mental illness: taking off the mask

Inspired by the other brave bloggers I have seen as of late, I have decided to blog about depression today. I am inherently an extremely private person but writing/blogging opens me up and frees my voice in a way that I have never experienced. I am able to express feelings I never otherwise would have conveyed. Something that is difficult for almost anyone to talk about is mental illness. It’s no wonder. The topic is often misunderstood and because of the lack of general public knowledge, people misinterpret it. As far as depression goes, some think that it is similar to general sadness and suggest depressive people suck it up and be thankful for what they have. There are starving kids in Africa, after all. Of course, depression doesn’t work like that and can be the result of many factors, including hereditary elements and chemical imbalances in the brain, both of which make it hard to just “suck it up”. Because of the stigma attached to mental illness, people who suffer with it fear speaking up about their personal experiences but I think it is critical now more than ever. When we speak up, we are smashing the stigmatization. When we speak up about our suffering, past or present, we are saying to those who suffer in silence, you are not alone. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. I’ve been there, too. When we speak up, we are putting a face to a very real illness. You are more than your mental illness. I am a mother. I am a reader, writer, documentary aficionado, volunteer, lover of all things chocolate, movie snob, and I have suffered with mental illness.

My depression developed in my teenage years and was a culmination of negative things that happened to me peppered throughout childhood plus the tribulations of being a teenager. (I will add that depression/mental illness are genetic for me and these very same things could have happened to Suzy Q who doesn’t have a gene for mental illness and she could have recovered just fine. Such is not the case for many people with mental illness.) It was quite visible as I began to dress the part and I also engaged in self mutilating behaviors like cutting my wrists and I would make little effort to cover up my work. I was also suicidal and hospitalized shortly after my son was born in 2007. In the days leading up to my suicide attempt, I was extremely unsettled and felt like a soda bottle that had just been shaken up. My emotions were on fire and I felt like I had lost control of them, so much so that I even began to lose grip of myself at work. Everything was perfectly normal as I sat at my desk but then I suddenly felt as if I was being suffocated. I started uncontrollably crying and rocking back and forth. My eyes darted hopelessly from coworker to coworker. I desperately needed help and this may have been a final call but no one seemed to hear it despite the very public outburst. As I got older, I became better at putting on the mask that people expect you to wear. No one wants to be friends with a sad person. No one wants to talk a depressed sap. I had literally been called a liability before so I knew better than to show any negative emotions. I had to be chipper and spirited and then I would come home and cry for no reason or just collapse on the bed. When I think back to this time in my life, it just seems like a foggy, bleak time. I rarely vocalized my feelings so my thoughts acted like bumper cars in my head, colliding over and over again with no way out. Depression sucked everything out of me. Finding a proper medication was exhausting as well. Everything had a side effect. Then I would be prescribed another medication to offset the side effect of the first medication. It was becoming expensive. Depression and anorexia go hand in hand and when my eating disorder began to take shape, my depression only worsened. It is hard to say if I laid around all day because I didn’t have enough nutrients or if I was too depressed. Probably both. It became such a problem I had to quit my job. The media and entertainment I consumed only served to cushion my condition, like a security blanket I refused to shed. I devoured so many books, movies and music that cradled my depression that it is still a part of me today. I am drawn to melancholy media like a moth to a flame. I finally crawled out of my depression years later and have been secretly living on edge ever since. I am terrified I will fall back over the ledge at any given moment, afraid that any minor setback will cause me to topple into a great and terrible depression. I have finally found happiness but in the back of my head I worry, thinking of its finite resources. When I feel a twinge of sadness, a panic sets in that my days are numbered. I try to enjoy this happiness and it takes work to maintain it that sometimes can be tiring (and I can tell a difference when I haven’t been practicing self-care) but for someone who has grappled with mental illness for much of her adult life, I think it is worth the extra time it takes to nurture it.

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3 responses to “mental illness: taking off the mask

  • rlcarterrn

    Great article! Kudos to you for speaking out. I know it’s not easy.

  • vannajay

    Wonderful post! My blog is about living with manic depression, id love to get your opion on some of my post! I really enjoy how you talk about how people are so incompetent, they truley believe that mentall illnesses are any different then illnesses such as diabetes, or high blood pressure, or even someone with cancer or kidney failure. Does the ‘suck it up’ statement apply to these illnesses? No it does not! So why in the world eould mental health be any different? Great post!

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