The Glass Box

Worried

I suffer from depression. Yes, it’s a mental illness, and yes, there’s a social stigma about that.

I was actually diagnosed when I was in university, but it just isn’t something I talked about. Due to the stigma, no one really talks about it.

Sadly, many of us suffer, but we all suffer alone.

Recently, I was also diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. The combination is horrible, and can sometimes make it hard to function.

Anything that required making a decision would often send me into a panic attack. Everything requires a decision being made: what to wear, what to eat, what to buy at the grocery store, etc.

At it’s worst, I relied on others to decide for me because I couldn’t make the decision myself.

For example, I asked my five-year-old what he wanted for dinner: pizza or pasta. You’re supposed to give your kids options; it’s good for them. But my kids always have to be different. Challenging us is another way of independence, they say…

When he answered, “chicken nuggets,” I had a mental breakdown.

I called my husband who was still in transit from work. I was a hysterical mess because I gave my son two options, and he picked a third that we didn’t have.

I didn’t know what to do with that.

My husband, who understands me and what I’m going through, advises in a calm tone, “It’s okay, take a deep breath. Make him pasta, I promise it will be okay.”

Ultimately it was my husband who made the decision for me. That was just something I couldn’t do on my own. All I understood was that I had too many options and yet no solution.

Because it was impacting my life, I made the decision to go to the doctor. Yes, I made this decision. Somehow I knew that this was what I needed to do.

I couldn’t phone the doctor to make the appointment though, because then I’d be asked questions like “what time works for you?”

So my husband booked the appointment, and came with me. The biggest step for me was asking for help. I knew I needed it, I just didn’t know how to get it. He helped.

Understanding You Are Different

For anyone else like me, who suffers from mental illness, whichever illness you suffer, as you’re reading this, you understand.

You understand what it’s like to be unable to communicate your needs. You understand what it’s like to know you are different. You understand what it’s like to feel useless because you can’t do things that ‘normal’ people can do.

You understand.

Deep down, we know we’re not useless… we survive. We struggle every day, but we survive. We survive.

We keep going. Every day that we survive, we need to applaud ourselves, because it’s so much harder for us to get through the day than it is for the ‘normal’ people.

For those ‘normal’ people, I’m writing today for you. I hope to help you understand.

For those people who say “you’re thinking too much” or “you’re overthinking” or “just change your thoughts” – believe me when I say, we know. We know  – but we can’t change.

If I could choose to not be depressed, I would. If I could choose to stop thinking, I would. This isn’t simply a choice I make, to suffer every day.

It’s Normal to Not Feel Normal

When I first went to the doctor, she explained that my thoughts, my anxiety, and my depression are all very normal. So many people suffer from it; we just don’t talk about it.

She advised me to go to a website, to see just how common it is. So, to my ‘normal’ friends, go look.

We aren’t so abnormal, you know.

This is not by any means an attack against normal people.

Normal people

Normal people are lucky that they don’t understand. They get to live their lives daily, whereas we have to survive daily.

We miss out on great things in life because we are busy trying to find strength where we think there is none.

When I went to the doctor a second time, she said something to me that stuck – we don’t talk about it.

The stigma is there because we don’t talk about it. So as difficult as this is, I’m talking. I wish things could be different. I wish they could be easier.

But I’m not ashamed.

It’s socially acceptable to be afraid. It’s socially acceptable to talk about our fears, no matter how insignificant they might seem to someone else.

So I thought I’d try to express what I’m going through, what I’m feeling, what so many of us suffer through daily, to all my normal friends.

Find Your Glass Box

What are you afraid of? Spiders? Let’s imagine that for a minute.

Put yourself in a glass box. The box is the size of your bedroom. You can move freely, you aren’t suffocating, but you are alone. There is nothing else in the glass box apart from you… and the spiders.

Today there might only be one spider, tomorrow, ten, the next day, one hundred. Sometimes the spiders are just there. They don’t move; they just stand there.

It’s you in a glass box with spiders covering all six sides. It doesn’t matter if there is one spider or a hundred spiders, that’s all you see.

It doesn’t matter if they move or if they don’t – they’re there.

On the harder days, they touch you. They crawl all over you. You can think to yourself “they’re not there” all you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that they are.

You can tell yourself “they won’t hurt me,” but it doesn’t change the fact that they can.

Some of them sting, or bite, or do whatever it is that spiders do. Go ahead and think yourself out of the box of spiders. Wish them away.

When you open your eyes, they’re still there, but you hope they’ll leave soon.

Not afraid of spiders? What about birds, or cats, or dogs, or insects, or needles, or germs, or whatever it is that you’re afraid of? Get inside your glass box room and put your fear in there with you.

Survive it.

