This blog wasn't (and still isn't) intended to be solely about mental health, but the closer I get to becoming a qualified mental health nurse, the more time I spend studying mental health, meeting people affected by mental illness and of course, living with depression myself, the more it permeates my life. Since this blog is intended to be about what's going on my head, I guess that's what I'm going to write about.
The reason I haven't written here for 7 months is mainly down to depression; as I've said before, it tends to blunt my drive to be creative, and the medication I'm on leaves me quite emotionless at times. I just haven't had the same physical and mental energy for a few months now, but I'm trying.
I suppose I just wanted to write something tonight, for myself, and for anyone else who needs it.
I wanted to say something that addresses an issue that has become quite a central theme in my life in recent months: the topic of visibility in relation to mental illness. (I can only really comment on my own experiences, so this will mostly address depression/anxiety, but the message translates throughout all mental illnesses I believe.)
We live in a society that is very accepting of what they can see, but is pretty sceptical or even completely disbelieving in what they cannot. Someone with a broken leg, immediately gets the acceptance, the empathy; this person is in pain, this person can't do what they normally could, this person needs time to recover. Someone with depression, is often doubted, told to shake themselves, told that they "don't look depressed" before anything else. This is deeply frustrating and hurtful, to say the very least. In fact, this attitude has been detrimental and even dangerous to my recovery. The problem is ignorance, and sometimes it isn't even people's fault that they are so misled and misinformed about what it actually means to be mentally ill. Mental illness is constantly trivialised by those who don't understand it, to the point where they don't even know how ignorant they sound. People still assume that depression means feeling really sad and that there is always a reason, that anxiety means having panic attacks, that if you seen a person with mental health problems in the street, you'd know. I can promise you that about 90% of the time, that isn't the case. The word depressed is used to describe feeling sad, the term "OCD" is used to describe liking things to be ordered. The trope about being a "psycho" girlfriend, and the eery glamorisation of depression, self-harm and suicide that pop up on social media so often. All of this perpetuates this idea that mental illness is something not to be taken seriously, and belittles people's experiences.
It's easy to fall into the trap of believing what you are taught, I get that. Assumptions are easy to make, but so is checking yourself, reminding yourself not to judge someone until you've walked in their shoes. I can't stress that enough.
What does depression and anxiety look like? Is it someone who sits in the corner of the room, someone who can't leave the house, someone who looks dishevelled, who cries all the time? Sometimes. It's also someone who rarely misses work, who leaves the house with a full face of make-up on, who comes across as confident and happy most of the time. Depression can be completely invisible, I can guarantee that to you.
I manage life. Most of the time. It's just difficult sometimes. Most of that difficulty is private, hidden. It takes more effort than is normal to get out of bed, to make food, to shower, to walk into a room full of people. I need to psych myself up for mostly everything. I fight my own thoughts, the ones that tell me people don't like me, that I'm useless, that remind me I'm going to die anyway and make me feel terrified of living. I fight the weird fog that comes over my brain sometimes, and try to think through it as best I can. I try to combat the intense irritability. I rationalise with a brain that makes me feel like there's something to dread, even when everything is going well. I constantly remind myself that just because I think something, doesn't mean it's true. I push myself to reply to people, to tell them what I'm feeling, to bear with me. I try so hard to be confident, speak up and just be myself, even when my head tries to stop me. I cry sometimes because I'm absolutely overwhelmed by life, but I just keep trying to live.
I have to take time alone, to recalibrate. I have to actively remind myself of what's good about me, and my life or I forget, and the negativity starts to swallow me up.
I'm not trying to make myself sound like a brave soldier or anything, I'm just trying to be honest about what my (and many others') life is actually like, despite how it appears. This is depression. How much of that is noticeable?
You might be surprised to hear this considering how much I've spoken about it online, but I feel like I'm finally taking my own depression more seriously. I suppose that's down to a combination of what I've learnt on my course and to the fact that my illness isn't as episodic as it was in the beginning. I've recognised the many different ways in which it affects my life, and I'm still trying to figure out how to deal with that. I guess the main thing I'm doing is quite simple, but most effective: not giving up. It sounds cliched but it's probably the most important piece of advice I would give to anyone who is struggling. Keep going, as much as you can. Keep trying. The second most important piece of advice would be: talk. Talk to people you trust about how you're feeling. Talk to your family, your friends, a professional, talk to me if you want. (Slide into those DMs.)(Sorry.) Talking helps immeasurably.
This is all I have to say for today. It wasn't all completely cohesive, but I expressed myself, and that is progress. Thank you please goodbye.
P.S I have been listening to Next To Normal a lot recently (hence the title of this post). It's a musical about mental illness (it's like it was made for me) and its beautiful and if you like that sort of thing I would highly recommend it.