My wife reminded me that it’s mental health awareness week. We often talk about the stigma of mental health issues, so we’ve both decided to do a blog about it. Because if no one talks about it, there’s no chance in hell we’ll reduce the stigma. And feeling alone really sucks. So…
I have chronic depression and anxiety. I’ve blogged about it before, so I won’t go into how it came about. Suffice to say, the breakdown had been a long time coming, and when it came to a head, I’d written my letters and planned my exit. Life conspired to keep me here, though, and I’m glad it did.
Here’s what it means to me today.
It means I have good days and bad days. It means at least once per day on many, many days, I’ll think about dying. I’ll think I don’t belong here, that the world is better off without me, and that I’m simply not worthy of drawing breath. I’ll think people are kind to me because people, are, well, mostly kind. It’s not because they actually like me, because I’m not actually likable.
It means I don’t look into a mirror unless I have to, and the one I’d have to see myself in most often in the house is covered with metal mesh. It means I worry about things beyond my control. It means I just know that at some point my wife will wake up and not want to be with me anymore; she’ll realize I’m not what she wants at all. It means me asking her a zillion times a week if she’s happy, if she still loves me. It means feeling bad about myself on pretty much every level.
It means walking through a grocery store on my own and suddenly feeling like I can’t breathe. It’s being in a crowd and feeling like every person there is sitting on my chest. It’s fear of saying the wrong thing, doing the wrong thing, and second guessing every move. All the time. Including the ones I made twenty years ago.
It means a soul sickness, an invasive, devastating sadness that can’t be explained or wished away, combined with absolute certainty that the sky is going to fall. It’s just a matter of time. It’s knowing there’s always a way out, if it comes to that.
My biggest fear
I’m a logical person. Depression doesn’t give a fuck about my logic. It just is. Having a partner who adores me, who understands depression and knows not to take it personally, is amazing. My biggest fear isn’t death–I’ve made peace with that. My biggest fear is being right about all the things I believe about myself, and seeing that knowledge reflected in my partner’s eyes. (I’ve come to a point with my mental health that I understand what I believe to be true is a damaged and twisted version of reality. When I’m low, I try to remember that. Sometimes it works.) It’s my mental health crap finally becoming too much for her to deal with, and it not being the life she envisioned having with me. It’s being a burden and an obligation.
That’s what chronic depression and anxiety are to me. I’ll say here that I’m actually in a much better place with it than I was several years ago. Life is good, and so sweepingly beautiful it can make my heart hurt in the best of ways. I put on a great facade, and people might find me awkward, but they rarely know what chaos is brewing inside. After growing to understand my depression and anxiety, I’ve come to understand so much more of myself, and I’ve grown a lot thanks to that understanding. Life isn’t a destination, though, right? So I’ll keep learning, keep understanding. And probably keep asking my wife a zillion times a day if we’re still okay.
My wife, Robyn, is blogging about how she deals with this, because it’s incredibly important to remember that the carer of someone with mental health issues needs support too. And they see us through different eyes than we see ourselves.
If you’re struggling, reach out. Tell someone you trust, someone who will listen. Don’t worry about being a burden, or about perception. Reach out and let someone take the weight for a little while. You don’t need to sit in the darkness alone. There are so many of us out there who totally understand. All that stuff I’ve said above? It’s amazing (and scary) how many other people feel the same way. We just have to keep going, and eventually we’ll see the beauty again. It won’t take away our darkness, but it will give us a light to follow.