Watch everyone else live their lives outside your glass box, not seeing you and the thing that could hurt you. And it can hurt you. Whatever it is that is in the box with you, it can hurt you.

Dogs bite, cats scratch, insects sting, birds can claw, germs can infect. You can survive, but that doesn’t make it hurt less.

You can pretend it’s not there. But it is. You can smile like it doesn’t bother you, but it does.

We Are Stronger Than We Think

Every day is a challenge. My glass box is my room, my house, my car, my office, my world.

On good days, the thing that’s in the room with me doesn’t move. On bad days, there are hundreds of things crawling all over me. On really bad days, I don’t care. How is that worse?

Because the only thing worse than not caring is giving up.

That’s what it’s like to suffer from depression and anxiety. It’s not eternal sadness or high stress. It’s knowing that every time you wake up, you wake up wondering if today is the day you won’t find the strength you need to move through the glass box.

If you’re asking yourself “why is she afraid?” you are not asking the right question. It’s not fear.

But even normal people understand what it’s like to be afraid. It is possible to feel so much that it hurts.

The hurting… that’s depression.

Knowing there’s nothing you can do about it… that’s depression.

The fast pace of the heartbeat as you feel the depression take over your body… that’s anxiety.

Remove the stigma. The more we talk about it, the more we confront it head on, the bigger our box gets. Every little bit helps.

We are stronger than you think. We are stronger than we think.

We can survive… maybe one day we’ll be able to leave the glass box behind.

Join my awesome community!

Jaclyn Aurore
Jaclyn Aurore is a wife and mother, and lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband, two children and two dogs. She always loves to talk about how she met her husband – it’s not your usual boy meets girl story, so feel free to ask her about it!

42 Comments

  1. Hey there, you…

    Well, if I didn’t say how much I love you often enough this week, let me correct that now. So very proud of you for writing this, and being so open and raw with the daily struggles you go through.

    You’re such a strong person, and I don’t think you give yourself enough credit for that. At least, not often enough. That’s not a criticism – hell, you know how slow I am at accepting compliments from you and others, so I’m not exactly qualified to tell someone they need to be more assertive. 😉

    Just know that your family loves you dearly, and if we add to your stress, we don’t mean to. But we’ll try and be better. I promise.

    I love you, and thank you for being you. x

    1. Well you, it looks like you’re the only person I have yet to reply to. Thank you for always helping me survive the bloody box from hell. You and the kids are my life, and make it worth living every day. Thank you for accepting me and my faults. You’ve always been the most supportive. Without you, sheesh… I don’t even want to finish that thought.

  2. Thanks Jaclyn for being so open. When I get to read others who live with similar issues it opens the door to feeling not alone.

    The daily fear of decisions is daunting enough, but when you add depression and anxiety everything becomes larger than life.

    Every day when I cook dinner I wonder is this the right thing for tonight. I sometimes call Patti and ask what does she want? If it isn’t what I prepared or it’s what I’m in the mood to make we talk.

    It’s a meeting of the minds to make everyone happy. Between our son, and the visit of the other two kids with our grandchildren it can become pretty anxious in the kitchen.

    Plus I have my own demons to fight as I decide what I feel I can make best.

    As for writing that’s an entirely different story. I give you so much credit for doing what you do and doing it so well. Danny is a lucky man and I know he’ll agree.

    You’re not alone, always remember that. That’s something I always forgot before.

    1. Thank you Mark-John.

      Cooking is definitely a struggle, there are far too many choices… Which is probably why I don’t do it

      And it sucks when people say “I don’t know, what do you want”

      I struggle with that the most… It seems like it should be an easy thing…

  3. What a beautifully well-done piece of art this is, Jaclyn and I would like to thank you for writing it. Much gratitude.

    I’m one of those people who is very private about my demons and only express myself about them within my very closest, intimate circles.

    When I read something like this, I wish I could find the way to be more forthcoming and not have it intersect with my professional life, but hopefully, it’s enough to not impose on you (or anyone else) a need to suffer my details and to simply let you know that I’m another person whom you may not feel alone with should you wish.

    I have been fortunate in finding some helpful tools and methods that help. And one of them absolutely is to not resist whatever I’m feeling. For me, it only makes whatever it happens to be to persist.

    And somehow, magically, naming what’s so, can go a really long way in gaining a bit of calm and acceptance to get that next foot forward. One of the really coolest things is how much more depth and grace I can find when I’m not running from myself. Just a tad bit of Zen for ya (it’s one of my practices).

    Godspeed, Jaclyn.

    1. It is for sure a scary thing – trying to talk publicly when it may impact your job, or impact the way your coworkers look at you. I am so far lucky that my job hasn’t been impacted by my illness – I work with numbers and statistics, and those don’t waiver. When they do, it’s my job to find out why – so if anything, my job is helping me. But I imagine if any of my coworkers read this, they might look at me funny. I guess only time will tell.

