My fish are dead*

WARNING: If you are my mother, you may want to skip this post.

March is next week and I’ve just uncovered a pile of unopened Christmas cards in the kitchen drawer. I had a rough winter and things that I couldn’t face were pushed aside. If I open those cards, I’ll have to acknowledge the relationships they hold. Concede that there are people who care, have to care for them in return.

Life isn’t as easy to shove away as those colourful envelopes.

There have been too many lies in my life. I lie to cover-up my feelings and I lie to make people go away. Eventually the lies become too many; too many to keep track of and too many to care about. The lies are my shield, but they make me tired.

When I get too tired, I just want it all to end.

I now realize I’ve been depressed since my teen years. There were so many days that I pretended to be sick because I couldn’t go to school and face my small group of friends. Only now do I see I wasn’t pretending… I really was sick.

Everything came to a head in university. That’s when the people became too many, the exposure constant and the expectations too great.

It takes a tremendous amount of energy to act happy everyday when you aren’t. This energy gets sucked away and there is no way to recharge it, no way to rebuild the facade that gets you through the day. The only coping mechanism in my arsenal was avoidance.

Like the Christmas cards in my kitchen drawer, I started pushing the things I couldn’t deal with out of sight. I broke up with my boyfriend and cut off my friends. I was getting A’s but I stopped attending classes. I withdrew from daily life and spent my days hiding in a distant corner of an obscure building. I told myself that nobody missed me.

At home I lied that classes were great. All was fine, I was okay. I lied with every breath and I got tired.

When I got too tired, I tried to make it all end.

I lied to my doctor to get pills. I lied to my family so I could stay home that day. I lied to myself and was convinced it was best for everyone.

My family came home early and found me. No one can lie well enough to pretend that hasn’t left a scar.

Now that I’m older, I’m not as good an actor as I once was and my loved ones can better sense my lies. They feel me withdrawing and they pull me back in… I’m still depressed.

Recently there have been days when I’ve told myself that it would be better for everyone if I was gone. But now I have kids and that lie is too big to be convincing. Even I can see the truth, how it would fuck them up forever.

I’ve only just come out of the dark tunnel that I was in over the winter. New drugs, a new therapist and a trip in the sun have helped. I seek support and talk easier now than I did when I was younger… I have a hell of a lot more to lose.

Maybe tonight I’ll open those Christmas cards.


This post is a follow-up to a previous post about stigma and suicide. Stigma and disgrace have no place in a discussion about mental health, yet depression is still commonly viewed as a personal weakness. I’m embarrassed to admit that I have a mental illness called dysthymia.

Dysthymia is a long-term chronic depression that lasts years and typically characterizes itself as low energy and drive, low self-esteem, and a low capacity for pleasure in everyday life. Dysthymia may result in people withdrawing from stress and avoiding opportunities for failure. In more severe cases of dysthymia, people may even withdraw from daily activities.[1]

Dysthymia often goes hand in hand with other mental illnesses. In my case, I also have periodic major depressive episodes that are thought to be triggered by extremely low serotonin levels in the winter.

*If you want to read about how the “detached, meaningless fog” of depression feels like owning dead fish, please read Hyperbole and a Half’s “Depression Part Two”. Allie Brosh has truly captured what living with depression can feel like. I’ve never read anything better.

[1] “Proposed Endophenotypes of Dysthymia: Evolutionary, Clinical, and Pharmacogenomic Considerations.” Niculescu, A.B. and Akiskal, H.S. (2001). Molecular Psychiatry 6 (4): 363–366.

243 responses to “My fish are dead*

  1. thanks for sharing this. my friend gave the hyper bole and a half book last christmas, my friend was experiencing depression at that time and he shared me Hyperbole and a Half’s “Depression Part Two”.and I understand how he feels at that time. 🙂

  2. The book this image is drawn from is amazing. Hyperbole and a Half. Read it!

  3. Love this post! Thank you for your bravery in sharing this. I wish we could erase the stigma of mental illness. You’re right – stigma and disgrace have no place in a discussion about mental health. Unfortunately it exists, so therefore we have to acknowledge it so we can address it and hopefully one day get rid of it.

