When I typed the headline of this post, I silently questioned myself. Shouldn’t I be writing about frilly, happy things? No one will want to read about this. Is this oversharing (something I have a bad habit of doing all the time)?
The thing is, mental health isn’t always negative. You can have good mental health and bad mental health. And the important thing is to talk about it. When you have a mental illness, you feel alone and like it’s a dirty secret, but that’s completely untrue. 1 in 4 adults have been or will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lives, whether that’s anorexia, depression, anxiety, PTSD or OCD. So for those of us who can, we should speak about it and let people know that they are not alone.
During the summer of 2015 I started feeling pretty down. I loved my job and was sad that I had a whole summer without it (I’m a teacher, so I’m off for 7 weeks). I started to feel like my life was empty without it. What did I actually do? What were my hobbies?
I thought that when I got back to work I would feel better, but budget was tight, classes were full and I started to struggle under the weight. Now the one thing that I had in life, the one thing that I thought I did well, I was failing at. I struggled with thoughts that I was wasting my life and time was running out, and whispers in my head saying “what’s the point?”.
One day I was out walking with Vince when he told me that I should stop being moody. I burst into tears. I realised that something was wrong with me and decided to see the doctor. Vince, to his credit, had not tiptoed around me, which was actually a theme in what I needed for my recovery.
The next day I got an appointment with the doctor and sat down, calmly, in the chair. I explained that I was feeling down and didn’t know why. The only clues I had were a few years prior when I had the wrong brand of pill and I had felt somewhat similar. He asked me a few questions on his computer and then gave his diagnosis. Moderate-severe depression and anxiety. Moderate-severe? Basically, there is a scale and I was between two categories. He gave me some anti-depressants and booked me in with guided self help and I left the medical centre feeling more hopeful than I had in weeks. Finally I knew what was wrong. I didn’t feel ashamed anymore. The biologist in me realised there was a chemical imbalance somewhere and I could beat it. I talked it through with Vince when I got home, who was great, took my antidepressants and tried to feel better.
The next few months were hard. I wouldn’t sleep more than 2-3 hours a night due to the pills, then I would drag myself to work, try not to cry in front of my classes (failing a few times, though subtly I think), then plonked myself on the couch where Vince would deliver my dinner (because I couldn’t muster the energy to try to make it myself). On my worst days I would hear a voice in my head telling me just to jump in front of the next car. I would imagine, with detachment, my death. But I knew I would never do it. Because in the scenario, Vince would be called by the police about my death and I couldn’t handle that. I am also, the biggest people pleaser, and I would hate to disappoint people, which is what would have happened if I didn’t beat it down.
Some people gave me sympathy, but what really helped was the gentle ribbing that I received from Vince and my coworkers. Things like “have you tried just cheering up” (which were absolutely meant as jokes) made me feel human. The more I talked about it, the more I felt better, because people would share their stories and tell me that I was loved. My self-help therapist told me one day that I was very strong, and I believed her. So after 6 months, I came off antidepressants. I hadn’t felt suicidal for a few months and I was recognizing the negative thoughts and swatting them away like flies.
Exactly a year later, I’m feeling pretty good. There are still a few things that I have to fight with and I know I’ve developed some negative traits (I feel really anxious away from Vince, I’m a more scared person and I prefer staying in than speaking to people.) But I’m alive and I’m happy. There have been some positives too. I’m a stronger person if things go wrong. I’m a lot more analyzing with my thoughts. I know what makes me happy. I appreciate the small things. If I hadn’t had depression, I would never have read as much as I did last year and would never have discovered some amazing books (books are great medicine). I would never have tried to write a book.
My advice for anyone with depression is to find something simple that makes you happy and try to do that as often as possible. Also, tell the people you love and let them love you. My advice for friends and family is to listen, don’t judge, don’t feel like it’s your fault and remember that the person with the mental illness isn’t crazy or delicate.