Alright y’all. This is another one that makes me question my life choices and eternal commitment to shattering the stigma that surrounds mental illness. I think I would rather shy away and pretend like this isn’t real. That I don’t have this. That I do not experience this. That it is all in my head and that if I just try harder, then it won’t happen.
Spoiler alert: that is all bullshit. Shame thrives in the darkness and that darkness can be debilitating. So all I can say to that is byyyyyyyyyyye Felicia. We share our shame here and in the process, we fucking crush it.
I had a moment this morning on my way to work. I was driving along a country highway with my windows rolled down and absorbing the chill in the air. I was noticing the trees along the roadway and wondering if they were actually turning colors or if they always had streaks of banana yellow and rust red in them.
It is funny because I drive down that road every damn day and I have no idea what color the trees usually are. Either I am the world’s most oblivious human or the absolute most focused driver and let us just say, it ain’t the latter.
The sky was as clear as blue glass and the sun was shining on the center of my forehead threatening to blind my eyes if I was just one inch taller. I am not gonna lie, I had my minivan stereo turned up embarrassingly loud and was belting out the words to my new favorite song and all of a sudden I thought to myself:
“Holy shit. I am not depressed today.”
If I am being honest, that is the first time I have been able to mean those words in 42 days.
I talk a lot about coping mechanisms and managing mental health and chasing joy and all the things in that wheelhouse and still, it found me. This is usually the point where I get a lot of:
“No ways” and “I had no ideas” and “Why didn’t you say anythings?”
I think the short answer to those questions is that I didn’t wanna.
I did not want to talk about it and I did not want anyone to know. I mean, I never do. Why burden people with my shit when they are going through their own. So I just chug along internally deteriorating and giving the outward illusion that I am maintaining. It is exhausting and honestly, not what I would recommend. Especially now that I feel better, you best believe that I am a “tell someone when you are struggling because you matter and they care” advocate. And I mean that wholeheartedly.
But I often don’t afford myself that same grace. I am sure many of us battling depression do not. I did contemplate writing about how it actually felt to be experiencing depression or more accurately, the lack of feelings that depression brings. Like an actual play by play, in real time account of a depressive episode; but that was a bummer (even to me) and I honestly think that it can be triggering.
So I cowered away in isolation whenever I could. If I didn’t have to be on, let me tell you, I was off.
Generally speaking, the people who only see you when you are ‘on’ will never know. And that is by design. But, you can only hide it from the person you fall asleep and wake up next to for so long. There were plenty of ” are you okays?” and “you seem a little depressed?” questions being asked from said bed partner.
And they were all met with a no eye contact, teeth covered, half smiles “I’m fine” responses.
Until finally I decided it was pointless to try and hide what was happening from the man who changed my last name. I must say that my husband is an actual saint for sticking by me in spite of this mental illness thing. Ugh. Even I hate the words mental illness. Even I feel the stigma of them judging me harshly.
I often wonder: if the roles were reversed, would I be able to do it? Would I be able to handle the days upon days of withdrawal. The insecurities. The incessant sadness. Without absorbing it. And becoming it? Maybe we don’t pull at that thread
Rest assured, I am better. In fact, that is the only reason I am showing up here now. Even though depression tells me that I am all alone and no one has ever felt as nothing as I feel, I know that I am not the only one battling this disease. The one that tells us all the lies and makes it so easy for us to succumb to them.
Now here’s the thing. Everyone always wants to know “why are you depressed” because well, depression is for people who have shitty circumstances and make awful life choices.
The most concise answer I can formulate is that depression is a chronic illness. One that I have to work to manage. However, sometimes it flares up. Sometimes it flares up because I forgot to take my medication regularly and sometimes it flares up because I have a PTSD moment and-despite my best efforts- I just can’t seem to navigate my way out of the black hole that is eating me alive. And sometimes I think it just flares up for shits and grins. As in, for no other reason whatsoever than it is an absolute asshole.
This might be where you would think that I should be utilizing the piss out of all of the coping mechanisms in my metaphorical toolbox. You know all the ones I can’t seem to stop yammering about.
But not so much.
Not only does depression hijack your mind, it takes your energy. Who in the hell has the energy to do the things when all your body seems to be capable of is rest.
Luckily, I did go to counseling in the midst of all of this. Also side note: 10 out of 10 recommend counseling. I don’t always come out feeling better but I almost always come out with a better understanding of what is happening inside this poorly wired brain of mine. Also, I sometimes kid because being serious for too long makes me wildly uncomfortable.
I cannot be the only one who feels like there is this overall “get over it” attitude when a person is struggling with their mental health. I think it is generally expected that our mood is within our control so we should be able to ‘gratitude journal’ our way out of depression. And if we don’t, then we are choosing it.
All I can say to that is suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Depression is an actual illness in which people find themselves fighting for their life. Like other disease processes, sometimes they lose that battle. I think that maybe with a little more compassion and awareness and a little less shame and guilt that we can change those statistics for the better.
I was probably three weeks into this mental illness nightmare before I realized what was happening. I don’t know where the lightbulb moment came from because it certainly wasn’t my head. I think it was my gut. In my gut I knew something wasn’t right. I have been battling depression for over 25 years and I still find it difficult to recognize when it exacerbates.
That brings us to today. I was listening to this song for the 300-millionth time because it inadvertently became my theme song when Spotify peered into my soul and added it to my recommended songs list. Anyway, it hit me like a Santa sack of glitter and hope that I had gotten through it. I made it to the other side and I just want to say that this side is lighter and brighter and simply, better.
Alright. You are probably wondering what dafuq the point of this whole spiel is and when I am gonna stop blabbering. And that “when” is now.
I just wanted to tell you that I spent six weeks in the trenches waiting for the fog to lift and beginning to think that it never would. I abandoned all coping mechanisms and people that I didn’t have to see. I spent more time hiding under blankets trying to cover tears than I care to admit. And then I woke up today where nothing had changed but everything was different.
So the ultimate point here, my beautiful warrior friends, is this: it will pass. It will get better. Keep going. And when you feel like depression has stolen the goodness that is your coping mechanisms, your medication benefits, and your life-giving mantras, then I have two suggestions:
1. Talk to your person- whoever that is- and ask them if you can be ‘off’ with them. FYI: they’ll say yes.
2. Find you a song that you can blast on repeat until the fog lifts.
You will feel something again and that let me tell you: that something is worth it.