Trey Pennington, Social Media, and Silently Suffering with Depression

This post originally appeared on ChristinaGleason.com on September 8, 2011. I am republishing it for the fifth anniversary of Trey Pennington’s death, with some edits to reflect changes in my personal social media accounts.

Pretty much everyone in the industry now knows that Trey Pennington committed suicide over the weekend. It came as a shock to many people, since Trey’s Twitter feed was full of positivity. He appeared to be making plans to travel to upcoming conferences even the day before he killed himself. Had he already decided to do the deed, and was just trying to keep up appearances so no one would try to stop him? Or did something catastrophic happen that pushed him over the edge in the short time between his “see you there” tweets and his goodbye tweet?

Since then, bloggers and other industry professionals have been coming out of the woodwork to talk about depression in the abstract sense, imploring people to get help before trying to commit suicide, or in a very personal sense, talking about their own struggles with depression.

I’m one of the latter.

wrist reminder

I’ve never kept my struggle with depression a secret. As a matter of fact, I talk about it right here on my blog all the time. For a few years, I believed my mental illness was “just” anxiety. Somehow, anxiety seemed more socially acceptable than depression. Through therapy, however, I’ve accepted that I struggle with both anxiety and depression – and neither condition is something to be ashamed of. This is something I should have accepted a long time ago… I mean, I’ve had my Master’s degree in Psychology for 16 years now.

Depression and Social Media

Social media has allowed anyone and everyone to present themselves to the world however they want to be seen. Some people choose to be humorous all the time so that everyone thinks that they’re quite clever. Others are serious and all business so they are taken as the great minds in their field. And then there are people who are suffering but put on a happy face so they don’t have to be pitied or shamed.

Offline friends may never know someone is depressed because they only see the depressed person on “good days.” They may lament – even resent – the “flakiness” of someone who cancels plans for seemingly poor reasons, or someone who rarely accepts invitations to social events in the first place. It can be hard to get up the motivation to just feed yourself when you’re in the depths of depression, let alone drag yourself out of the house and try to slap a smile on your face. As recently as two months ago, I remember an occasion where my husband had to literally pull me up into a seated position on the couch and place food in my hand to get me to eat. I’d shot down nearly everything he’d offered to make me or grab as takeout – until he mentioned Nutella on graham crackers. We found the one food I’ll eat even when I don’t feel like eating. And I could never be anorexic or anything… I love to eat. But depression can be so crushing that it even takes away the joy I get from good food.

WELLinTHIShouse: I would very much like to curl up in a ball and wake up next week.

Much like the person who curls up in a ball at home and doesn’t tell their friends why they don’t want to go to the movies, the depressed person won’t necessarily bother to sign into their favorite social networks when they are in a dark place. They don’t want to see tweets and status updates from people who are happily going on with their lives while they lie at home in pain. They may lie to explain away their “absence” from the social scene, or they may never mention it… and when people don’t seem to notice, it only reinforces their low feelings of self-worth.

WELLinTHIShouse: I had a GOOD DAY. Why, WHY won’t the pain leave me alone? Why am I so sick again? I hate this. I HATE THIS.

When I’m saying “they” in reference to depressed people, I am speaking from personal experience. But I’m currently in a fairly good place, emotionally, so I’m avoiding the term “we.”

But some people do try to get “out there” when they’re depressed. For me, going out with my friends is one way I can try to “head off” a major depressive episode when I feel it coming. But then…I’m not in that dark place yet if I’m trying this approach. And friends have their own lives and cannot always keep me occupied when I need it. The darkness comes. I don’t want to see anyone. But then my parents call me to go to lunch, and since my dad was first diagnosed with cancer, I’ve tried not to turn down those invitations. I don’t know how much longer I’ll have him around. (This is one line of thinking that triggers my depression.) So I go to whatever restaurant they’ve chosen, and I try to fake a smile. They know something’s wrong, but they don’t understand. My mom and my grandma are prone to depression, but they remain undiagnosed and untreated. Their attempts to get me to “cheer up” make me feel worse because I can’t just do as they say to satisfy them. So I try to fake a pleasant mood even when I’m depressed, often blaming my mood on being tired. That’s not really a lie, either, since my depression and my Chronic Fatigue Syndrome seem to go hand in hand.

And so it goes with social media, too. People try to fake being happy online… only it’s a lot easier to pull off when people can’t see the tears in your eyes. Trey Pennington seemed so happy in his Twitter feed. What we didn’t see was the pain. But his personal brand was all about being positive, and the reality of his depression didn’t mesh with that. So he hid it to avoid ruining his personal brand. The end result was that he took his own life.

