I admit I'm kind of a mess, psychologically speaking.
I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety when I was 15 years old and would get labeled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) at 23. Living with mental illness is difficult because I feel like I spend a lot of time shrouded in darkness even though I absolutely know, in no uncertain terms, that I live a good, privileged life.
I have an intelligent, talented husband, three healthy children, a comfortable house in my hometown, a college education, a fantastic job, and when I say I have nothing to eat, it is generally a problem of me being overly choosy, never actually being without food or being unable to get some.
While I can rationally know that things really aren't that bad for me, my various mental illnesses evidently never got the memo. No matter how much I want to just be happy (which is quite a bit, actually), it always seems to be temporary.
To manage my conditions, I take two pills in the morning. The orange capsule helps me focus with my ADHD, while the little blue pill helps calm me down. There's a lot of stigma surrounding both of the medications I take. Over the years, the fear of that judgment has caused me to try alternative treatments, such as supplements, diet, and exercise, which never worked as well as I hoped. While there is something to be said for using those to take care of your body as a whole, it is also important to recognize that the quality of my life goes up dramatically because of these pills.
Anxiety keeps my mind running at full speed at all times. I have the extraordinary talent of taking the most mundane situation and playing it through my mind over and over until I'm convinced that every possible outcome will be a worst case scenario. It robs me of sleep at night, keeping me awake with worry over situations that I know will never happen. I hate it.
I can also take a situation in which I did something mildly awkward and stew on it for months, constantly analyzing the misstep. It makes me terrified to see that person again and makes me more likely to create flimsy excuses for why I can't go places. It's a struggle to choose if I would rather go and do something that I might torment myself with later or deal with missed opportunities to have fun. While I do cherish my alone time, a big part of me just wishes I could be more outgoing and comfortable with myself so I can live a little.
There are some days that my anxiety is just sort of present, like a mosquito buzzing in my ear. It's annoying, but I can shoo it away and get along fairly normally. There are other days that the anxiety is just too much and I am prone to panic attacks.
My hands and feet go numb during these episodes as if they've fallen asleep and I can feel my blood pressure rising as my neck gets tighter, feeling like internal strangulation. My mind becomes paralyzed and my vision can't focus. When a panic attack comes, all I can do is try to remember to breathe until it passes, as the stress overrides every other move I try to make. If there's a more helpless feeling in the world, I haven't experienced it yet.
While anxiety is typically the star of the show for me, depression has a never-ending supporting role. I get overwhelmed by negative feelings of not being good enough or clever enough or funny or pretty or whatever enough. I'm no stranger to spending most of my day dripping in melancholy, waiting until it's time to go back to bed so I can escape the hell that is my own consciousness.
The worst of it is that I know the world isn't as bad as it can seem to me. To quote Sylvia Plath, I want so badly for the good things to happen. I'm an eternal optimist who feels that anything good can happen … to other people. I believe in being rational and logical to an almost Vulcan-like degree. There's nothing rational about mental illness. I know my feelings sometimes don't make sense and neither do some of the ways I have handled them.
Shortly before my depression diagnosis, I had begun dabbling in self-harm. I won't reveal the exact mechanism as to not to be a trigger to anyone else in that position, but it didn't leave any physical evidence and I wrongfully thought it gave me a sense of power. I couldn't control the people around me or even the thoughts in my own head, but I could control every aspect of that. While I rationally knew that I was (literally) just hurting myself, it felt like a release of every bad feeling I carried. Thankfully, this phase was short-lived. More importantly, it never progressed.
One of the biggest concerns about living with depression is that some day it will become too much and result in suicide. As low as I get sometimes, I could never commit to thinking that things will never get better; I want to feel happy too badly for that.
It's hard for those who have never experienced the crushing weight of depression to understand why some people make that choice, but I get it. I know what it's like to feel that lonely and desperate. I know what it's like to have the weight of the world sitting on your chest, making it impossible to breathe. I know what it's like to cry about everything and nothing at the same time. I know what it's like to close your eyes and wonder if there's any reason to open them again.
It's a sad, scary, sh*tty way to live, but I have found there is always a reason to open your eyes and face the new day. Suicide may seem like the only option to some, but it's a permanent decision to a very treatable problem. It's not an answer. There are ways to fight back against that all-consuming darkness and let in some light.
Some people use therapy to manage their mental illness. Some are able to keep it at bay through exercise. Others make other lifestyle changes. I use medication and no longer feel any shame about doing so. Taking a pill to turn down the negativity in my head doesn't make me a quitter. It makes me a fighter.
My medication doesn't make my world instantly all unicorns and rainbows, but it does allow me to breathe a little easier. It lets me enjoy a moment without getting anxious about how it could go wrong. It lets me calm down to the point where I can genuinely laugh and enjoy my life. There are still bad days, but they're not as bad as they used to be. What works for me may not work for someone else, but it's important to keep searching and find something that clicks.
The pervasive stigma that there is something wrong with admitting to having a mental illness that requires treatment is one that we need to overcome so that everyone can get the tools they need to fight through their darkness and see a brighter day.
That stigma that antidepressants or psychostimulants are taking the easy way out is what caused me to go off and on my meds over the years. The medicine had gotten me to a place where I felt good enough for so long that I forgot how tiring it can be to fight on your own. Back on my meds now, I feel relieved and much happier.
There are many successful people who have mental illnesses and are speaking out about their conditions in order to make treatment more socially acceptable. While I'm not particularly important as an individual, it's hard to ignore the fact that my job gives me a unique platform to help raise awareness and stand alongside the others who are fighting.
I can't keep silent when there are actual human lives that depend on people speaking up.
Writing about mental illness not only helps me sort out my own feelings, but it helps me understand that there are millions of people who are also looking for a way to overcome these disorders. It's difficult to speak this personally, but it needs to be done.
There are many resources available to those who feel depressed and need crisis intervention, including the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. Nobody ever needs to fight depression alone.
We'll do it together.