The past few months have been hard on me.
Part of it, I think, has been recovering from surgery; even after the worst pain was gone it took a while for me to be as active as I like and that’s always a difficult situation for me. But even when I wasn’t able to pin down any real reason why I should be feeling bad, it was still there.
When I first received a mental health diagnosis, well over a decade past when I now know it was clear that I had a serious problem, it was a combination of depression and anxiety that seemed twinned together in my therapist’s mind and in mine; when I started medication she picked one that addressed both. And when I went off that medication a few years later, I felt like I had both under control. There wasn’t much of a separation of the two issues in my mind; it just felt like I had one problem to manage.
After my partner and I moved to San Francisco, my mental state took a pretty severe downturn after that first month or two when the stress of the move caught up with me and I realized I’d lost a lot of my support network due to my distance. At that time the problem manifested itself almost entirely as severe anxiety; the depression was present like it always is, but I was able to manage it moderately well.
Recently, it’s been the opposite situation. I’m not having to fight off intrusive thoughts all the time, I’m not worrying too unreasonably about minor things in my life. I’m sure I’m still more anxious than someone without an anxiety disorder at all but it’s not terrible in comparison to how it’s been at other times. But holy shit, I have been reminded rather forcefully recently exactly what a depressive episode feels like. Or doesn’t feel like, because sometimes it isn’t much of anything, just a grey weight covering my emotions and smooshing them until everything feels flat and thick and vaguely the same. It’s hard to do basic tasks like “email a friend” and “open the mail.”
When I was ten years old, my parents got a call from my teacher who let them know I had told some people at school I wished I was dead. I still don’t remember saying this exactly, but it’s certainly believable based on how I felt at the time. The weekend before that phone call I remember sitting very still for a long time after I came home from a soccer game, crying and staring at the clock and thinking things will never get better. That’s the moment that stands out to me, twenty years later. I remember that afternoon better than the school day in question.
They confronted me about it that night, and I (being extremely upset and also having the sense that I’d been caught doing something wrong) had a difficult time explaining how I was feeling. When they asked me point-blank “are you planning to commit suicide?” I said no, because of course I wasn’t – how on earth would I even go about doing that? I was fucking ten years old, I didn’t know how actually go through the process. I couldn’t figure out how to explain to them that while I didn’t have an actual plan, I wouldn’t mind if it just happened – that I wanted to die, that I didn’t feel like I was worth much of anything or particularly likeable. After I told them I wasn’t going to kill myself I didn’t have the chance to try and explain any further, because they got angry, as if I was playing around. My dad said something like “that’s not something you joke about.”
I am not a parent. I will never be a parent. I probably can’t understand how horrifying it would be to have your kid say “I want to die” to you. It probably was a traumatic discussion for them too. But all I knew was that I was hurting, I felt like everything inside me was rotting away, and when someone finally talked to me about it, I wasn’t able to get any help. That was the lesson I learned from them (and to a lesser extent, from a friend a few years later): if you let anyone know how upset you really are, they will be mad at you. So no one must ever know.
It’s taken a very long time to unlearn that lesson. Even now, when I have been able to seek help for my issues and have taken medication when things were at their worst, when I know that many of my friends also struggle both with mental health problems and the stigma that surrounds them, I’m often hesitant to let anyone around me know when my brain starts acting up again. Even my friends who I know will get it. Even my partner who I live with. It’s so hard to let go of that voice that says “if you tell people, they will be angry. They’ll think you’re lying.”
Right now, things are feeling a little better than they have been. I can take that voice and tell it “anyone who would get angry with me for being honest isn’t worth my time.” I’ve started an exciting new project that’s given me the added bonus of managing my time more efficiently during the week, I’m about to take a relaxing vacation with my partner, and the second cat we adopted at the end of November likes to climb on my chest and start purring if I lie down in bed. There’s a lot to be happy about, and it’s still hard. I worry, when things improve a bit, that it’s only a matter of time before the weight presses on me again. But part of my struggle to feel better, to be more comfortable no matter what shape my mind is in, is not to hide what’s happening.
So, hello friends. It’s been tough. But I think it’s getting better. Thanks for reading.
I’ll have more to say soon.