Sometimes it feels like I have spent the vast majority of my life actively attempting to survive it.*
I know that sounds pretty dramatic, but since I was in grade 7 I've suffered from varying forms of mental illness. In University I was officially diagnosed with Depression and generalized Anxiety Disorder. Some days, on bad days, it does feel more like surviving than living.
The truth is that a lot of the time I feel a sort of disconnect to everything...like there is some sort of invisible emotional barrier keeping me from fully being in contact with the outside world. Feelings and experiences take ages to sink in and sometimes they don't at all. I experience an almost complete inability to live in the present at times. I get confused easily. I often have to concentrate very hard to keep a train of thought or to remember what someone told me. Things that may have happened a day ago somehow vanish from my brain and to access them again I need to sit and focus for a long time, or be reminded. The worst of all of it is someone telling me they love me and me just...not feeling it.
It's these things that make me hate my depression, hate being on pills.
Otherwise, my depression is like a scar from childhood- a faded line on my body that I can trace with my fingertips. It's ugly and marred, but it's been with me so long I wouldn't quite know how to be me without it.
My depression is cyclical. It comes and it goes for varying amounts of time. It's been doing this since I was young and yet I never quite see it coming or even realize it's arrived until it's been there a while. It all starts with my not giving a flying fuck. "I don't care about my health, I'm gonna smoke. Who cares if people think I'm fat? This is my body and I wanna eat that whole god damned cake! My room is a disaster, but whatever, it is what it is." At first it really is a comfort, you feel free...it's usually around the point that I'm eating six meals a day and smoking about as many cigarettes that I realize something has gone terribly wrong. Once I've clued in, I then realize it's been a few weeks since I've actually truly ENJOYED anything. I look in the mirror and realize I've gained ten pounds and I absolutely HATE myself for it. For all of it...and of course, that doesn't help matters. I then end up on a self-hate spiral. You're FAT. You're UGLY. You don't DESERVE love. You're WEAK. You are a PIECE OF SHIT. Part of you knows that as soon as you're out of this haze you wont feel that way anymore, but in that moment you're helpless. And it is a haze. It's like being stuck in a thick fog where everything seems warped and unclear. One day out of no where I will wake up and the fog is just...gone, as if it were never there. End of cycle. All of a sudden I can see the mess around me and I want to clean. I want to exercise. I want to eat better. I want to smile. And I do...I do it for as long as my mind stays clear, but eventually old depression will come around the corner again.
Sometimes it takes an obscene amount of effort for me to live my day to day life. It's like trudging through mud. The effort it takes on a bad day for me to get out of bed and be at work and laugh and joke...I don't think it's that hard for other people. On those days I constantly have to remind myself to smile and that everything is going to be fine. That one little mistake I made isn't the end of the world. I repeat my mantra of,"I'm fine. I'm fine. I'm okay." while my hands shake.
Today is Bell Canada's "Let's Talk" day. It's about ending the stigma of mental illness across the country. If I can help someone even a little by sharing even this small part of my story, then I'm happy to. If I can get even one person to maybe show compassion instead of indifference when facing someone with a mental illness, then job done. A bit of kindness and empathy can go a long way.
I wanna say for worried friends and family who read this - I'm alright. Really, I am. I'm still the same silly Karla who will put a box on her head just to get a laugh out of customers at work. I've just days ago come out of another cycle and I'm on a new medication that lets me really feel things again. I haven't touched a cigarette since September. Life is good for now. I know at some point things will get dark again, but I'm luckier than most: I have people who love and support me unconditionally through the really dark times. I have people who understand...too many people just don't have that.
Don't be afraid to speak up if you need help. Don't be afraid of who you are. Don't be afraid to talk.
*I just realized that I ripped this line from Hyperbole & A Half. I honestly didn't realize it at the time. I should have known better, I've never been that eloquent.
drawing by Sylvia Plath
Here are some useful links to help you better understand mental illness:
- Cracked.com's 5 Things Everyone Gets Wrong About Depression
- Andrew Solomon's TED Talk, Depression: The Secret We Share
- Hyperbole & A Half's Adventures In Depression Part 1 and Part 2
- Depression Quest. An interactive non-fiction game about living with depression.
- Cracked.com's 4 Things No One Tells You About Having OCD
- This documentary about Schizoaffective Disorder.
- Stephen Fry's The Secret Life Of A Manic-Depressive documentary Part 1 and Part 2.
- Believe it or not, the song A Better Son/Daughter by Rilo Kiley.
- This post about good days vs bad days on tumblr.