In the past year, I have gone from the darkest depths of despair to some of the highest points of my life. My life had collapsed entirely but I miraculously was able to rise from the ashes and have a second chance at life. I have found my true calling in advocacy and have found my voice to speak out about all I have been through. I have written a couple books and have an ongoing blog that has proved to be very cathartic for me. I finally found a group of doctors and a treatment plan that works for me and has given me genuine hope for the future. After forty years of running, I have finally begun to make peace with my past, rebuilding bridges believed long ago abandoned and demolished and have healed my heart enough to once again reopen it to the possibility of love.
With so many high points, you’d think I’d be on cloud nine without a care in the world. In a lot of ways, I am honestly happier than I ever remember being before. I have a renewed sense of purpose. Goals that once would have felt impossible now feel obtainable. For the first time in my life, I have a sincere faith that I will be okay and I am hopeful for my future. All things considered, I am in a much better place in my life than I have ever been before.
However, despite all the wonderful milestones of this past year, I am still treading water when it comes to my mental illness. By all expectations, I know I should be beyond happy. Ecstatic even. And truthfully, I am smiling more and have even experienced moments of genuine happiness. But my depression still reigns supreme. My anxiety still has me on constant edge. My PTSD still leaves me feeling irrationally unsafe and in fear.
From the outside looking in, others may only see the blue sky above, feel the gentle warm breezes in the air and the coolness of the water that surrounds me, but the story does not end with what others can see. Because others can only see the above the surface, they cannot fully fathom the whole picture. My depression is like heavy weights strapped to my ankles as I tread water, constantly threatening to pull me under. That heaviness is a constant pull, a terminal threat and reminder to be vigilant. I cannot stop treading water, stop fighting for even a moment or I will sink and drown. As exhausting as it is, I can never stop, never catch my breath.
My anxiety and PTSD are like creatures lurking below the water. I don’t always know what they are or how much threat they pose, but I can feel their constant presence, brushing against me, bumping into me, biting into me here and there. There is no way to ignore or avoid them, no way to scare them away. They are often distorted shadows beneath the ripples of the surface, not quite fully visible, so that I never feel safe. Periodically, they reopen old scars and cause phantom pains that remind me of the traumas of my past, making them feel real again, catching me in the moment.
Every single day, despite how beautiful the day might seem, that lingering voice revisits me, trying to talk me into giving up, giving in, and let the waves carry me away. I’m not suicidal. I don’t want to die. I am just utterly exhausted from treading these waves for years. I am weary straight down to the bone and just want to rest. I want the pain, the struggling and the constant fear to end. That lingering voice knows all my insecurities and plays upon every one. It whispers into the wind that I’m not strong enough, that it’s only a matter of time until either I go under and drown or the monsters below consume me. It tells me I’ll never reach the shore, never be able to rest or catch my breath, that my only choices are to either give up and go under or to spend my entire life struggling and fighting.
I am in treatment. I see both a therapist and a meds doctor regularly. Every week, I attend multiple groups and classes to help acquire new tools for coping, including tai chi, yoga, meditation and art. I am focused on healing my mind, body and spirit so that I can be in a better place in every way. All my efforts little by little are bringing me closer to that beach I long to stretch out upon, enjoying the sunshine and the beautiful day. I can see that far off shore but right now it is still beyond my reach.
It is not a matter of just not trying hard enough to be happy or holding too tightly to the negative. I have so much that I am both happy and grateful for in my life. I know I have been blessed in so many ways. I would love to relish in everything and just be okay. After all, the sun is shining, the sky is blue, the breezes are soft and warm. On the surface, my days would be perfect. Yet I am forever one moment away from going under, drowning and becoming a statistic.
I have been told that I am the sweetest and happiest depressed person that some people have ever met. Despite all I have been through, I am the eternal optimist, always looking for something positive in even the worst situations. I have a true joie de vivre and appreciation for the simple things in life. I want to be happy and healthy. I want to be functional and okay. Yet I’m deadlocked in a constant battle, constant struggle just to keep going and survive.
Mental illness isn’t about being weak or lazy. It is a medical condition that leaves me with little control over my own mind and emotions. No matter how hard I try to be happy and healthy, it has a tight grasp on my mind, body an soul. Just because others cannot see everything beneath the surface does not mean it is not there or that I am not in constant torment from the monsters that lurk in the darkness.
As much as I know I should be over the moon ecstatic over so many of the blessings I’ve had over the last year, I keep finding myself yanked downward against my will. I still have many days I lay in bed, in the darkness, unable to pull myself up or function for hours on end. I still have many days that I roll into a ball and cry because I’ve spiraled down and that irrational despair is so great that the world feels hopeless to me. I still have many nights where I lay in bed for hours restlessly as my mind races and my fears fester or where I bolt awake because the nightmares of my past have materialized in my present. I know I should be happy, life should feel perfect. Yet my mind refuses to listen. My mental illness is steering the car. I’m just along for the ride.
I want to get better, to be healthy and happy. If curing my depression was as simple as just trying harder to be happy, this past year would have cured me without a doubt. But mental illness is not so easily beaten or controlled. You cannot let even the most beautiful, serene days deceive you because beneath the surface, in the darkness of the depths, my monsters still loom, continuously threatening to drag me under and devour me alive.
Republished on The Mighty on 7/31/17.