An honest update

Depression is a terribly mundane monster that sinks its fangs into your back until you’re numb. You sit and watch your life pass you by, unable to reach out and grab it.

It’s been three weeks since I’ve posted a blog.  I’d love to tell you that I’ve been so busy doing cool, purposeful work in Mawlamyine, but that’d be a lie.  I think it’s important to speak the truth, my truth, because how else do we truly connect with other people?

I’m tired of all the pretending. We hide behind our Instagram accounts, playing this game we like to play to show off how perfect and exciting our lives are through filtered photos.  It’s all just makeup to hide the reality of our lives.   So if you’re up for a real, authentic read about depression and how things are going here for me, read on … I promise honesty.

I’m exhausted, struggling, and feel incredibly guilty.  Here in Myanmar I am extremely privileged. I’m living abroad and working in my chosen field, yet I’m severely depressed. Shouldn’t I be happy? Shouldn’t I be satisfied with all the great things happening in my life?  That’s where depression really gets you.

I’ve been struggling with depression for many years now.  I rely on a pill every morning to get me through the day, and periodic counselling to keep me level. But in developing countries the access to mental health services is often limited, as is the case here in Myanmar, especially outside of Yangon.

My depression got to the point where I had to reach out for help from Cuso International staff (who have been amazingly supportive, thanks!) and to be truly honest with my parents about my struggle. Last week I travelled to Yangon to see a doctor and have been here since for counselling and to be in a more supportive environment.

When I’m depressed I tend to gravitate towards poetry.  My favourite poet is Andrea Gibson, a queer slam poet whose words hit me like a knife in the heart, but also sooth me like a warm towel straight from the drying machine.  Of all her great works, one line has stuck with me more than any:

She only cries when she feels like she’s about to lose control, she know how much control is worth.                                                                       – Andrea Gibson, Blue Blanket 

Depression takes everything from you.  Your energy, your thoughts, your decision making, your physical well being, and often, your social support circle. And even though you know there are people willing to help, you can never tell them everything. You hardly ever reach out, because exposing your story would annihilate any shred of control that you’re so desperately holding on to to keep going.

And so you continue to suffer under the weight and darkness that is depression, holding yourself together just enough to get through the day.  And for a certain amount of time you can put on the smile and act like things are okay, while inside you’re numb and apathetic. You even take some pride in being able to ‘play the part’, and it’s the little bit of control that you hold onto. Until you can’t anymore.

To be honest, I feel completely inadequate that I cannot manage this on my own. Everyone keeps telling me I did the right thing by reaching out when I did, but doing so was incredibly difficult. I was losing control; control of my secrets, my own self care and how this would all play out.

Fighting against depression is literally a battle. A battle in your own mind, and it takes everything from you. I often feel something similar to what is depicted in this photograph:


Christian Hopkins has long captured what depression feels like in his own life as a form of therapy.  I find his photographs particularly relatable for my own experience as well.   Please take a look at the other photos in this series here.

Thanks for reading.  This wasn’t easy for me to write and share. But as a self identified anti-oppressive, intersectional-feminist activist, I feel it is about time I stop hiding from the fear of stigma and start opening up spaces for dialogue. So if you want to chat about mental health, feel free to reach out to me.




2 thoughts on “An honest update

  1. This is a great blog post Marlee. I volunteered for Cuso in 2014 and met lots of volunteers from around the world and I can safely say you are not alone in how you feel. Volunteering is incredibly rewarding but also very exhausting emotionally. Depression is no different than cancer, it needs to be diagnosed and then treated. I am glad you got in touch with Cuso and are getting help. It is through adversity that we learn what we are truly capable of. Peace be upon you.

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