I don’t want this to be one of those “this is what depression is like for me feel sorry for me because my life is truly awful” posts but I felt deeply inspired by Caity Fowler’s “White Light Black Dog” EP. I figured if the woman could bare her soul enough to write such incredibly poignant beautiful songs about depression, surely I could type some words into a computer screen. Also,I am convinced that people don’t get the grind, the fucking terribly painful, every joint is aching self loathing that comes with a disorder like major depression. that For what it’s worth, I have officially been diagnosed with cyclothimia. It’s not major depression but a form of bipolar disorder. I don’t experience the grand highs of bipolar, my highs are less euphoric and more the hyperactivity type of elevation whereby my house can be cleaner than Buckingham palace, but rent on said house has been unpaid for months. I never really knew what it was until someone explained it to me, but a long with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, it seems to be the only thing that explains my crazy whirlwind mind. Mental illness is terrifying, for you, for everyone around you who’s witnessed your highs and lows and in betweens, but I think a great deal of that terror comes from simply not knowing what to do, or say, how to act or not act. Quite frankly, I don’t have that figured out myself yet, when depression hits, and it often does, like a tun of bricks, I am not in a position to know even how I feel, because, equally frankly, I am too busy trying to summon the energy to put on pants rather than figure out how I should feel about putting on pants, or even if pants are the right course of action for that day. In short, if you want to know how to feel about my mental health, you’ll have to figure it out. There are many things I can’t do for you. This is one of them.
Yet, the overwhelming irony, is that there’s almost an expectation isn’t there? of people with mental illnesses, that, illness aside, we will be able to just get along with our lives and function as if nothing is going on inside us. We internalize this point of view, so as to appear to the people who don’t know, that we ARE fine. We come to deny the fact, to paraphrase Stephen Fry, that it’s raining, rather than say, it’s raining, and eventually the sun will come up. We become masters at putting up walls, convincing everyone we’re fine, shrugging our shoulders nonchalantly when people ask us how we are, when really, some of us are just holding back feelings of complete despair. When I get depressed, I often hide it by becoming even more bubbly, effusive and sociable, even though that sociability comes at a great cost to me. I liken being social when depressed to running with a sore ankle. if you take painkillers you may not notice it, until they wear off, then you’re hobbled for weeks. I digress. There’s an expectation that unlike someone with a visible illness, we’re told ” get on with it, stop moping, what have you got to be sad about”, in a way that just would not be tolerated with other illnesses. This is called stigma. Stigma operates in so many ways to keep sufferers of mental illness mystified, to keep us from being able to not only get the treatment we deserve, but talk about our illnesses openly and as if they were like any other part of our lives. I have had every stigmatizing epithet thrown at me, from battling self harm to being in psych units to having to deal with less than sympathetic treatment providers, it is all part of the cycle that stops the mentally ill from participating in society. We are othered, told we don’t matter, abused in institutions and blatantly misunderstood.
When I first experienced depression I honestly didn’t believe it’d last this long. I thought it’d be something I’d go to the doctor and get fixed with medication. It wasn’t until I entered psychotherapy that I realized all this crap that was just getting pulled out of me like one of those clowns with a never ending handkerchief. The one thing this psychotherapist taught me was, depression is real, a hugely normal response to a body and mind being placed under enormous stress and trauma. What she said was that no matter how I experienced depression, whether it was as a feature of cyclothimia or as major depression, it was a real and valid expression, condition, and feature of my life – but not all of my life.
People ask me how I survive, what I do to get through, honestly… Honestly, I don’t know. Sometimes I wonder the exact same thing. I think everyone has an inbuilt survival mechanism that sometimes takes over when It comes to things like this. Suicide happens those mechanisms are just too overwhelmed or depleted to cope. This is why it’s incredibly vital to ask people you know have had depression, not in a patronizing way, but in the most genuine way you can muster, how they are. Be truly prepared to hear the answer. When we shrug our shoulders non chalantly try and see through that to someone who’s probably hiding a great deal from you. Us depressives, we worry, we worry about how everyone else will cope with our illnesses, but what we don’t do is often worry enough about ourselves.
This is what I ask… worry about yourself, be as kind as humanly possible to yourself, and often that includes the very painful task of having to ask for help. To be faced with faces that say ” I don’t know how to help”. But the most important thing to do is ask.
In closing, a woman on twitter (who knows who she is but I won’t name) asked people with mental health problems what they need… what I need the most Is for people to feel supported enough to be able to talk about their illness as if it was a part of them, not something to be stigmatized and feared, not to be ignored or shut out because of. I hope this blog is a fraction, a tiny inch closer to doing some of that.
also. if you’d like to purchase white light black dog “like” the wonderful caity fowler on facebook at (caity fowler projects) it is such a goregeous set of songs.