Using Social Media for Depression Support

Lucky for me, my personal brand has been built around authenticity. I have always been open about my various chronic illnesses. Those of you who know me professionally may not see the depressed side of me much… I try to tweet about it from my personal Twitter account, not my professional one. [Update: I no longer maintain separate Twitter accounts. My personal account is now also my professional account.] My client work has always gotten done, but it can be almost literally painful to do anything when I’m really depressed. I have sent personal emails to clients when I’ve missed soft deadlines by a day or two due to a depressive episode, but for the most part, I do want to avoid pity, and I want to avoid using depression as an excuse. (Oh, the guilt involved in that! I’m sorry I didn’t get this to you sooner, but I’ve been curled up in the fetal position for the past two days…)

WELLinTHIShouse: I won’t give you the details. You don’t need to know. Just know that I am broken inside

But on my personal account? I have connected with so many people with so much empathy. There are so many other people like me – other moms, other women in business – who struggle with depression and can understand exactly what I’m going through. They remind me that it will get better. And there are plenty of other people, friends, who have never been depressed, but still care about me. They send me links to ridiculous YouTube videos that I can’t help but crack a smile at. They send me virtual hugs. Little things that others may find to be stupid or inconsequential can mean the world to me when I’m depressed.

SallyLimeMag: I am suffering from exactly the same thing. I know where you are coming from. It is horrible. & hard for others to understand

If you struggle with depression, I encourage you to “come out” in the social sphere so you can receive the support you need. If you’re worried about depression muddying your personal brand or professional image, start a separate account where you follow the people you trust, the people who understand what you’re going through. Just knowing that other people understand can help you claw your way out of the darkness. I posted a video about my depression on YouTube and got so many wonderful responses from people I know and people I had never met before. Some were blog comments, some were tweets, and others were private messages. They all helped me eventually get back to a better place, even though it took a couple of weeks.

WELLinTHIShouse: But for those who are worried about me, no matter how depressed I am, I will never be suicidal. You never have to fear for my safety.

I have never been suicidal. Even before I had my son, my low tolerance for pain and my high fear of death made it impossible to even consider taking my own life. Now that I have TJ, the thought of leaving him without a mother gives me such a crushing feeling in my chest that it’s actually hard to breathe. But I have been in so much pain that I can understand how another person might feel that ending it all would be easier than suffering for one more minute. As recently as July. Writhing in bed, wracked with sobs, even my husband’s kind words and gentle touch were not enough to pull me out of the abyss. I had to medicate myself into oblivion just to function. (I spoke with my psychiatrist for his approval of an increased dose of my “as needed” prescription. Self-medicating with alcohol only occasionally helped.)

ConnieFoggles: Are you OK Mama? I care hun.

But that medication was what got me out of bed, off the couch, and back online to attempt to do the work I was being paid to do… and back online to the friends I have around the world. A single day of platitudes and well wishes was not enough to pull me back from the brink, but little by little each day, I was able to take the kind words to heart.

WELLinTHIShouse: The good news is that I *am* getting better. Out of crisis mode, with “normal” on the horizon. It still seems so far away though

And that’s why it’s so important to hang on. If you feel like things will never get better, that the pain will never go away, that’s just the depression talking. People do care about you – friends and complete strangers alike. They want to help you feel like yourself again. But for that to happen, you have to believe that it will get better. You have to take the chance and reach out for support. You don’t need to suffer in silence.

MomMaven: {{hugs}} I’m praying for you and I’m here if you need to talk

If you see someone reach out for support, even if you don’t know what to say, a simple I care or even *hugs* can help. There is power in social media beyond that of reaching customers and clients… it’s reaching people. And maybe you can help save a life.

Christina Gleason (968 Posts)

That’s me: Christina Gleason. I’m a professional copywriter, editor, and blogger. My company is called Phenomenal Content. (Hire me!) I’m a relatively high-functioning Aspie who also lives with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), depression, anxiety, and chronic pain. I am not ashamed to admit that I am in the care of a psychiatrist, who assures me that people in therapy are often better adjusted than “normal” people who are not, because at least we know what our issues are and are working on them. I’m a geek for grammar, fantasy, and select types of gaming, including World of Warcraft and Empire: Four Kingdoms. I hate vegetables. I have an intense phone phobia, so I’ll happily conduct business over email or IM instead.


Comments

  1. One thing that really helped me get through my depression was when my best friend simply hugged me and said “I love you. Please get some help”. I hadn’t even told him that I was depressed. He just knew.

    Please, everyone, tell people you love them and care about them.

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