Fear not, because there’s going to be another ridiculous video of Frank reviewing another book in a day or so (it’s recorded but needs the post), but for today I’d like to talk about something serious.
It’s Mental Health Awareness Month.
I’ve been thinking about how I should approach this topic here, and in the end, I think I’ve figured out the best way for me to do it.
You see, for those of you not in the know, I was diagnosed in 2004 with Major Depressive Disorder, which is a pretty chronic form of depression. On top of that, I deal with anxiety issues (which largely affect my social interactions), and some strange forms of OCD, a few of which have been with me since I was a very young child.
All of this comes and goes and I don’t want to discuss the ins and outs of it in a lot of detail. Suffice it to say that things affect me on a much deeper level than they do to most other people, and other people tend to find that frustrating.
In fact, I get the feeling quite frequently that aspects of my personality affected by my mental health are really frustrating to other people, especially those closest to me. What they often fail to realize is that I can’t always control those things — at least not easily.
So I decided that the way I wanted to approach discussing Mental Health Awareness Month is to increase awareness in that realm. So often people say things like “It’s all in your head,” or “You just don’t want to deal with things so you’re not.” Or they try tough love (I HATE TOUGH LOVE.) Some of those people might just be insensitive a-holes, but others really just don’t have the first clue what they’re up against (even though I know they mean well). So here we go: things that I’m dying for you to know about it. Not going for eloquence today. This is all raw.
*Note: This is from my perspective, but understand that in no way do I believe any of this is specific to me.
What It’s Like to Live With Depression
People think you’re making it up to get attention, so sometimes you just stop talking about how you feel about anything at all so that it won’t seem that way. I don’t want a pity party, thanks. I just want to be understood.
Some people will start to avoid you or tell you that you’re too sad too often, you have too many problems, you complain too much, etc., etc. Ask yourself whether you’re just hoping someone will save you or not. If you don’t truly need to be saved, by all means, try to take a more positive route when possible because it does help. (If you try to be better and people are still giving you a hard time, let them go.)
…It’s painfully difficult and sometimes impossible to let things go. I can hang on to things for years (not always by choice) and someone is always on my case about living in the past. Sometimes I like to stay in the past because I know I wasn’t always like this. And I’m not even always like this now. That’s the terrible part of something that’s considered chronic, though. You never know when and how often you’ll have to deal with it, nor to what degree.
People close to you start mumbling about how you’re using it as an excuse to not move on, deal with things, accept things, etc. If I’m wrong, I’ll tell you that I am. If I messed up, I’ll apologize. Nothing about dealing with depression excuses my behavior. Ever. I’ll take responsibility for myself, thanks, but understand, please, that when I’m dealing with it, it absolutely affects me, what I do, and how I do it.
Social interaction is never going to be as easy for me as it is for most people. People tend to think I’m a bitch just because I’m not terribly outgoing. I’m not terribly outgoing because I can never think of anything to say. I’m not a great conversationalist, and someone is constantly pointing out to me how socially awkward I am. This really irritates me because the more they say it, the worse it gets. I start stammering and stuttering and get super nervous. I sound like the lovechild of Daria and Ben Stein, as I’ve noted before. I feel like everything I do is being analyzed and that’s uncomfortable.
Physical symptoms are a pain, but there they are. Headaches, backaches, a profound lack of energy. Then there are other symptoms — social withdrawal, no interest in things I typically enjoy (so frustrating!), exhaustion, a racing mind, a complete lack of focus, dwelling on things I can’t change, feeling worthless, helpless, and like a total failure.
The timing is hard to peg down. Sometimes I know when an episode is coming on because I’ll get a lot of headaches or I’ll feel like someone unplugged me. I have no energy at all. When I start avoiding social interactions and backing out on plans, I’m in it. Sometimes it can’t be predicted at all. For example, earlier today I was laughing and joking around with my brother. I did some work, went to get a shower, and by the time I had my eye makeup on, I was crying it back off. I don’t really know why I started crying. I just felt really sad all of a sudden. That sucks. It’s hard to fix something when you don’t know what’s wrong.
I’m trying. I’m trying to get on with my life and I always try to not let this affect me as much as I possibly can. Sometimes I’m successful; sometimes I’m not. In a heartbreaking twist, it seems that the people I care about the most are always the ones who are affected by “Episodic Renee.”
It’s nothing to be ashamed of. I don’t talk about it a lot, nor with many people, but that’s because I don’t want to be accused of making excuses for myself (because that’s only happened about 89809343 times). For the first year that I was in therapy in college, only two of my friends knew about it. It wasn’t until it became clear that therapy alone was not going to be enough that I finally had to tell my parents. I just didn’t want them to think it was their fault. It’s no one’s fault that I’m like this. There’s a certain stigma about people with mental health disorders, but I want something to be known.
I am smart, funny, and nice. I’m thoughtful and loyal and driven. I’m responsible. I hate when people think depression means I somehow shouldn’t be trusted. I’m everything everyone else is. My emotional reactions are just a little bit more intense. I get really sad sometimes. I don’t always know why. I feel broken.
And then I snap out of it. It could be hours, days, weeks, or months. But eventually, it does let up.
I know that this experience is not unique to me. There are so many others out there who go through the same thing. Some of them talk about it; some of them don’t. But what I’m trying to get at here is that we SHOULD be able to talk about it without it being considered whiny or attention-seeking. A friend who will shun you because they don’t feel like dealing with you when you’re down isn’t really a friend. Friends don’t turn their backs when you need them.
Final note: I recommend therapy. Even if you don’t think you need it, it’s really enlightening. I don’t know about you, but talking to someone else (a friend or anyone) when I’m going through something helps so much. If you choose a friend in lieu of therapy, just make sure you don’t make your friend your therapist (inadvertently or otherwise). They don’t take too well to that (and with good reason).
Okay. Extended PSA over. Leaving you with this video of Ingrid Michaelson performing “San Francisco” for two reasons: 1.) I was at this show this past Friday and it was the first time I’d heard this song. It’s beautiful. 2.) It’s really well-suited to this post. Listen to it. The line “When you’re broken, you can’t tell them what went wrong” slays me.
Stay tuned for Frank’s new book review next time!