A young woman in Sweden shared a personal glimpse of how crippling depression can be for the millions of people around the world who struggle with it, while documenting a small victory in her own ongoing battle with the disease.
Jonna, a 26-year-old professional wrestler, who allowed us to use her first name, posted startlingly two different photographs of her bedroom on Imgur under the title "Me 1 – Depression 0!"
The first paints a bleak picture of what it can be like to live with severe depressive illness.
"I suffer from severe depression and have a really hard time with cleaning and doing other kinds of household work," the caption on the first photo reads. "My room have been this messy for several months because I can't push myself to take care of it. But this Friday I decided to finally do it!"
She shared some her experiences with A Plus. "In the beginning I basically locked myself in my room for weeks and just left to go to the bathroom," she told us over email. "Now I try to activate myself, and I feel my dips are easier to get out of that way. Sometimes you don't really notice when you're on your way down either. You just wake up one day and realize that you haven't taken a shower for a week and the last time you ate was three days ago and you've been letting all the calls go to voicemail. But then you have to slowly, slowly try to come back. You learn as you go."
Fortunately for Jonna, she has a solid support network.
"I live with three roommates, and I try to be as open as I can with them without scaring them or making them feel like they have to take care of me," She said. "They will know if I fall into a bad place but I don't tell them everything that goes on in my mind. It's their apartment too, and they shouldn't feel like it's a Jonna-daycare, or that they have to tip toe around me and my issues. They know that I try to do housework in my own pace, but if they for example get irritated that the sink is full of my dishes they always tell me."
But like so many who live with mental illness, it took a long time for those closest to her to come to terms with depression as a "real" disease. "In the beginning my family back home didn't really realize what was going on. I could get met with irritation and a feeling of that I 'did it on purpose' just to be noticed or something. But as the years went by and my illness got worse they understood that I in no way wanted to feel or behave the way I did. I wanted to be healthy and happy. And now they are very supportive and we talk about how I feel and what I'm going through a lot."
The next picture in Jonna's post shows a vital breakthrough that came after a long, dark period and an inspiration to others who share in the struggle to keep going.
"I know its not a big victory," she writes in the second caption, "but for me it means the world to just be able to have my door open if people come over."
In addition to the misguided social attitudes surrounding depression, there are also difficulties with bureaucracy. Jonna told A Plus that just getting access to treatment can be difficult. "Sometimes it can take years before you actually get to the right place where they really can help you," she said. "And if you're one of those who have a complex diagnosis it's so easy to fall through the cracks. You get shuffled around a lot. Me, myself, have been lucky and found adequate help and it didn't take as long as anticipated. But it's not good when you have to rely on luck to get help."
Although Sweden is considered quite progressive when it comes to healthcare, many of the crushing social stigmas surrounding major depressive illness are still at work, even among medical professionals. "You can meet individuals, both doctors and other people, who just think you need to get your act together and stop whining," Jonna shared with A Plus. "And it's bad if you happen to have to deal with those kinds of people when you're in a really bad place with your mental health. You can feel like they're right, but it's not true."
She underscored the importance of not only having a strong support network, but the importance of self-care, though she admits that it isn't always easy.
"When my depression gets worse, the first thing I do is telling my best friend about it. I don't expect her to fix my problems of course, but I think it's really important that someone close to you knows what's going on. And then I sleep or exercise. Eat good food on regular hours and watch movies and series that makes me feel happy and doesn't make me think too much. Sitcoms are really great for that! Basically I try to do things that i know are good for me in general, but at the moment feels pointless. But I have been sick for several years so it's a strategy that have taken a long time to form.
Finally, Jonna offered some words of hope to those who live under the dark blanket of depression and mental illness.
To the people who are in the same place as me I can say this: IT'S OKAY! When you have depression and try to do what 'everybody else can do' - it's like trying to run a marathon when you've just waken up from a coma. You maybe were able before you went into the coma, but now your body will shut down after just a few steps. But just to try, or maybe just thinking about trying is a huge step in the right direction. BE PATIENT! It will take time, and if you actually start tidying or doing the dishes it might take way longer than it did before. That's totally fine. If you feel like you have a hard time starting, ask a friend for help. Make a day out of it! You can do something fun afterwards to award yourselves! And lastly: YOU CAN DO IT!"
Yes. You can.
Thank you, Jonna. We wish you well in your fight.