When I was 19 I dropped out of college and moved back in with my parents. When people asked why, I told them it was because I didn’t like the University I was attending, I wanted to save money by moving back home, and I wanted to get a job so I could start making my own money. What I didn’t tell them was that I was too depressed to be living alone. That I didn’t leave my room most days and that I was barely functioning.
Why didn’t I just tell people that? Because like most people, I’m really uncomfortable talking about any mental health issues, let alone my own. Which is exactly what JoEllen Notte’s new book The Monster Under the Bed: Sex, Depression, and the Conversations We Aren’t Having is about. Don’t let the title fool you though. Yes, the book is the intersection of sex and depression, but JoEllen has so many good points to make about depression and general, that I think everyone should read it.
When my father came to help me move home (I was living in the dorms) he was appalled at the living conditions that had become normal to me. Despite being a licensed clinical psychologist with (at that point) almost 30 years of experience, my father said and did all of the wrong things. Instead of helping and making me feel better, he re-enforced the myths about depressed people being lazy and made me feel 120% shittier about the situation.
In chapter six, “Your Team in Action”, JoEllen gives a list of things not to say to a depressed person. A lot of the things that my dad (and let’s be honest, lots of other people too) told me when I moved back home after dropping out of school are on that list. You might think that offering platitudes to a person suffering from depression can’t be that harmful, but JoEllen breaks down how saying certain things, like “you just need to exercise more” can really feed into a depressed person’s feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem. She even offers things that you can say/do instead that might actually help.
I was formally diagnosed with AD(H)D when I was about 9, and the diagnoses of depression (or more technically, dysthymia) that followed at some point in either Middle School or High School wasn’t exactly a surprise. My ADD made focusing on school a struggle, and my academic failures (don’t even get me started on being a former “gifted” kid) already had me feeling worthless before depression took a hold of my brain.
I spent a lot of my childhood and teen years in therapy, but I can’t really tell you if it helped or not. I was prescribed a variety of different medications, but my ADD makes remembering to take a pill every day really difficult, so I never took anything consistently enough to know if it really made a difference. Overall, my therapists (and yes, there were many of them) focused on “managing” my ADD symptoms while just making sure that I wasn’t suicidal. So I never really had anyone listen to me about my depression, or make me feel like it was something that was important enough to get treatment for (besides being given some basic antidepressants and told that should help).
When I first heard about JoEllen’s book (back in January, I think… which feels like a year ago at least) I knew I wanted to read it. I don’t usually go in for the “self-help” genre of books, but this one felt different. And it was, it is. It’s the only book about depression I’ve read that was written by someone who gets it. JoEllen gets depression in a way that my therapists, parents (both therapists themselves), friends and partner just don’t. Depression is something that can be very alienating. It makes us feel alone and isolated. Having to constantly explain (and justify) your symptoms and experiences to people doesn’t really help with this. Reading this book made me feel less alone. Because it made me feel heard. JoEllen’s experiences aren’t exactly the same as mine, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that for the first time in a long time, I felt like someone else really understood what I was going through. And that can make all the difference when you feel like you’re the only depressed person in the world
This post is getting long and rambly, and feeling a bit less like a proper review. So let’s just jump into who I would recommend this book to:
Obviously, anyone suffering with depression
Again, I can’t emphasize enough that JoEllen’s book just made me feel so validated. Reading certain pages and passages just made me feel like my experiences were real and valid and that my feelings are normal! If you take nothing else away from this book, know this: “You get to be wherever you are”
Partners of depressed people
Like I’ve said before, even if sex isn’t a problem in your particular relationship, there is so much good information in here about how to live with and support depressed partners that I would recommend it to anyone, regardless of what their sex life looks like.
As JoEllen points out, not enough people are talking about sex and depression, let alone the intersection of sex and depression. You would think that growing up with therapists for parents would make me more comfortable talking about mental health. But nope, I’m just as uncomfortable as everyone else. This is one of the reasons that this book is so important. It can help us all have important conversations about important topics.
I loved this book, and I think that lots of other people (especially anyone reading this blog) will too. So support JoEllen Notte’s work, buy this book and use it to talk to your friends and partner(s) about sex and mental health.