An Unconventional Wishlist For People With Mental Illnesses
My surly take on Mental Health Awareness Month
I’ve been secretly fearing the month of May. This time last year, I shifted from “experiencing some symptoms of depression” to being full-on depressed.
It’s kind of ironic because May is also Mental Health Awareness Month. So, I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some things I really wish people would be more aware of when it comes to mental health.
Like how it’s totally not okay to tell someone, “You don’t look like you have a mental illness.”
Someone actually told me that last year. It was a dental hygienist who was supposed to be cleaning my teeth, but she didn’t have time to do that because she got so hung up on discussing my mental health history — loudly — while I was seated in a dental chair, in an open office, with other people around.
I wanted to speak up for myself, but instead, I shut down. I got flustered. I was shaking in my car on the drive home, then broke down crying when I realized I’d turned onto the wrong street.
I also wish people would understand that depression is not the same as sadness or grief. It makes me mad when people use the word depression to describe sadness.
Depression is not a feeling.
I don’t speak for everyone, but when I’m depressed, it doesn’t feel like sadness. I might feel hopeless. Pessimistic. Faulty. Like I’m a burden. I might have no energy at all. I might not be able to get out of bed, or even pick up a book and read.
I can’t write.
I might forget to attend appointments and pay bills. I bail on plans.
I get frustrated with myself, which worsens when I try to figure out why I feel this way. Because there’s never a reason. There’s no apparent cause. Nothing to fix. It doesn’t make sense.
When I’m depressed, I see myself as broken and unfixable. I circle around that drain until I start to really hate myself.
I withdraw from friends and loved ones because I don’t want to bring them down with me. If you reach out to me during this time, I’ll probably tell you “I’m fine.”
Everything’s “fine” when I’m depressed.
I compared depression to a drain, but it’s really more like a black hole. It has a powerful gravitational force. And for reasons I can’t explain, I’m attracted to it.
I'll find myself drawn to the sparkly dust that circles around it. It's only when I begin to feel that familiar tug toward the center that I realize I've gotten too close.
And don't get me wrong, for every time I got sucked in, there are at least a dozen where I managed to break away. I caught myself in time and made the necessary changes before it got too late.
Because with depression at some point, the disease starts to take from you. As you get closer to that black hole it starts to really tear you apart.
I'm a person who loves life. I love the intensity of diving deep into a passion. I love the expansiveness of exploring the limits of my own abilities. I’ll take the highs and the lows, the terror and the peace, the chaos, and the magic. I want all of it and more, always.
But when I get too close to that black hole of depression, I don’t feel any of that. I start to lose myself. Sometimes, I can’t tell the difference between my life and the disease that’s trying to take over it.
This is usually the point where I need help.
I wish it was easier for people with mental illnesses to get help.
Twice in my life, I’ve reached out to a loved one for help. It’s not an easy thing to do, and depression can convince a person there’s no point in trying.
People who succumb to their mental illnesses without reaching out for help are not weak or broken.
I know all the things I need to do to care for my mental health: exercise, eat nourishing foods, take supplements, go outside, calm my nervous system with meditation, prayer, journaling, tapping, breathwork, etc., and keep in touch with my friends.
All of these things are easy enough for me to do now. But when I’m struggling to keep myself from getting swallowed by that black hole? Not so much.
It’s not reasonable to expect someone who’s being pummeled by mental illness symptoms to simply pick themselves up and turn their lives around.
There’s this sense of blame tagged to mental illnesses that just doesn’t exist with diseases of the body.
I wish people could feel safe talking about and seeking help for their mental health challenges without fear of being judged, losing their jobs, or getting locked up. Because all these things happen.
I wish help was more accessible and not only available to people who can pay potentially high prices for it.
Maybe that’s the goal behind mental health awareness. Over the past 25 years, I’ve noticed some improvement in the way we talk about mental health, the treatments available, and people’s willingness to open up about it. But the stigma is real, and we have a long way to go.
As always, thank you for reading, and extra special thanks for bearing with my brute honesty about a topic close to my heart.
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