An Open Letter to the People Who Think Depression is a Choice


I didn’t post anything on Mental Health Awareness Day this year. Mainly for two reasons. Firstly, we need to be aware of mental health all the fucking time not just on one day. Sorry for swearing but things like this make me so mad! Mental health, breast cancer awareness, #blacklivesmatter, international women’s day…all of those things matter all the time – they shouldn’t be confined to just a day, week or month. My second reason is that I was too busy dealing with mental health issues to be writing about them!

So, I kind of boycotted Mental Health Awareness Day this year but thought I’d post about mental health for the rest of the week. Here’s my second instalment – An Open Letter to the People Who Think Depression is a Choice.

Dear you,

I know you think that depression is a choice so I’d like to say thanks for opening this letter and taking the time to try to understand.

I’ll start by saying depression is not a choice. I guess you were expecting me to say that though, right? I know you don’t understand it and I totally get that, but let me try to explain. This is difficult and could be long winded but please bear with me, it’ll be worth it in the end.

Living with a mental illness is a constant battle with yourself and with everything and everyone around you. Can you imagine trying to defend yourself in a fight when one of the people attacking you is you. Your hands and arms are so busy hitting your own face that they can’t possibly try and fend anyone else off. Why would you choose to do that? The answer is simple, you wouldn’t.

And I didn’t choose this.

Most days I wake up in pain. Physical and emotional, often with no reason at all. Image waking up every day feeling like you’d just run a marathon with the added pleasure of the worst hangover you’ve ever had. Sucks doesn’t it? Now imagine you didn’t run a marathon or have a single drink but still feel the same. And, now imagine that you have to get up, go to work, interact with other people and “function normally”.

I didn’t choose this.

I am unbelievably lucky, I know that. I have so much more than a lot of other people in this world and for that I am truly grateful. But I am sad. Desperately, deeply sad. I have the strongest, kindest, most amazing family and friends around me and for that I am truly grateful. But I am lonely. Black hole, end of the world lonely. I am safe, I don’t live in a war torn country or somewhere natural disasters strike frequently and for that I am truly grateful. But I am scared. Jumpy, knots in my stomach scared.

I did not choose this.

If you have never felt so unbelievably sad, empty and alone that you’ve genuinely thought you can’t go on, you are incredibly lucky. You have had some sort of light at every single point in your life. There is no worse feeling than utter, infinite darkness.

I didn’t choose this.

When you say things like “get a grip”, “cheer up” or “pull yourself together”, it upsets me. Not because of the words themselves but because I wish I could. I wish with everything I am that I could get a grip and cheer up.

I didn’t choose this.

Sometimes you take medication but there are side effects. Weight gain, insomnia, nausea, stomach ache, fatigue, drowsiness, dizziness, feeling anxious, agitated and shaky, migraines, a feeling of not really being awake, blurred vision, heart palpitations. If mental illness was a physical illness, imagine how ill you’d have to feel to willingly (and sometimes gladly) choose all of those side effects over the original illness.

Nobody chooses these illnesses. What they do choose to do however, is fight. We battle. We push on. We choose to survive, to stay alive. Those are the things we do have control over.

So next time you see someone struggling with mental health issues rather than thinking of them as weak, realise what they truly are. Unimaginably strong and brave for tackling the seemingly easy tasks such as getting ready, going outside, and interacting with people. Such tasks are mundane to you but are a mountain for them, so rather than pushing them down, why not give them a hand up?

They didn’t choose this, but you can choose to help.

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