the English student of the year, someone who was consistently on the honor roll and consistently at every party. So you would say I wasn’t depressed, you would say I wasn’t suicidal, but you would be wrong. You would be wrong.
And I didn’t, so that makes me one of the lucky ones, one of the people who gets to step out on the ledge and look down but not jump, one of the lucky ones who survives. Well, I survived, and that just leaves me with my story, and my story is this: In four simple words, I suffer from depression. I suffer from depression, and for a long time, I think, I was living two totally different lives, where one person was always afraid of the other. I was afraid that people would see me for who I really was, that I wasn’t the perfect, popular kid in high school everyone thought I was, that beneath my smile, there was struggle, and beneath my light, there was dark, and beneath my big personality just hid even bigger pain.
See, some people might fear girls not liking them back. Some people might fear sharks. Some people might fear death. But for me, for a large part of my life, I feared myself. I feared my truth, I feared my honesty, I feared my vulnerability, and that fear made me feel like I was forced into a corner, like I was forced into a corner and there was only one way out, and so I thought about that way every single day. I thought about it every single day, and if I’m being totally honest, standing here I’ve thought about it again since, because that’s the sickness, that’s the struggle, that’s depression, and depression isn’t chicken pox. You don’t beat it once and it’s gone forever. It’s something you live with. It’s something you live in. It’s the roommate you can’t kick out. It’s the voice you can’t ignore. It’s the feelings you can’t seem to escape, the scariest part is that after a while, you become numb to it. It becomes normal for you, and what you really fear the most isn’t the suffering inside of you. It’s the stigma inside of others, it’s the shame, it’s the embarrassment, it’s the disapproving look on a friend’s face, it’s the whispers in the hallway that you’re weak, it’s the comments that you’re crazy. That’s what keeps you from getting help. That’s what makes you hold it in and hide it. It’s the stigma. So you hold it in and you hide it, and you hold it in and you hide it, and even though it’s keeping you in bed every day and it’s making your life feel empty no matter how much you try and fill it, you hide it, because the stigma in our society around depression is very real. It’s very real, and if you think that it isn’t, ask yourself this: Would you rather make your next Facebook status say you’re having a tough time getting out of bed because you hurt your back or you’re having a tough time getting out of bed every morning because you’re depressed?
That’s the stigma, because unfortunately, we live in a world where if you break your arm, everyone runs over to sign your cast, but if you tell people you’re depressed, everyone runs the other way. That’s the stigma. We are so, so, so accepting of any body part breaking down other than our brains. And that’s ignorance. That’s pure ignorance, and that ignorance has created a world that doesn’t understand depression, that doesn’t understand mental health.
And that’s ironic to me, because depression is one of the best documented problems we have in the world, yet it’s one of the least discussed. We just push it aside and put it in a corner and pretend it’s not there and hope it’ll fix itself.
Well, it won’t. It hasn’t, and it’s not going to, because that’s wishful thinking, and wishful thinking isn’t a game plan, it’s procrastination, and we can’t procrastinate on something this important. The first step in solving any problem is recognizing there is one. Well, we haven’t done that, so we can’t really expect to find an answer when we’re still afraid of the question.
And I don’t know what the solution is. I wish I did, but I don’t — but I think, I think it has to start here. It has to start with me, it has to start with you, it has to start with the people who are suffering, the ones who are hidden in the shadows. We need to speak up and shatter the silence.
We need to be the ones who are brave for what we believe in, because if there’s one thing that I’ve come to realize, if there’s one thing that I see as the biggest problem, it’s not in building a world where we eliminate the ignorance of others. It’s in building a world where we teach the acceptance of ourselves, where we’re okay with who we are, because when we get honest, we see that we all struggle and we all suffer.
Whether it’s with this, whether it’s with something else, we all know what it is to hurt. We all know what it is to have pain in our heart, and we all know how important it is to heal. But right now, depression is society’s deep cut that we’re content to put a Band-Aid over and pretend it’s not there.
Well, it is there. It is there, and you know what? It’s okay. Depression is okay. If you’re going through it, know that you’re okay. And know that you’re sick, you’re not weak, and it’s an issue, not an identity, because when you get past the fear and the ridicule and the judgment and the stigma of others, you can see depression for what it really is, and that’s just a part of life, just a part of life, and as much as I hate, as much as I hate some of the places, some of the parts of my life depression has dragged me down to, in a lot of ways I’m grateful for it. Because yeah, it’s put me in the valleys, but only to show me there’s peaks, and yeah it’s dragged me through the dark but only to remind me there is light. My pain, more than anything in 19 years on this planet, has given me perspective, and my hurt, my hurt has forced me to have hope, have hope and to have faith, faith in myself, faith in others, faith that it can get better, that we can change this, that we can speak up and speak out and fight back against ignorance, fight back against intolerance, and more than anything, learn to love ourselves, learn to accept ourselves for who we are, the people we are, not the people the world wants us to be.
Because the world I believe in is one where embracing your light doesn’t mean ignoring your dark. The world I believe in is one where we’re measured by our ability to overcome adversities, not avoid them. The world I believe in is one where I can look someone in the eye and say, “I’m going through hell,” and they can look back at me and go, “Me too,” and that’s okay, and it’s okay because depression is okay.
We’re people. We’re people, and we struggle and we suffer and we bleed and we cry, and if you think that true strength means never showing any weakness, then I’m here to tell you you’re wrong. You’re wrong, because it’s the opposite. We’re people, and we have problems. We’re not perfect, and that’s okay.
So we need to stop the ignorance, stop the intolerance, stop the stigma, and stop the silence, and we need to take away the taboos, take a look at the truth, and start talking, because the only way we’re going to beat a problem that people are battling alone is by standing strong together, by standing strong together.