I’ve had difficulties coming up with what I wanted to write for my next blog post, but it wasn’t really writer’s block, I have a lot I want to write about. However, I can’t seem to start to write until I share a recent writing I did in response to a session with my psychologist. It’s a bit on the personal side, and I thought maybe I should generalize it to help people understand depression and anxiety in general. But I found that, through reading so many other accounts of depression and anxiety, there was no way to truly generalize it without losing what I really wanted to say about depression and anxiety and what they mean for me. Everyone’s experience is a little different, but the similarities are in the suffering and stigma.
I’m actually not worried at all about being too personal to the strangers who read this. Most of the people who come across this online and don’t know me personally are members of my beloved Bloggess Tribe, or my SPN family with the Always Keep Fighting Campaign and they get it. Or the random stranger who might find this through a share, but doesn’t know me, their opinions of my mental illnesses don’t matter to me. It’s the people I know well, the people I deal with every day that I worry about. But those are also the people who would benefit from a better understanding of me the most. Most people I know who read this are close friends and family anyway. And I know a lot of fellow sufferers through my work and social circles who might feel relieved that someone put into words that mental illness is so much more than generalized symptoms and that the stigma is so deep that even we sufferers have a hard time letting go of the stigma. Maybe posting this will help to decrease the stigma and provide a better understanding of mental illness.
So here goes:
I am willing to let people know I’m a sufferer of depression and anxiety. I have accepted these diagnoses and don’t hide them from anyone. There is no shame in having these disorders. What I hide is what they mean. Even I can’t accept the true meaning of these, and society doesn’t get it.
What they mean to me:
That sometimes all my energy needs to be reserved for fighting against my mental illnesses. It’s an exhausting battle. My mental illnesses tell me things like the only way to shut my brain up is to hurt myself or worse, that I’d be better off dead, or I’m not needed in this world or it would have been better if I were the one who died, not my brother. That the only reason to keep going is that my parents, family, loved ones could not withstand the deaths of 2 of us. Nathaniel should have been the one to survive. He would have done more for the world. And then, because my energy is used to fight against those thoughts, I have no energy left to disprove those thoughts and do something worthy of showing my mental illnesses that, yes, I can do plenty for the world. In my good days I can see that I would be able to do so much more than most people if only I didn’t have to fight my mental illnesses all the time. (Side notes: To worried family/friends reading these thoughts and worrying about my acting on them: These are my mental illness’ thoughts which feel separate from my own- I have no intention on acting on these thoughts and am actually, currently in a good place- To anyone who may have similar thoughts and feel like acting on them: Please contact a crisis support network, there are many, but here is one you can go to if you need to).
Sometimes it is feeling anxious about nothing or depressed about nothing. There is no cause, I’m otherwise happy and in a good place, but my brain makes me feel horrible. And then I feel horrible about feeling horrible when I am doing well everywhere else, so I feel like I need to search for a reason, when really, the reason is just I have a mental illness. I love when I can place the reason as a physical illness because it is so easy to treat a physical illness- rest, fluids, medicine and no guilt for having to take time off to heal. It’s possible, and even probable, that a lot of my physical illnesses come about, or at least are made worse by, my mental illnesses, and I’m still resistant to the fact that my mental illnesses are physical illnesses that can be treated the same ways: Rest, fluids, meds. Granted, the mental illness also requires additional self-care and a retraining of how my brain thinks, but it really isn’t much different than wearing an ankle brace if I’ll be doing a lot of walking because my ankle never really healed from a sprain. I should be able to accept that. But, in part, it is difficult to accept because society doesn’t understand that depression and anxiety sometimes needs a day or 2 off for recovery, just like the flu. If you call out of work saying “I’m too depressed/anxious to work today” people see you as weak. They think you are just sad or nervous and unable to overcome that. They don’t understand that depression and anxiety are so much more than just being sad or nervous. It’s being unable to move, or breathe. It’s all over aches and pains in the body. It’s being exhausted to the point where just living can use up all your energy. Sometimes talking is more energy than you can afford to use. I hear people all the time call their depression or anxiety “the flu”, when needing to explain why they need time off. But, even as a sufferer, I contribute to that bias that keeps them from calling it what it is. I look down on people who call out because of depression/anxiety. Unless it is bad enough to get them in the hospital, I think “they’re just sad/nervous and can’t deal with normal life. They are weak”, even though I know from experience, it is so much more than that.
Sometimes there are perfectly acceptable reasons to have my depression or anxiety increased. Society understands, or at least accepts, that grief over the loss of a loved one can make my mental illnesses worse, especially around anniversary dates. In some ways, I feel a little guilty about how much better I feel around the death of my brother. I don’t really feel better emotionally, but I feel more free to express the depths of those emotions and to put off things that I sometimes need to put off anyway, like making sure my house is clean or my car is up-to-date on all its maintenance or cooking real food rather than eating processed, microwaved foods or even just plain cereal and nuts because using the microwave is too much effort. There’s no guilt or shame because when I tell people my depression and anxiety is worse because I’m grieving, they understand. They know it is temporary and I’ll be back to doing all those adult things I’m always supposed to do once the anniversary date is past. It’s ok if I break down crying seemingly for no reason because that’s just grief. I feel better about my illness because I don’t have to hide anything.
Depression and anxiety are also the reasons I’m able to enjoy parts of my life so much. The part of my mental illness that shows the most to people is the part that keeps them from believing it could really be as bad as it gets other times. Depression and Anxiety aren’t at constant levels and on an upswing, I really take advantage of the happiness. It feels like a breath of air after being held under water. You don’t appreciate air when you have it all the time, but when you spend a long time unable to get oxygen, it feels like the best breath you have ever taken when your lungs fill. I’ve taken it to even further extremes since reading “Furiously Happy” by Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess), creating even more amazing stories and fun so that in the depths of my illness I can say to my brain “see what I would have missed out on if I listened to you the last time?”, but I’ve always appreciated and taken full advantage of my upswings and so many people see me as the happy, joyful, joking person I am in those times. I want that to be who I am all the time, which probably contributes to my desire to reject and hide the darker side of my illness.
I’m hoping that now that I have found a medication that really helps and I’m taking steps to help repair my adrenal fatigue (which, by all accounts I can find, seems to be caused by prolonged stress, or in my case, a denial of my depression and anxiety needing medical care), the lows won’t get as low as they used to, but I will have lows. The stigma of depression and anxiety is so strong, that even as I type this, I feel resistant to sharing it. To share such things feels like admitting to laziness or childishness or weakness, but it is not. I am much stronger than I used to be and it took great strength to type this and then share this with, potentially, everyone.
Beyond having people in my life understand my mental illnesses more, I hope that someone else who is struggling with accepting their own battles with mental illness might be empowered by reading this to accept their mental illness and take the steps they need to get the medications and/or therapies they need to get better and overcome the stigma that has been ingrained in our society and ourselves about mental illnesses.