May is Mental Illness Awareness Month, and in honor of that I wanted to take my post this week to talk about mental illness in my own life. One of the reasons I think it’s important to talk about mental illness in such a personal capacity is that it tends to be such a taboo topic. In my opinion, the more open I am about my own mental illnesses, the more open other people will be with questions and their own experiences. Mental illness is, contrary to the belief of many, a real illness with difficult and trying effects on those who live with one. By talking about it, awareness can continue to be spread and the idea that mental illness is “just an excuse” can be eradicated.
A lot of you are aware that I’m a person who has mental illness. More specifically, I have four that have been diagnosed so far: Major Depressive Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, and Social Anxiety Disorder. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the terms, I’d invite you to do a little Googling or even come to me personally. I’m more than happy to talk about it or answer any questions, as long as the topic is handled with respect.
I’ve had depressive symptoms since early elementary school, but I wasn’t officially diagnosed with Major Depressive Disorder until around six months ago. It’s been a mixed experience. It’s good to know that the things I go through emotionally have a cause, and can be treated and worked with to improve them. However, I’ve had a really difficult time adjusting to the idea that my depression and anxiety isn’t temporary, but a disease that I will have to deal with for the rest of my life. I’ve been in the process of finding a medication that works for me, albeit without much success. I’ve been in therapy for about seven months now, the second time in my life that I’ve needed to go see a regular therapist. I’m working on getting better and finding healthy and effective coping mechanisms, but even with these measures depression is not a pleasant experience to have to go through.
Many people in my life have asked me what depression feels like. Depression, firstly, is different for everyone and manifests a wide range of symptoms with varying intensities for each person. However, even within my own self, depression takes a variety of forms and that’s a bit of what I wanted to talk about today.
Depression is exhaustion. I feel tired all the time, a large contributing factor to the seventy-two cups of coffee I down per day. This exhaustion makes it extremely hard to function. It’s often really difficult to concentrate on tasks, such as school or work, because all I can focus on is not falling asleep. With this tiredness and lack of concentration, simple daily tasks become very hard to accomplish. On a bad day, a ten page reading can take an hour and a half (and normally, I’m a very fast reader.) Cleaning my room for thirty minutes requires an hour long nap to recover from the exertion. A ten minute conversation is draining. Sometimes, even, it’s even too hard to get out of bed because the thought of having to lift my limbs is exhausting.
Depression is loneliness. It is the fear that you are alone and friendless, even when surrounded by those you love. It is the isolation of your disease, when others don’t quite grasp the concept of what you are going through. It is the inability to reach out for help from others.
Depression is hopelessness. It is the fear and, at times, even acceptance that life will not get better. It seems as though I am a failure at school, at art, at social activities, at life in general. It is the feeling that I have disappointed myself, my friends and family, and everyone else I know.
Depression is numb. Sometimes there is no feeling except to want to feel anything. There are days when, even if I received the worst of news, I would feel nothing towards it even if I wanted to. I don’t feel happy, I don’t feel sad, I don’t feel anything. These are some of the worst days.
Depression is overwhelming sadness. It can be about a specific thing or event. Alternatively, it can be about nothing at all, just a blanket of miserableness. And sometimes it will hit you out of nowhere. You could be having a great time and suddenly mid-laugh it hits you and you can’t smile anymore.
Depression affects every area of your life and you can’t help it, as much as you would like to. It is a mental disease, and because your brain is the organ that controls all of your feelings and actions, no area remains untouched. You can learn to function better through it and you can learn different techniques to improve your mood, but it is a long and tedious process that is not guaranteed to help all the time.
All of you know someone with some sort of mental illness, whether you are aware of it or not. I plead that all of you take time to research and try to understand better about mental illness. Google can be a great resource. You can talk to people. More than anything, however, try to be understanding and sensitive to those you know who may have a mental illness. They know how it affects them personally better than any website or any other person. If you can try to understand and support them, then you can help them through their difficult experiences.