On World Mental Health Day, what it means to me.

Just a note, before you read on: Writing this was easy. Posting it is not. This is the first time I’ve been open about this in a space as public as this. It’s a scary thing to do, especially when surveys suggest that almost 2/3 of people have trouble accepting people with mental illness as close friends, and over 40% think that getting treatment is a sign of personal failure. It’s difficult when it’s seen as making a fuss and drawing attention to yourself. So just for this one, please do go gentle on me. After all, it is my first time. Okay?

If you met me, you’d say I’m a pretty damn cheerful person. You’d be right. I’m incredibly lucky in so many ways. I get to spend my time doing things I enjoy. I get to see the benefits of lots of the things I do. I get to be creative and playful in my everyday life. And I get to share my life with some of the most inspiring, genuine and generous people I’ve ever met. I’ve got it good. And every night before I go to bed I take a tiny little pill. That little pill lets all of it happen.

The thing about having depression is that people expect you to be, well, depressed. Same for anxiety. It seems logical, doesn’t it? Depressed people are depressed. People with anxiety are anxious. And so on.

I have depression, and I’m happy.

What’s so wrong with crutches?

When people talk about antidepressants or other mental health medications, they often disparagingly refer to them as a ‘crutch’. It’s funny, because that’s exactly the way I think of my medication. Only I don’t disparage it.

Before I started to take my meds, there were times when I found it extremely difficult to get out of bed. To do anything more than was absolutely necessary to keep going. I was lucky- I always managed to get to work, if little else. A lot of people aren’t so lucky. But even so, the sheer effort of doing nothing but getting myself to work and back and keeping myself fed took all of my energy. When I was depressed, I’d sleep or watch TV most of the rest of the time. When I was suffering with anxiety, I would pace and toss and turn and lie awake and barely be able to eat. You say that medication is a crutch. It absolutely is.

People say that people with depression just need to get better exercise, get out and about, do things we enjoy and get out of that depressive spiral. That people with anxiety need to get a bit of perspective, start to look at the bigger picture, quit being such perfectionists and go easier on ourselves. Maybe go to therapy. Do the work of sorting ourselves out.

I couldn’t agree more.

Which is why I need that crutch.

Depression? Is depressing.

The thing about depression and anxiety- I can’t speak personally for any other mental illnesses- is that they are self-perpetuating. Being depressed is depressing. There’s nothing quite like anxiety to ramp up my fight-or-flight responses. Although you know logically what needs to be done to get out of them, you can’t.

And meds help. For some people. They help me, at least. They don’t change who I am or make me into some kind of automaton. They just give me that tiny little boost I need to start helping myself. They’re like the footstool I keep in the kitchen to reach the highest shelves. I know exactly where I keep the glasses, but no amount of knowing can make me grow a foot taller to reach them. I need the stool, and I always will. I need meds right now. I don’t know if I always will. I hope I won’t. But if I do, I’m incredibly glad that they’re there. Meds give me the spoons I need to help myself.

I have depression, and I’m happy. Being happy when you’re depressed can be hard work. For some people it’s a hell of a lot harder than for others. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m happy.

It’s not about overcoming anything

Being happy doesn’t mean I don’t have depression. I know it’s there. Searching within myself I can feel that yawning, horrible, strangely comforting pit so close. I have bad days. Bad weeks, even. Sometimes bad months, although that’s a lot less common than it used to be. Depression is a thing that I live with. It’s a part of my brain that might very well always be there, even as I try to trick it out of existence with medication, therapy, exercise, love, and all the joy I can fit into my days. And there is joy.

I don’t have a pithy little ending for this, probably because there isn’t one. We talk so much in this society about overcoming mental illnesses. Actually, that’s the narrative we have for most kinds of chronic illness and disability. We want our happy endings. But when it comes to mental illnesses, often our happy endings are more subtle. More like a compromise or an uneasy peace. We don’t overcome these things. We learn ways of living alongside them, because at the end of the day they are part of us. Depression and anxiety may be illnesses I live with, but they are also parts of who I am. They are things that my brain does, and I am my brain. There is no happy ever after. There’s just the work of learning to live with each other. With ourselves. With myself.