  4. Thank you for sharing. I’m happy you have supports around you who truly knows you and recognizes the warning signs to gently help you pull out sooner than later. I applaud you for demonstrating such willingness to live and making changes along the way (ex: getting new therapist, meds, accepting help from family). You’ve got this!
    There remains such stigma around mental illness and so much miseducation. You are making a difference in changing that. Please, don’t hesitate to reach out and chat if you need. You don’t have to go through the more challenging times alone.

  5. Reblogged this on soothingsensation and commented:

  6. Reblogged this on Art Edutech and commented:
    #art therapy thanks for sharing

  7. There is so much of this that I identified with… Thank you for posting.

  8. Reblogged this on The International Blogspaper.

  9. Reblogged this on Suicide and commented:
    For someone else to know how I feel on a daily basis, write an article and explain me to a tee, that does not know me, brings hope to my future and sheds light on my situation.

  10. I feel like this describes my life to a “tee.” I have been depressed since I can remember, even in preschool. I tried to ignore it and just get by, but as I started getting older my life began to lose order. I actually did seek help, but my doctor prescribed me ativan for anxiety. One morning after a hurtful fight with my boyfriend I took everyone of them. It has scarred my family. I have to try so hard to make it through each work day, each day period. I have low energy, low self esteem, drive, ambition you name it. I’ve tried antidepressants, at this point I’m just trying to get by again. I’ve never heard of dysthymia, I will have to research. Thank you for this article, it actually provides a sense of hope.

    • Sounds like dysthymia to me. I have found that there has to be some trial and error with the medication and a caring and attentive doctor is certainly key. Also, finding a therapist with whom you can be completely open is essential. I’m sorry you are also suffering but I’m glad I’ve given you some hope. There is definitely light at the end of your tunnel. Hugs.

  11. Thank you for be ming rigorous honest. It scares the !#&$ out of people but im trying to do it more and more in my Writing. Recovering alcoholic, anorexic & I know I will be on.antidepressants rest of my life. Im tired of hiding behind the mask of the Suburban Supermom. EVERY day, im making a choice to keep it real. I like loud hip hop, zombies, I dont make dinner every night, my kids probably watch too much minecraft, I slam cupboards when I mad and my if I had to choose one goal in my writing it would be to make one person smile laugh or feel like its ok to not have everything together all the time . Thank u beautiful blog

  12. jennifermatkowsky

    I’ve recently had my experience with mental health. It’s a hard thing to over come.

    heck out my blog if you’re interested.
    ‘How sad it is to be the type of different we desire.’

  13. Wow, you write so honestly and so well about depression. I’m glad people in your life can read you better now. It’s so difficult to hold up the facade when you are depressed (I, too, have been depressed since my teen years). You have a gift for writing, S, and I dig your post.

  14. I thought Broshes expression of depression is excellent! Thanks for sharing your story.

  15. I know a few people who have been battling depression for decades. I’ve never heard of Dysthymia – thank you for writing this post and for making me aware of it. You make a difference.

  16. Stay strong! It’s one of the hardest things in the world to do, but you should be proud of the fact that you are making any steps to towards trying to get better

  17. quietcalliope

    Thank you for such a beautiful inspirational piece – it made me cry to find someone else out there who has had a similar life experience to my own. Thank you for sharing, your words have truly helped me feel less alone in my own struggles through life 🙂

  18. Our stories are eerily similar. I’m bipolar so it gets better, then too good, then bad, then better. But, there is always an upside if you can stick out the cycle. Good luck with the new meds. New drugs are not always as desirable as Huey Lewis made them out to be.

  19. Pingback: Life out of the closet | Escaping Elegance

  20. Been reading and love these!!!

  21. You are a talented wordsmith!

  22. Thank you for this post. You know, for years I LIED to look better, to give people a better version of my reality, to cover things up, etc. Finally, sometime in my late 20’s, I flipped a switch and decided to be honest with everything that comes out of my mouth. When I feel I can’t be honest, I bite my tongue (which can be even more devastating). I didn’t make the connection between lying and chronic depression….. this makes a lot of sense. So wise.

  23. Hi, I just found your blog tonight and I”m so glad I did 🙂

  24. I admire your courage in writing this post. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to sit down and put my journey into words – what comes out is usually a highly sugar-coated, far removed version of my experiences.

    For some reason, reading your post and the brave, beautiful, heart wrenching comments others have made has compelled me to share a bit of my story. As is typical of those suffering from depression, I’m always hesitant to “bother” anyone else with my issues, but something is pressing me to share.