  4. Hey Jac,

    It must be overwhelming for you living in this world of ours that has choices everywhere you turn. The only thing I can compare it to—and I know it is not even close to what you deal with daily—is when I first returned from West Africa to shoot a film about third world poverty. I was still raw from the poverty and disease I had seen there. That first morning back, getting ready for work, I opened my closet doors to choose an outfit, like I had done a million times before. But this time I stood frozen, in complete awe, paralyzed by the insane choices before me. And the tears welled up. It was too much. Too much stuff.

    I cannot imagine what it is like, but I see your amazing skills as a mom and think that you have compensated well.

    I think that my mom must have suffered from depression. But it was undiagnosed (heck, it was the 60s; I’m not sure it even had a name back then.) My dad said, “Oh, it’s just Mama’s nerves.” But it was not normal. I am so glad that you are being treated and have the wonderful support from your caring husband.

    Thank you for the courage in sharing this. It can only help other people when we can get it all out in the open and talk about it! Much love to you.

    1. Thanks Judy – I am floored by the overwhelming response to this post. I didn’t expect so many people who could relate… To be honest, I didn’t know what I hoped to accomplish at all by writing this post – I think I just didn’t want to keep silent. Too many of us do, and that only makes our struggle harder.

  5. I have to say that I don’t have it to your degree, but I’ve gone through periods of pretty bad depression. I still fight here and there with problems of anxiety, where I’ll be out among people for maybe 10 minutes and I have to bolt and come back home. Being self employed, that’s not the best networking technique in the world.

    I applaud you for writing about it and trying not to stay in that space. I wish you the best of luck with it all.

  6. Hi,

    I have a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) which comes with a lovely package of anxiety and PTSD. I was not like this my whole life, this is the result of being hit by a car crossing the street.

    I now have a horrible fear of cars and of dying young. When well meaning friends tell me “just get over it” or “you don’t need medication” I feel like they are questioning my existence. Yes, I take meds. I also go to therapy to put the accident into perspective. There was a time I cried trying to cross the street.

    That can still happen, but thankfully not so often.

    The stigma really needs to be lifted. I do not suffer in silence.

    Thank you.

    1. oh gosh I can only imagine – thank you for sharing your story as well. what seems so simple to so many… if only they knew. For me, the pills I take help with anxiety, not depression. I can only deal with one battle at a time. I try to use this glass box analogy to my anti-meds friends. Sure, you can change your diet, you can do yoga, you can smile and think positively, but when you open your eyes, you’re forever alone in your glass box with demons.

  7. Amazing writing. I love the clarity in which you get across something so very difficult to explain to others. As someone with bipolar and anxiety I can relate all too well to being overwhelmed by choices and being stuck because it’s just too much. Not that long ago I was having panic attacks every time I went to the grocery store but thankfully that has ramped down. I’m glad you have a supportive family and wish you well.

    1. Thank you, Emmie – it’s weird because I never had any trouble shopping at all until this last year. Now it’s very difficult for me to go into a store without a list. There have been times I’ve gone into the store, knowing we needed things at home, not having a list, and turning out and leaving empty handed… I’d arrive at home empty-handed, full of tears, and feeling like a failure.

      Simple things can be taken for granted by so many people 🙁

      I am touched that so many people are reading and commenting with their own experiences. We can break the stigma, we just need to remain strong.

  8. Thanks for sharing your story. It’s funny because right after I read this I was listening to TED Radio Hour on NPR and the episode, called Heads pace (11/6/15) was all about describing human emotion and it’s various aspects, including depression. Your blog post fit right in with that discussion. So maybe you should consider doing a TED talk someday. 🙂

  9. Hi Jaclyn,

    I’ve known Danny online (but I feel more like it’s in person) for many years, and have seen him speak glowingly of his beautiful wife. Now I know why.

    You are brave, Jaclyn. And ARE strong, because you are strong enough to know when to ask for help. And you are wise enough to let yourself be vulnerable enough to accept it.

    But most of all, your courage to post this TO HELP OTHERS who hide in the shadows of mental illness is the most fitting tribute of all to who you are as a person. Beautiful, strong and wise. Depression can be situational, it can be chemical, but we both know that is is REAL. That box of spiders is different for every person, but so many people have it. They just don’t have the strength and wisdom to express what you did so eloquently.

    If you ask Danny, you might see that I have expressed in one of our private FB groups some troubles that I am encountering right now. I had problems (with a torn up ankle not yet 48 hours injured) even asking friends to help me move out of the house I shared with my family. It takes courage to not only admit depression and anxiety to yourself, your spouse, and now to thousands of others that you need help – but to be wise enough to know it.

