When I was clinically diagnosed with a mental illness, I had to take on the responsibility of sitting down with every individual who made up my support system (i.e., my family, my roommates, my close friends, my boss). The first person I told asked me, “What does that even mean, to have a mental illness?” As I was only just coming to terms with the notion of having a mental illness myself, I struggled to explain how I felt.
That was two years ago. Today, I think I have a better grasp on what it means to live with a mental illness. So now I’ll finally TRY to answer that question.
Part 1: My Depression
My depression is constant, following me around everyday. I am trapped in this state of mind where everything is dark and filled with sadness. Simply put, I feel sad. Hope and happiness seem far away and even if everything in my life is going well, I still remain clouded with a sense of sadness. Some days, I am able to temporarily push away the monster in my head. Yet, my depression is a part of me and will never leave. It has become an on-going daily fight and I therefore find myself in a constant sense of recovery.
My old coping mechanism was to build walls around any of my emotions or feelings. So, I would put on smile and fill my life with distractions to keep me busy. My hectic schedule allowed me to hide my illness well. It provided me with an outlet to express what I was feeling, by being able to label it as stress. From the outside, I appeared strong and cold, refusing to accept any notion of weakness. Yet, now I realize how true strength falls upon vulnerability.
Some days I struggle to tame my monster, which leads me to a major depressive episode. When this happens, I lock myself up. All enjoyment and motivation, even for the things I love completely disappear. The little acts, such as getting out of bed or visiting a friend seem impossible. Often, I find myself crying for no apparent reason other than the fact that I can’t stop the emotions inside my head. The self-loathing begins and I am filled with a sense of worthlessness and guilt. When I look in the mirror, I criticize every detail about the girl looking back at me.
Next, the physical symptoms begin to settle in. When I wake-up in the morning, I already feel depleted. The simplest task uses all my energy, leaving me exhausted and fatigued. And so, I spend most of my days sleeping. My senses become dulled and I find even the taste of food unbearable. Filled with a sense of nausea and limited appetite, I refuse to take even one bite. Next my body tries to fight back, but I am only left with unexplainable aches and pains. My concentration diminishes and I find myself listening to a friend yet, I am unable to pay-attention to what he or she is saying.
When this happens, I begin to back away by avoiding my friends and family. Before I opened up about my mental health, many relationships felt as though they were failing. From the outside, I appeared to be a flake as I backed out of commitments and social events for no reason. But, I value all my friendships and I am not a flake. Those days, my depression got the best of me, and the thought of mustering up enough strength to be both happy and social seemed exhausting. Some days, I am able to tame my depression and I push myself to fight back. Those days you will find me simply being me, laughing at everything and taking advantage of all the little things in life, yet as soon as my surroundings are silent, my depression slowly creeps back.
Nowadays, I am able to verbalize my depression. All I need to do is say “I am feeling sad” and my support network completely understands. Some of them will never fully comprehend how it feels to be inside my head but that doesn’t affect their ability to be empathetic.
They understand that some days I need space.
They understand that it is an illness, not a flaw in my character.
They understand that I can't be "fixed" and so, they let me have my bad days.
They understand that some days I just need to sit and be quiet. And on those days, they sit with me and ask:
“How can I help? What do you need right now?”
They understand, because when they ask, now I am able to show them what it's like to live inside my head.