    Based on what I’ve seen and heard from older generations, I’m pretty confident depression and mental illness run in my family. There’s been a suicide, several counts of alcoholism and disordered eating, a few instances of bi-polar disorder…you name it. Growing up as the eldest of three I felt an immense pressure (from myself, mainly, now that I look back on it) to excel in everything I did and set a good example for my siblings. I made A’s, I was decent at sports, I was very involved in church and extracurricular activities, and I had a great group of friends. But somehow I was miserable.

    I had every reason in the world to be happy, and to the rest of the world – my family included – I was. I hid my inexplicable, unwarranted sadness and insecurity because I was ashamed of its existence. There were people in the world who had legitimate reasons to feel sad, and I was not one of them.

    So I kept my chin up and my mouth shut. As time went on my depression manifested itself in the form of an eating disorder, I think due to my impulsive need to rid myself of the black cloud that seemed to follow me everywhere. To me, confronting my parents was not an option – they had enough to worry about. My younger brother had been diagnosed with Autism and my sister had her own issues. I was supposed to be the strong one. So I was.

    Until I cracked. There are only so many meals you can purge before you realize that something is wrong. I confided in my sister, who then informed my parents, and, upset as I was, this was the best thing that could have happened. I began to see a counselor and take medicine. I was forced to face my reality and be honest with myself and my family.

    And as much as I would love to say I made a full recovery and it’s all in my past, today, a decade later, it is still a struggle. There are days that I’d just as soon crawl into a cave and disappear forever. There are days when I purge without thinking twice about it, later realizing what I’ve done and feeling terrible. There are days when my sadness turns into rage and I angrily try to convince my husband that he never should have married me. And there are the days when I just cry. BUT, I have learned over time to recognize and appreciate the happy moments. I collect them and carve them into my memory so that when the sad times come – and they always do – I have enough ammunition stored up to combat them. It’s a battle, but I’ve come to believe that it’s one worth fighting.

    Thanks for sharing your story. I’d be honored if you’d check out the semi-fictional account of mine:

    • Wow – I’m really touched that my post inspired you to open up. I’m sorry that you have had to live with the struggle of depression but am glad to hear that there are bright days. Hopefully they outnumber the dark ones. I will be sure to check out your story. Thanks for the invite.
      I’m so glad you stopped by. 🙂

  25. Wow. I feel like you’ve written my biography. Neat, concise, all wrapped up with a pretty blue bow. Some details are different, and I have a relatively rare form of bi-polar disorder (often misdiagnosed because of atypical symptoms) but otherwise, it felt very familiar.

    • Sorry to hear that you see yourself in the post. I’m torn, because I wish there was no one else suffering but am also glad I’m not alone. I hope you are being well treated now that the diagnosis has been made and that you are enjoying some brighter days. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

  26. Thanks for sharing this. The stigma of mental illness hits close to home for me so it’s always comforting to know that I’m not the only one who knows what it feels like to just want to hide away from it all. I’m finally on an upswing again, hope you’ve found yours as well.

    • Hiding can be such comfort until you get stuck and can’t come out again. For those who have’t been there, it can be very hard to understand. Glad to hear you are coming out of it. I, too, have been feeling really good lately. Let’s make sure it lasts, shall we?

  27. It’s good to hear you’ve got your family not only as a bed of support but also as a responsibility that you have to commit to.
    One of my very good friends is currently going through something that sounds very similar to what you underwent during your university years, though it still remains undiagnosed.
    If I may, I think I’ll subscribe so I can get a better idea of the way you deal with your Dysthymia.

  28. Reblogged this on multicolouredsmartypants and commented:
    This is a really honest post about the effects of mental illness, particularly depression. I could have been reading about myself as a teen! PTSD sucks. Anxiety and depression drain your life away, little by little (sometimes lots by lots). I now take anti-depressants and I’m feeling so much better. I don’t care any more if people know it – anyone who thinks I’m weak-minded should really take a long hard look at themselves in the mirror. Mental ill health is nothing to be ashamed of, whether induced by childhood traumas, as mine is, or whether occurring due to chemical imbalances in the brain. I’m not ashamed any more.

