Image by Graphic Patrick
Good mental health is important for everyone. It affects our physical health, our relationships, the way we perceive and enjoy our lives. It is something that we all need to be aware of and work on, but for some of us, good mental health is a constant battle that we sometimes win…and sometimes lose.
I’ve written a few times about the blue devils, but you might not know that I fight the battle for good mental health on a daily basis. A lot of us do, but most of the time we suffer in silence, by all appearances living good and happy lives. Sometimes, I’m tempted to wear a sign around my neck letting people know that I’m barely holding myself together at the moment…that I consider the fact that I’m out of bed and moving a huge victory for the day, and maybe my only victory for the next few days. I know I am not alone, and that many of you suffer with similar issues.
One of the most frustrating parts of dealing with mental health issues, is how invisible they are to those around you. Most don’t realize that you are suffering, and often those you confide in just don’t get it. They give well-meaning suggestions and sometimes sympathy, but most of the time it is brushed aside. I have learned to discuss it only lightly, if at all.
Several weeks ago, Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess wrote a beautiful and brave post on depression (be warned, Jenny’s blog is not for the faint of heart.) It made me cry with relief and understanding and so much empathy. I wished I could hug her and tell her that I understand and how much her words meant to me. I wanted even more for her to hug me and tell me the same thing. In fact, when I am in the midst of a serious bout of depression, what I want most is to be touched and held and loved.
Ironically, though, depression is not a pretty thing, and as much as I need to be touched, I also don’t want anyone around me because it is such an amazing effort just to take care of myself, so sometimes I don’t. I don’t eat or I eat too much. I don’t shower, change my clothes, comb my hair, or brush my teeth. And I’m definitely not caring for anyone else. Instead as Jenny said, I find myself “unable to do anything but cling to the couch and force myself to breathe.” Most of the time, though, I’m clinging to my bed because the couch is too public of an area.
When I can finally rouse myself and return to living, I’m always greeted with the realization that despite the fact that I stopped, nothing else did, and that, above all else is the most difficult part for me. I’m hit with a wall of guilt that almost knocks me back into bed, but I’m a fighter, so I fight with all I’ve got. It is exhausting. Jenny describes this perfectly…
“When you come out of the grips of a depression there is an incredible relief, but not one you feel allowed to celebrate. Instead, the feeling of victory is replaced with anxiety that it will happen again, and with shame and vulnerability when you see how your illness affected your family, your work, everything left untouched while you struggled to survive. We come back to life thinner, paler, weaker…but as survivors. Survivors who don’t get pats on the back from coworkers who congratulate them on making it. Survivors who wake to more work than before because their friends and family are exhausted from helping them fight a battle they may not even understand.”
So far, I am a survivor. And I’ve learned to be proud of that. It takes incredible strength and resiliency to continually get swallowed by something as heavy and dark as depression, and still get up, over and over and over. I’ve learned a few tricks along the way that help me get up and get going again, I’ll share those later. For now, I’m grateful today that I’m out of bed, moving, and fully participating in my life again.