Hidden Pain, Open Kindness

When I was 19 years old, a university psychiatrist told me I had the symptoms of severe major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety. She suggested that I take off a semester from the university, gave me a script for medications, and a recommendation to make an appointment for the psychologist on campus. That was it.

I had been struggling for some time. This was early in the second semester, but over the winter break, I had reached what was essentially my breaking point. My parents and I decided that it was beyond our realm and that I needed professional help at that point. Hearing the diagnosis, I went back to my apartment, sat on the kitchen floor, and cried. While I understand now that my diagnosis isn’t anything to be ashamed of, at that time, I felt like I was completely broken. I felt unworthy and sick. I needed to get over it, and move on. Except…I knew something wasn’t right. When it wasn’t something obvious, like crying for no reason or being irrationally angry (I’m not an angry person), I just…existed. Later, when I was more myself again, a friend had told me that I seemed like a ghost. Physically, I was there. But it seemed like it took a few tries to really get anything through to me. That night on my kitchen floor, I cried, called my mom, and ended up going home for a weekend. I didn’t know the impact depression would have on me, or how I’d grow as a person because of it.

That spring semester was the hardest couple months of my life. I tried and tried again different medications, I went through a few therapists. At that time, the best thing that could’ve ever happened to me did: I joined Delta Phi Epsilon sorority. We started as a colony and were re-chartered by April. Twice a week in the evenings, I didn’t have a choice – I had to go out and go to sorority functions. Other than classes and work, that was the only thing guaranteed to get me out of bed and not stare at a wall. In those months, I began to find the best friends I could have ever had and the sisters I’d always wanted. My joke is that if Robert Morris is my Hogwarts, DPhiE is my Gryffindor (Even though I’m a Hufflepuff, but to keep within the series plot). Without DPhiE, I truly don’t know what would’ve happened to me. It kept me going. For that, I will be forever grateful.

I have come a long way since then. I have come back and I have had set backs and all the way back again. I’ve tried different medications and therapists and treatments. I have lost friends who didn’t understand and gained friends who have just reached out. Losing friends because of an illness is horrible. This is why I aim to tell my story. I see no reason to hide what is wrong with me. I can’t explain my depression or anxiety. I can identify parts at time. But I know I would do anything not to have it. I don’t know anyone with a mental illness who wouldn’t.

Could you imagine napping every weekend to wake up and not want to face anything and still feel exhausted? That you hate yourself, you deserve this pain raging in your head, and that you deserve more, physical pain to match? I have the scars. When I’m well or sick, the sight makes me stomach turn.  People see them and would never guess. I got my first tattoo, simply “fighter,” to remind myself, that I can, that I will fight.

To be afraid to ask for help, whether it be a teacher, friend, or retail worker to the point you feel sick or faint? To fear asking your friends something because maybe they’ll realize you might as well be a squirrel for how nutty you feel? To be able to drive a car under normal conditions but not have your license because you have a full anxiety attack when you take the test? And hate making plans because its assumed to be had?  That’s what I live with.

Who wants a life like that?

Well, that’s why I fight. I hate taking medication. The first time I had a medication that worked, it was disgusting to take. But the weight that was lifted, the fog had cleared, it was so worth it. Just recently, I added a medication, and I have felt more like myself than I have probably since I was 19 years old. Talk therapy isn’t for everyone, I haven’t had great experiences with therapists. But I know I should try again, I need to treat myself. Working out is a wonderful outlet, its created a great habit for me, but sometimes that feeling, I’ve learned, is only short term. I have photos and songs and videos I turn to when I’m feeling sad. I go to passages and re-read them, I have a book of quotes. Always, I try to make my treatment work. Often, it’s changing. Pinterest is good for me, knitting can be helpful. Writing, like this, is another outlet.  Once upon a time, I was writing a book called “Depression is a Lying Bitch.” I haven’t looked at that in a long time, essays and poems and feelings, but I’d like to go back to it. By the way, what Depression tells you is never true. I try to manage my depression and anxiety, not the other way around. There are many, many days I don’t get it right. And it’ll always be a changing treatment. I’ve made much progress, but I still have a ways to go.

Why am I telling my story? One reason is I was inspired. As I said, I’m a huge Star Wars fan and was always a great Princess Leia fan. A little girl who admired Princess Leia who grew up to admire the late, great Carrie Fisher. Carrie’s writing genius explored her own battle with mental illness, which ranged from addiction, depression, and bipolar disorder. And her writing and books were with raw emotion. So many people are afraid to talk about mental illness. How can the brain just not work like that? How does any illness work? There’s your answer. Carrie got people talking and people understanding. Far too many people don’t get help (I sure as hell didn’t want to), and some end up taking their own lives for it.

I remember hearing that Robin Williams had committed suicide, and my heart had broken. How could that man who made millions laugh and seemed so sweet have had succumbed so far? All the fame and riches didn’t make him immune to this horrible disease. You never know who can be hurting. Just a year ago, a mutual friend, someone I respected, took his own life after his own struggles. Far too young with far too much potential. And to see some of my friends go through that, some of whom I consider family, is beyond painful. I can never understand truly that level of pain to make that decision; I only have an inkling of understanding.

But all I can hope is that one day those who face this struggle find their voice. That is why I speak up. I’m not ashamed. My mental illness does not define me. My mental illness does not make me weak nor is it my fault. It is okay to have a bad day. I hope maybe one person will have a little bit more understanding, or reach out to someone they think is struggling.

                                                                                 Hope.

That is what I am aiming to create. That is what reaching out does! If more people start talking about it, if more people get treatment, we can create hope. One person – one – is all it takes to make change. Hope can move mountains. It can change a person’s world. For a long time, I didn’t have hope. But I know the impact that it can have. A simple act of kindness, whether it be a friend or a stranger, can change someone’s entire outlook. Regardless of whether you have a mental illness, we all need to take care of our mental health. I suppose that’s the message I hope you take: Be kind. Our world can use a little more kindness.

Everyone is fighting a battle. So many people have told me they would’ve never thought I was depressed – why should I be? Good question. So many people have also told me it is okay. I hope to write more of my thoughts on mental illness in the future. Looking forward to your feedback. Have a fantastic day!

Peace & Love,

VicMik

 

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