  29. Thanks for that all 🙂 I am just entering my teen years and I figured out if I need a shield of lies or not. My Mum always used to say son fill up your needs do what you can because yesterday cant come back and the past cant aswell!!

  30. Thank you for sharing a part of your story. I think it is so important for people to be more educated about mental illness. That way the stigmas can go away! My father took his own life so I am also an advocate for talking about suicide. Keep writing! ❤

    • I’m so sorry about your father.
      I’m glad I found the nerve for sharing my story – so many people have already told me that it has helped them. I feel very rewarded! Thanks for the lovely comment.

  31. Very interesting and emotional read. You have summed up clearly and succinctly how many people feel day to day but do not have the mental strength to delve into themselves and express what you just have. You are stronger than you give yourself credit for

  32. Reblogged this on Mindful Musings at Midlife and commented:
    One of the best descriptions of the mental illness, dysthymia, which I have suffered with from preadolescence.

  33. “It takes a tremendous amount of energy to act happy everyday when you aren’t. This energy gets sucked away and there is no way to recharge it, no way to rebuild the facade that gets you through the day. The only coping mechanism in my arsenal was avoidance.” Me too! I have not found many other bloggers with a dysthymia diagnosis. Your description is spot on. I will continue reading, as it somehow helps to find others who suffer the same fate and can describe it so much better than I have ever been able to.

  34. Thank you so much for sharing. I hope the more that is shared about depression and similar, common mental illnesses, the less they are looked down upon as “not real” or just a weakness of character. I’m pleased that therapy is working for you and I hope you continue to do well – and again, thank you for sharing. We need this.

    • All of the comments have made me so glad I shared. Getting the conversation going and helping people talk about their mental illness is the only way to remove the stigma. Thanks for reading and joining in the conversation!

  35. Hi, I just found your blog on FP and I am crying because I feel myself in your words too. Thank you for sharing so openly. Only when more of us speak will the stigma be gone. I was just diagnosed Bi Polar and am about to try and get better. Anyways, I am glad I found your blog. Hi> 🙂

    • Sorry for the tears but I’m glad you found me because now I’ve found you too! Sounds like you are on the right track – getting a diagnosis is just the first step. Please take care of yourself.

  36. Your post, and all of these comments are so touching to read, and an eye-opener, to say the least. Thanks for sharing such intimate stories.

  37. A lot of your descriptions and depictions of self remind me of, well, me. Thanks for the post and for helping me feel solidarity with issues of depression.

  38. My god, this is POWERFUL.
    I heard about a case where a woman was experiencing severe depression. She wouldn’t engage with her family, and couldn’t motivate herself to do anything. She began receiving high doses of Niacin (vitamin B3), and it helped her to be herself, to being a part of the family, sitting and eating meals with them again. Her therapist disagreed with the levels of niacin, and so she stopped taking it, and went back to being in disengaged again.
    I really wonderful documentary on it is Food Matters. I recommend it.
    I hope the best for you, whatever you deem to be the best for you. Be well friend!

  39. Pingback: After Freshly Pressed… | Escaping Elegance

  40. I can relate. I’ve had chronic depression since I was in my teens, suicidal at times. I’d been through dozens of therapists, medications and treatment plans that could never completely cure or remove the negative thoughts in my head that plagued me. It wasn’t until I discovered “the secret” and “law of attraction” principals that I realized how much power my thoughts carried and Being that they were so negative, I was trapped in a downward spiral. I knew what I was doing wasn’t working, but I didn’t know what to replace it with. I couldn’t figure out how to stop thinking that way. I took some pretty drastic measures to remove 90% of the negativity from my life. Through cognitive therapy and a meditation series called “love and above” I finally feel like I’ve cured myself once and for all. I feel your pain. Sending you love and light and healing.

  41. Hello, I know where you are living, I am living with you, part of my illness is brought about by mental illness, the desire to hide away and be on my own, forget those around you. With me pain is the instigator I spend my days in pain doesn’t matter how many pain killers I take, my whole body is one big toothache that thobs all night and day.
    With you it was/is the Christmas cards, with me its my office computer, I have not switched it on for more than six weeks now, I would rather be in the living room on my laptop, now energy, no inclination, no point. I do hope that you come to yourself soon.

