my first proper (billion word) post about mental health… stick with me even though it might seem depressing (no pun) to read at first, you might learn something…
something a lot of people don’t understand about mental illness (particularly depression) is that a sufferer can’t help the way they feel. they can’t just “snap out of it” and “stop being negative”. one frustration I had during some of the worst relapses I’ve had recently was not being able to explain this to people. I was told to “suck it up” so often that I would begin to believe that maybe it was my own fault I was so miserable… and thus begins a negative cycle and a downward spiral. there’s a pattern to the madness. you begin to become frustrated that you don’t understand why you feel the way you do, you can’t comprehend or explain it. you lash out at yourself and get angry for feeling the way you do, and in effect, the feeling of misery worsens. you can’t validate your feelings of hopelessness and begin to feel guilty because there’s people who are going through ‘legitimate’ problems. thoughts such as ‘I’m extremely privileged, I have people who love me, parents who care about me and I have a roof over my head, so what’s the problem’ start to plague you. and it worsens still. I would get so angry with myself at times that I would find myself screaming out loud, swearing at myself, writing angry letters to myself all around the house, insulting myself in the hope of motivation such as “get off your fat ass and go for a walk”. but when you are in the thick of a downward spiral, none of this helps. I would be a miserable person to hang out with, so I began to see my friends tapering off… which, as a result, made me more miserable and affected my relationships even more. your friends telling you to stop being miserable makes you even more miserable. someone once told me that it was my thinking that got myself into this problem, so trying to rationalise my way out of it would get me into more trouble. you can’t explain the way you feel, you can’t explain why, you just feel it, and sometimes it doesn’t go away. you body manifests this physically and soon you’re sick all of the time, with no real medical reason. your immune system is shot, you’re physically exhausted from doing nothing, you can barely get out of bed let alone go to work. there are times when it is so bad that there is nothing you can do or say to yourself to escape it… but I have also had enough bad episodes to know that, eventually, something snaps inside of you, and all those things people told you about ‘thinking positive’ and ‘sucking it up’ suddenly make sense (if, only briefly).
anybody dealing with something (whether it be an illness, an addiction, an issue, whatever) knows that you can’t help someone unless they are willing to be helped. there is no point trying to tell someone who is depressed to ‘snap out of it’ and ‘think positive’ because that is not what they need to hear. unless they have a trigger within themselves (which I will explain shortly) and decide that enough is enough, it is completely futile. I wouldn’t be surprised if some people suffering from depression never have this trigger (my case is a little bit more complicated as manic depression is a cycle of intense ups and downs instead of just one long down period). if you know somebody who is going through this the only thing I can suggest is to give them company, love, support. you need to accept that nothing you say or do can really help them unless they are willing and at a point where they can actually do something about it. the only thing that truly helped me when I was going through my worst periods was just knowing that somebody was there. getting out of the house and being around other people, or even just communicating with anybody at all. these are all things that stop you from stewing in your own mind and worsening the feeling.
and then, eventually, if you’re like me, you have a trigger. triggers can be a good or a bad thing. a good trigger is something that makes you think ‘enough is enough’ and begins to slowly chip away the bad feelings to a point that you begin to rebuild your life again because of it. good triggers for me have often been trivial things such as starting exercising, buying something nice for my house, starting a job I enjoy, meeting somebody interesting, buying new makeup, sitting in the sunshine… all silly and insignificant things that usually don’t make a difference in the grand scheme of life, but somehow distract me enough in that moment that I forget how depressed I am, so I start living my life again. triggers are not a quick fix. being distracted from the way you feel is not a solution, and sometimes it becomes difficult relying on these to happen, because when they don’t, the down periods never seem to end. there are big triggers (for example, I had a massive trigger at the start of the year that put me into a positive mindset for enough time to forget I had a mental illness at all, and truly believe I had somehow managed to ‘cure’ myself – in fact I spent so many months preaching to people about how ‘happiness is a decision’ that I thought I really did have it all figured out) and there are little daily triggers (such as doing a workout, or going for a walk) which don’t last as long but at least seem to distract you enough to forget for a few moments. then there are negative triggers. things that bring you crashing back down into your negative cycle and make you realise that, underneath the surface, your illness has not magically disappeared. I’m not talking about having a bad day. I need to make it clear (and I’m sure I’ll write about this at some point) that there is a difference between a blue-day and serious depression. it is completely natural to feel bad sometimes, for no reason at all. it’s what makes us human. if the positive trigger beforehand was strong enough, a bad day fades and you accept that it was just that, a bad day. I’m talking about a negative trigger that happens that undoes all of the hard work you’d done previously, that makes things relapse so badly that you never think you will be okay again… this can also be known as circumstantial depression (will write about this later). circumstantial depression (or feeling depressed because of a turn of events, something that has happened, a person, bad news, etc etc) has been a massive trigger for me in the past to launch into an episode or a down-period. sometimes a negative trigger can simply be running out of ‘good’ triggers, or feeling like nothing will top that feeling you just had and you will never be the same again. for me, negative triggers don’t have to be caused by anything at all, they can just simply happen, and as suddenly as you snapped out of your depression and said ‘enough is enough’, you can fall back into it.
and then there are periods where you are so all over the place you don’t know if you are sad or happy, coming or going, here or there. I have lost whole weeks in my life because my moods and emotions would be fluctuating so incessantly that I spent all of the time trying to catch up instead of focusing what’s going on around me. I will have a conversation with somebody at work, completely chirpy and friendly, and a minute later will be behind the kitchen wall, sobbing because I saw a cute old person (and old people make me sad). sometimes I have these sudden surges of energy that are so manic that I appear like a hyperactive child… only to be too physically exhausted to get out of bed moments later. the main frustration I have with all of this is the unpredictability of it all… you never know whats coming, how you will feel moment to moment. the only thing that is certain is that there is no certainty.
don’t get me wrong. there are times in my life that are simply ‘okay’. I’m not terrible, I’m not terrific, I’m just indifferent. I’m lucky that my case isn’t serious enough that I still occasionally have periods of just being ‘normal’. but bec, you’re probably thinking, this just sounds like a normal person – good days, bad days, average days… there is a key difference. the difference between me and people who don’t suffer from manic depression is that the degrees of these states fluctuate so dramatically that it affects my day to day life, and while I see my manic (frantic, energetic, almost crazed in my need to get out, tackle everything etc) phases as a good and motivational thing, they can often be just as damaging as depressive ones as when they are over, I feel burnt out, overstimulated and exhausted.
this all sounds very horrible, I’m sure. but if you’ve ever met me, you probably wouldn’t imagine any of this was going on in my head… because one thing I have come to learn (out of necessity since moving out of home and into a different city where I only had myself to depend on) is that life goes on. I am able to hold a normal life (most of the time) because I am beginning to understand my illness a little bit better. I am not at a point (currently anyway) where it is serious enough that I am incapacitated by it – like, unfortunately, many people are. I am hoping that by dealing with, and attempting to understand it before it worsens (and as a hereditary illness I only need to look at immediate members of my family to know it some day it is likely to) will prevent this. And I am also hoping that by understanding how taxing a mild case (like mine) can be, you can begin to understand just how bad an advanced case can be, by extension, how serious of an issue mental illness is.