    If my guess is right, those nasty brain chemicals are going to sort themselves out in short order because you will make it so. And Danny will guide you along that journey. He too is a good man.

    I am so proud to know Danny and now you, by extension. The comments on this blog have been wonderful, but I would encourage you to also think about one other thing: think of all of the people who cried when they read this, yet did not (yet) have the strength to reach out.

    Thanks to you, complete strangers, people whom you will never know, can take hope, inspiration and solace from your eloquence and honesty.

    If you were in front of me (and Danny would not kick my ass), I would give you the biggest hug of your life.

    Mark

    1. and I would accept that hug willingly! You just touched my heart, Mark, and made me cry too. Thank you so much for your kind words – you know, I’d even go as far as saying that some of the best relationships start online 😉

  10. Ah, this us what real blogging is all about – sharing our truths.

    I couldn’t begin to understand what you’re going through but you expressed it so eloquently, you made me feel it.

    Curious as to how you’ve felt these last few days after writing this. I’ve come to realize that writing these types of posts is akin to throwing up when you get too drunk. It’s messy and uncomfortable but you sure as shit feel better afterwards.

    Life can suck sometimes and it can be unfair but its always worth fighting for the best one you can get. Being surrounded by good family makes it better. Sending a hug.

    Oh, and please be so kind as to tell that husband of yours to “piss off” – from Dan Perez.

    Thank you.

    1. That’s a very good analogy, and I did feel better after throwing this up!
      Honestly, I’ve been overwhelmed (in a good way) with all the comments and shares. A lot of people have thanked me publicly and privately for opening up, but mostly, it’s how many people sympathize because they too suffer.

      I still feel alone in my box, but now I can see other people in their boxes too – and we’re all fighting this together. If my words are helping even just a little, then I’ll keep speaking.

      I just don’t know what I’ll say next 😛

  11. I appreciate this post. It’s so challenging for people who have never been there to try to conceptualize it. Yours is as good an explanation as any I’ve read/heard. Thank you for your candor.

  12. I use music to help me get through it. Kind of like a mantra, repeating it over and over. Snippets, mostly.

    The one most often used comes from Tupac: “It’s a struggle every day but you’ve got to hold on, be strong… when it’s on, it’s on, so hold on, be strong…”

    The other comes from Henry Rollins/Black Flag: “I always wear a smile… because anything but a smile… would make me have to explain… and they wouldn’t understand any way…”

    We do what we must to take a step every day on the road we must travel. Just like what you did with this post 🙂

    1. Isn’t it great how music soothes the soul? The song I’m listening to most often these days is “Elastic Heart” by Sia – it brings out the good and bad, but still manages to get me through!

  13. So proud of you Jaclyn – you are a wonderful lady and an awesome author. You are so right that talking about our problems is a great help. Kudos to you for helping others as you share your struggles!

  14. Well, it’s taken me a week to read this. I was told it was a powerful post but, frankly, I was afraid to read it. Afraid of experiencing the pain my son must have felt the weeks and months before he succumbed to his depression.

    I learned of 4 more student suicides this week, which has made me more afraid.

    The one thing I’ve learned from diving into this subject over the past year, as you’ve said, is that we can’t change anything if we don’t talk about it. I’m thankful to you for doing so. I’m thankful you’ve found the courage to do so publicly so that others may be inspired and find that courage themselves.

    1. Sam, I appreciate your comment. Honestly, you were one of the reasons I had trouble reaching out. I thought that in the end, I had no reason to complain about my problems, because I haven’t suffered loss. Your opinion means so much to me, and hearing your words have helped me battle my demons.

      But I think it’s important to share – I’d like to be the one sitting on one of your fabulous yellow benches and listening to anyone who wants to talk. Or just sit in silence knowing the person next to me understands without having to say a word. Together, we can get through this. One day at a time.

      But thank you mostly for giving me the strength to talk, to admit, and to survive.

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  16. Thank you for sharing your innermost life with us. Because you are a storyteller, you will reach many, many people like me who love (and have lost) people with depression but don’t always know what to say or do or think. I just read your post on the cement suit, and applaud you for using your storytelling gifts to being insight and empathy to so many. You are my hero.

    1. Thanks Judy! I read something recently about the difference between sympathy and empathy. “Empathy never begins with ‘at least’.” – for example, if someone says “My marriage is failing” – someone who has been there before, might say “well at least you still have a marriage”

      someone who empathizes might say instead, “I’m sorry to hear that. I’m here if you need a shoulder to cry on” – or “I don’t really know what to say, but I’m here to listen”

      The thing with depression is that those who actually can sympathize will usually say nothing, and those who believe they can sympathize, will start their responses with ‘at least’

      if nothing else, a little empathy goes a long way 🙂

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