    Take care

    Pete 🙂

    • Thanks for sharing your story Pete. I’m sorry that you haven’t been able to find any physical relief – I can’t imagine. Don’t worry about that office computer, just take care of yourself. 🙂

      • Depression is such a secret illness and it is very easy to hide behind a smile. Christmas for us this year was not the same as previous years, normally the house would be swapped from normal to Christmas, normally takes 3 days to set up inside and out, this year its just took 40 minutes, never even had the big tree, we bought a 3 foot one and it sat on a small table. My wife was so tired from work, I as tired from work and being ill and we just wanted it quiet and to be very very honest we loved it, just the two of us, Skyped the grandchildren in the morning and then the rest of the day was just us.

        I am getting help now through the hospital and neurology so hopefully it will help me escape 🙂

  42. wow, an honest and thoughtfully-written blog. Not one with just a bunch of selfies at a fashion show.

  43. I liked so very much that you used Allie Brosh’s piece about depression in your post here. I’ve never read anything that described depression so well as in her two writings about depression on her website and book. I was amazed when I discovered it and recommend it to anyone that wants to try to understand depression that is not depressed and for people that are depressed to know that others know how it feels and they are not alone.

    When I first started reading your post I thought that it could have been my daughter writing it. However, I don’t think she would ever risk putting it in words how she felt. I will never know though, because she took her life at age 23 on 4-11-13. She was a 3rd year medical student and was brilliant and gifted and so very, very sweet. All her life she appeared to be the happiest person on earth and never showed one sign of depression to us or any of her friends. In her suicide note is the only time I discovered that she had been sad all her life and hid it to “protect us from it and to protect herself from it.” She said she was exhausted from the weight of it and could go on no more. We were very close and I did not see it. She lied all her life too making us think she was happy. But that is what depression does too many who are depressed, they hide it.

    I am so very glad that you did not go the route that my daughter took. She never sought help and knew very well what kind of help was out there and about all the medications because she was a medical student. But she never sought help for reasons I will never know but can only guess at.

    I just wanted to tell you that I’m so glad you realized you needed help and doing that can make all the difference in the world. I wish you well.

    • Rhonda, it took me three tries before I could read all the way through your comment. 😦

      Thank you very much for sharing your story here. You are right, Kaitlyn could have written my words because she and I were the same. I was in 3rd year biology (medical school intentions) and, to the world, I was the happiest person you could possibly meet.

      I had a great group of friends and a loving and close family that I tried to protect from from sadness. My suicide attempt was a very serious one that was not meant to be stopped. My sister and her boyfriend came home early and got me to the hospital just in time. That is the only reason I’m still here. It has taken me 20 years to talk/write about it.

      Like Kaitlyn, I didn’t ask for help because I didn’t want to “bother” anyone with my problems. I was also a smart young woman who knew about all of the possible treatment options. The problem is people like us want to handle it ourselves and then it is too late. Suddenly you are just get too tired to keep up the fight.

      Depression is the “biggest liar” that tells you it would be best for everyone if you just stopped being.

      Kaitlyn never meant to hurt you the way she has. In the weird twisted nature of suicide, it was her final act of love.

      I’m so very sorry for your loss.

      • I suffer from depression myself and have for years, though I’ve been very functional. But I sought help for mine, though it has not been an easy time by any means, I finally found a med that made me not want to die. And I wanted to live for my children.

        Kaitlyn was different, she hid her depression. From what I have researched, what you have just written is how I think my daughter felt. She simply did not want to bother anyone and thought she could handle it herself until it was too late and consumed her. I don’t think she wanted anyone to know there was anything wrong with her either because she was a perfectionist. I did not realize the harm being a perfectionist could do to someone. I’ve learned so much….the very, very hard way.

        I know she did not mean to hurt me. We loved each other SO very much and I, of all people, understand how it feels to hurt so much that you want to die, no matter how many people love you and how much you have. Only, I never in a million years realized that my daughter had these thoughts as well. She was so smart and so strong that she fought it on her own for years (she told me she had been depressed all her life in her note) and it breaks my heart to think of her pain. I have never been angry with her….just so very, very hurt, sad, and devastated. My life is forever altered without her beautiful presence.

        Thank you for responding back to me. It helps me to understand better from Kaitlyn’s point of view how she felt and why she did not seek help.

        I wish you well and will look at your blog often.

        Thank you, Rhonda

  44. this is beautifully written – well done. Take care.

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