At the height of the pandemic, almost two years ago, executive Angela Coelho da Fonseca felt her heart beat faster. She was at her family’s farm, in the middle of the woods, with the dogs, “the birds singing”, an environment unsuitable for tachycardia. “Where did that come from?” she asked herself. A few more days, the anxiety returned, strong, giving her the feeling of a heart attack coming.
So begins Angela’s story with depression. In April, last month, Angela published a text on the subject on her social networks. I highlight an excerpt: “In the last year, I came into contact with the huge human shadow called depression. I understood my size and her size, I went to the ground buried by a huge and invisible hand that shaded my sun. But when I touched the wet well of endless sadness, I found friends, my family and time. In this time, very slowly the days became clearer, I found angels who knew how to hear my silence. I was welcomed, embraced, understood, and it was this understanding, without judgment, which allowed me to stand up again”.
Partner and creative director of the company Jogê, Angela tells how the painful transformation took place from a workaholic, who worked 15 hours a day and solved everyone’s problems, to a person who lost the energy to even get out of bed. A butterfly that woke up a caterpillar.
Universa – Why did you decide to talk about your depression process publicly?
Angela Coelho da Fonseca – Because depression is a disease. A terrible disease indeed. But people treat the disease almost as a lack of character. They look at illness as a moral crack, as if the depressed person is only sick because they are not strong and resilient. So, in addition to being sick, with no will to live, the person still has to deal with the embarrassment of his apathy. So I decided to speak up. We need to show that being depressed is not cool, it’s not mimimi rich, it’s not synonymous with laziness and lack of willpower. It is not a stain on the biography, there is no need to hide it. It is a disease like any other, a physical and psychological problem, a lack of biochemical control, among other things.
You say so emphatically that depression is an illness. But depressed people, unlike other sick people, tend to hide their symptoms.
Exactly. I usually make an analogy between cancer and depression. They are different diseases in almost every aspect and I only make this analogy because I had both. Eight years ago, I had to remove part of a breast because of a carcinoma in sittu [câncer não invasivo]. I never needed to be ashamed of cancer, people didn’t think it was a character flaw, I was welcomed What I see in common with both diseases, however, is that they force us to deal with a sense of finitude.
There is this feeling that we are going to stop being useful. The female body without part of the breast, caused by cancer, seems to be no longer useful in the eyes of sexist society. A depressed mind and body too. It looks broken. This shelf life of being productive, of which we are so charged, expires covertly, I felt this a lot in the acute phase of my depression. I made peace with my time, without looking in someone else’s rearview mirror.
How did you notice the signs that you were depressed?
It took me a while to realise. I had some anguish, I had episodes of anxiety and tachycardia, but I kept working. I thought: I don’t have time to be sick and I think that’s all nonsense in my head. I’ve always been like that, an open workaholic. Until one day I didn’t feel like getting out of bed and I didn’t go to work.
On the first day, I said, “Oh, I’m just tired, I’m going to stay here and watch Netflix.” But I couldn’t even do that, I was terrified of watching something that took away my thread of peace. My feeling is that I was falling backwards into a hole, as in a fable. From then on, it slowly got worse. I didn’t want to be next to anyone, solitude was my best company and I asked for this space. It was as if I wanted to hide from the judgments and, at the same time, have the opportunity to rebuild myself, to prove to myself that I was capable of getting out of this, still capable of doing something extraordinary, this time on my own.
I felt a huge embarrassment, I couldn’t tell my work team, few friends knew, I was silent.
You know when you break that precious family dish and want to kill yourself with so much guilt? I felt guilty for breaking my great-great-grandmother’s plate. I said, without any criticism to my husband and a very dear friend: this world in this configuration doesn’t interest me, the ethical aesthetics they practice makes me sick and I don’t care about staying here, living has become a scavenger hunt and I’m not interested in that. . And I said it very naturally, because in fact it was what I felt and expressed. I didn’t see death as a tragedy, but as a natural consequence of life and one that would bring me considerable comfort.
The feeling of embarrassment, can you explain it better?
In addition to dealing with depression, I had to deal with revising my concepts of myself. The moment I touched the cold bottom of the well, I realized that I was naked, without masks, those masks and characters that we invent in life. No more high heels, cape, wig. It’s the moment when we have to say “I don’t know”. And being able to say “I don’t know” is a huge comfort. What day are you going back to work? I don’t know. From zero to 10, how much better are you? I don’t know. It’s good to say “I don’t know”. But it was hard to get to this place of self-respect.
At first, all I thought about was, how am I going to tell people that my validity has expired? How can I say that to 400 people, my company’s employees, who somehow depend on me and my work? How to take the cover off the badass that solves everything? I never asked for help, I offered help. This was a great learning from this process. I learned that if the person felt it, it is felt, period.
It’s okay to feel depressed, be sick, or just be sad. These feelings are part of our humanity, but the toxic happiness propagated by social networks somehow puts us in this place of heroic acts.
I learned that we don’t need to feel guilty about what we feel. A common problem is that people look for a reason to be depressed. And they want a quick answer, as if answering and healing were one and the same. Therefore, the first idea that comes up to shorten the path is to take the legitimacy of the disease, of what the depressed person feels. “Look, you have no reason to be depressed, look what a wonderful life you have.”
Did you hear it from friends?
I heard from a lot of people. When I published my text on social media, many people replied that they also went through the same thing. But they replied in the inbox. Why? Why didn’t they leave it open to the public? Because they feel it’s a personal demerit to go through depression. I was lucky to have the unconditional support of my family. My husband and two children went to family therapy to support me on a journey that we all knew would not be an easy one. A friend arrived with a suitcase at my house and said that she would only leave there when I was better. For some people depression will pass faster, for others it will take time. And for still others, it will never pass. That’s why I say: welcome yourself with delicacy and respect. And allow them to welcome you too, so you don’t feel alone on this road.
From zero to ten, how do you feel right now?
I’m not 10. But I don’t know if I ever will be. What I do know: I got to a place where living became interesting for me again. With the support of a wonderful and pragmatic psychiatrist, with medication, therapy, meditation, with the support of family and friends, I got back on the track, towards 57, the way life wants.