For Irish news on Mental Health Day, you might want to check out Mental Health Reform’s Don’t Drop The Ball campaign, thejournal.ie‘s article which includes reports on government ministers as well as some signs of depression, and, of course, the wonderful Mad Pride Ireland, who’ve recently called for the resignation of Irish Health Minister Reilly, and who do incredible work towards the destigmatisation of people with mental illnesses. They rock!

And if you’re more inclined towards blogs (yay for bloggers!), Rewriting the Rules have a wonderful post on mental health and relationships. Because crazy people get to be in love and have healthy relationships too. Not Alone In There is fantastic reading as well. Their post on Asking for Help is a great place to start. 

15 thoughts on “On World Mental Health Day, what it means to me.

  1. I have trouble accepting that almost 2/3 of people have trouble accepting people with mental illness as close friends, and over 40% think that getting treatment is a sign of personal failure.

    I’m not saying it’s not true. I’m not sure what I’m saying – the best I’m thinking is that those people are dicks.

    For example, those ads where some woman tried to commit suicide, and the worst part was what other people said or the shame or something, I can’t remember – but I do remember thinking she needs better friends.

    Is the world so fucking perfect for so many people that only a few have problems? I’m not clinically depressed, but I know what it’s like to be down in the dumps. Generally, I have an external reason for it and it passes, but I can easily envisage it being an internal long term physiological issue (and not see it as something I should be afraid of).

    I actually don’t think the world is perfect – actually I think it’s the exact opposite, everyone is so busy pretending to the Jones’s that everything is wonderful – that sucks. I’m not perfect – and I love it!

    Posting this shouldn’t be difficult. I, for one, don’t see what the big deal is (while at the same time recognizing that it is a big deal).

    (BTW check out http://eeeegads.tumblr.com, she cracks me up, but she’s bipolar and some of her posts are hard – but she is out there, I like that).

    • So here’s the thing. Yes, posting this shouldn’t be difficult. Yes, stigmatising people with mental health difficulties is one hell of a dick move. It still is difficult. People still stigmatise- through dickishness or ignorance- people with mental illnesses. This is a fact.

      However, this comes across as dismissive:

      Is the world so fucking perfect for so many people that only a few have problems? I’m not clinically depressed, but I know what it’s like to be down in the dumps. Generally, I have an external reason for it and it passes, but I can easily envisage it being an internal long term physiological issue (and not see it as something I should be afraid of).

      Depression isn’t being ‘down in the dumps’. It is nothing like being down in the dumps. I’ve been down in the dumps for external reasons. I’ve been depressed. They’re not alike. If you’re comparing the two, you can’t envisage what depression is like.

      And as for this:

      Those ads where some woman tried to commit suicide, and the worst part was what other people said or the shame or something, I can’t remember – but I do remember thinking she needs better friends.

      Are you serious? I’m not sure how this was intended, but it sounds victim-blamey as hell.

      • Very sorry. I’m not trying to be dismissive at all, especially given the honesty of your post, that deserves respect – and I’m not for one second equating depression and just generally feeling down.

        I’m simply saying that I find it hard to understand why people stigmatize mental illness – even though they quite obviously do – when really we all have a mind and we are all susceptible to mental conditions.

        (Mine seems to be putting my foot in my mouth. Again I apologise.)

        • Don’t worry about it! Internet communication is notorious for reading different tones and miscommunication. And I was probably a wee bit on the defensive myself. As for this comment: couldn’t agree more!

  2. I know it was hard to post, but you know, its very helpful to read. There are many things that suck about mental illness, but one of the most unnecessary parts is the isolation. Its so taboo to talk about it that you end up feeling alone as well as miserable/anxious/at the end of your tether. But personally, I’ve heard and read people talk openly about their mental illnesses more and more these days. And, its made a big difference to how bad I feel when I’m at my worst. So thank you for being brave 🙂

    • Thank you for commenting! I love getting comments like yours- like you said, feeling alone as well as everything else is awful. I get that too. I was really nervous about posting this, and comments like yours are just plain wonderful.

