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Strength in numbers

When I first [finally] decided to pursue writing (about my experiences with mental health issues), as a (possible) career, I wavered back and forth; contemplating whether or not to actually do it. I really wanted to try and do it anonymously. I didn't want anyone to know it was me behind these words. I know how cruel and judgmental the world can be and I didn't want people judging me. I had worked so hard all my life to portray a strong independent person (not just woman). The last thing I wanted was to be seen as a frail week little girl. And that's how I feel my depression and anxiety make me look. I don't even like using the word "feel." Women are associated with feelings and emotions, which are perceived as weak. Men are associated with thought and logic, which are considered a strength. 


So I always made it a point to never say, "I feel" or talk about my feelings. I kept everything bottled up and tried to be as logical and rational as possible. I viewed feelings and emotions as a weakness. I even judged others when they would get emotional or express their feelings. Maybe that's why I'm so fucked up. I never wanted to to appear weak or needy. I never wanted anyone to think I needed them or wanted them to feel pity or sorry for me. For some reason, whenever someone expresses their weaknesses or flaws, people think they're doing it for attention or sympathy or pity. But for me, and most likely a great majority who bare their soul and put their selves out there, I'm doing it because I want to break the stigma and hopefully help others [even if it's just one person] to feel like they're not alone; like there is someone else out there like them, someone else who gets them and understands what they're going through or thinking or feeling. 


For so long I felt like I had to be a certain way to be accepted. I couldn't show anyone the real me. I couldn't express what was truly on my mind or how I really felt. Because they wouldn't get it, they wouldn't understand, they would judge me. But on the other hand, I really didn't care. I never really cared about being accepted or having a lot of friends. But that's what society tells us to care about: acceptance from others. I have a really small circle of people I know accept me for me and care about me without judgement and I'm good with that. I appreciate them and I know they appreciate me. We don't want anything from each other or expect anything from each other, just a true friendship. It's not that I actually care what other people think of me, it doesn't really affect me or my life. But for some reason I still let the societal norms and beliefs dictate me and my actions. 


Then I started reading other people's experiences with anxiety, depression and various other mental health issues and it made me want to contribute some of my own. I've never seen a psychologist or psychiatrist, for a couple reasons. The main one was embarrassment, I didn't want to be diagnosed with a mental illness. I didn't want to be labeled or branded, as if "depression" or "anxiety" or "suicidal" would be stamped across my forehead for the world to see. I didn't want anyone having that power over me, telling me what I am (or have). There was also a money factor. Therapy is expensive and I can't afford it. 


So my solution was to try and fix myself. I practically majored in psychology in college. The only reason I didn't actually major in it is because it required statistics and I suck at math. So I majored in Human Services with an emphasis in psychology. Almost all of my classes were in psychology or sociology. I got to learn about all the different psychological diseases and treatments. And tried to apply them to myself in the hopes that I could somehow miraculously cure myself. Yeah, delusions of grandeur. There is no cure for depression. It doesn't just go away. You don't just get over it. It is treatable, can be manageable. But it never fully just disappears.  You can have good days, sometimes they'll even stretch into good months or maybe years if you're lucky. But it's always inside you, waiting for any opportunity to rear its ugly head and try to take over your life. 


I did a good job of hiding it, repressing it, ignoring it. I worked full time, that helped to distract me. When I started working out, I was actually surprised that it did help. I've heard other people say exercise helps and some people think you can exercise depression away. And for some people that does help, for some it works. For others it doesn't. There is no cure all or magic pill or one treatment fits all. What works for some doesn't do shit for others. I think that's why a lot of people living with mental illness hate hearing advise from others. Nine times out of ten, they mean well. But unless you've actually been lying on the bathroom floor crying your eyes out to the point of hyperventilating or holding that knife to your wrist with a pill bottle next you you standing on that ledge hoping for a gust of wind to knock you over so you don't have to jump, you don't know what it's like. And all your advise and word of encouragement will fall deaf ears.  


Even if you have been there, it doesn't necessarily mean you know what someone else is going through or you have the right words to help them. I'm not saying you should never offer advise or try to help someone who's struggling. But when you do, don't expect them to miraculously be all better. Don't even expect them to listen or want to listen or take your advise. Sometimes, just being there and showing a true desire to want to be there and help is the best thing you can do. Most of the time, people struggling with mental health issues just want to be accepted. They just want to know that they're not alone, that they're not being judged. True, unconditional friendship goes a long way. Knowing you have someone in your corner, who will be there for you, listen to you, or even just be there in silence when you need it, is one of the best things someone can have. 


When I started reading other people's blogs, poetry, books, etc about their battle with mental illness and I saw how much we had in common and that I wasn't the only who felt like that or dealt with that or went through that situation, I breathed a sigh of relief. I wanted to keep reading and keep connecting to these people I've never even met. I felt like I was part of a community of warriors battling these unseen forces in our body, these monsters that constantly try to overpower us. It inspired me to open myself up and put myself out there. 


Mental illness is a battle, a daily struggle, a lifelong fight to survive. And if, by showing my vulnerability, my weaknesses, my struggles I can help someone fight that battle and survive another day so be it. There's strength in numbers and there's millions of people battling mental illness everyday. Most of them do it alone, in silence. Many fail. Imagine how many more would survive the daily battles if we allowed them to open up without judgement. If we cared all the time, not just when they lash out or show signs of struggle. Asking for help, when you're fighting a losing battle, isn't a sign of weakness. It's a sign you want to survive. Watching someone fail, knowing you had the power to help save them, but chose to judge them instead, that's weak.

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