  3. Awesome! Thank you for your post. It was very brave of you to post on this. I haven’t followed your blog (found it under mental health topic), but just based on how you started I’m assuming that you don’t usually post on mental health issues. Good for you for stepping out and helping to make people aware. Depression and anxiety can be debilitating, and it doesn’t help when judgmental people don’t understand and want to comment on it.

    • Thanks for commenting! I don’t normally post on mental health, although I’ve been thinking about doing so for months now. It’s a tough thing to talk about, alright.

      And you’re definitely right about the stigma. Dealing with depression (and other mental health issues!) is tough enough. Especially because mental illness can often involve such vulnerability, dealing with stigma on top of it can be horrible.

  4. It must have been very difficult for you to post this in such a public space, given the stigma that often surrounds mental illness in our society. I think a very important aspect of battling that stigma is for people to come out and discuss it and I feel you’re doing a very important job in publishing this post. I had a friend that suffered from depression who committed suicide, and almost as bad as the sense of loss, was the whispers that reached my ears from people saying exactly the kinds of things that makes it difficult for people suffering from depression to seek help.

    Raising people’s consciousness is something you seem to do very well, and though we’ve not met, your writing was very important in raising my own consciousness on feminist and lgbtq issues, something I feel that has made me a better person. And if that tiny little pill is a source of support and energy which enables you to be as awesome as you are, then I’m very glad you have it.

    *virtual hugs*

  5. I’ve seen the way that Black Dog treats people. Not only is that a very brave post, it’s also a rather beautiful one. Thank you. You go, girl :o)

  6. I really just want to go “So much YES” to every single thing you have said.

    While I don’t think any medication should be prescribed lightly, I am a firm believer that it is completely necessary at times – especially to be used as a crutch, precisely like you described, to enable people to get better.

    And I have used anti depressants for exactly that reason myself (although I am grateful that I have been able to be off them for the past 1½ years, I did take them for 15 months).

    Having suffered from moderate-to-severe depression (stress-induced in my case, my doctor claims I have too high expectations of myself – I know nothing about that *looks around innocently*) and I have also struggled with SAD (Seasonally Affected Disorder) since my teens – every fall as we get less and less daylight I become much more affected by everything else around me. I am very easily affected by stress and sensitive to bad atmospheres.

    Also, several of my family members and my friends have struggled with depression and anxiety, but hopefully, with more people being open about these things we can change the way the world perceives mental health issues.

    Thank you for your openness and your honesty.

  7. This entry made me cry (but not in a bad way).

    I have had Major Depressive Disorder since I was 12 years old. I spent the past year suffering a severe recurrence, among people who thought I was weak-willed or even that my depression was a form of manipulation that I purposely devised to make their lives hell.

    I’m in a safer, more caring place now, and when my depression escalated to obsessive thoughts of self-harm, I was brought in to a doctor. I’m a little better now, but still have a long way to go.

    I can believe the statistics you cite here, I have had so many friends and lovers walk away, never to look back, because they could not face my depression. Even my own parents are not a part of my life because they misunderstood my depression and cut me off because, as they said, “We will not help you unless you help yourself.”

    Depression is a lonely and misunderstood road to walk. I hope that the awareness campaigns will help, but right now it’s hard to believe in hope and trust at all,

  8. I find my depression like being in an airport departure lounge waiting on a flight that is eternally delayed. Even if the vending machines were stocked it would take my last euro and I’d have nobody to complain to or get a refund.
    Outside I’m fine, but inside my heart has an impossible weight despite feeling hollow…
    One in five of us suffer from depression, and only 25% of us seek medical help. I find myself in a minority within a minority.

    Great article and best of luck! 🙂

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