Art Therapy For Depression

pumpkins

I made some paper mache pumpkins today.  It wasn’t that I was feeling particularly cheerful or festive.  It is that creating art helps me cope with my depression.  Art has become one of my favorite and most used self-care techniques in my mental wellness toolbox.

When I am struggling under the weight of my own emotions, I often write about the impact my illness has on my life.  When I am feeling numb, I prefer crafts that are multi-dimensional and messy, so I can feel with my hands even if I cannot feel with my heart.  When my life feels dark and hopeless, I use bright colors.  When I feel lost and alone, I create with warm hues, hoping to dd warmth into my life.  No matter how my depression distorts my perceptions, there is a way to combat it with art.

Some people assume that if I am well enough to create art, I must not be struggling too badly.  Honestly, the opposite is true.  I have found that I create the most, and the projects with the deepest personal meanings, when I am struggling the worst.  I use artistic expression as my lifeline back to reality.  It is the life preserver that keeps me from drowning in even the roughest of storms.

When someone is struggling with depression, the world feels dark and bleak, devoid of any glimmer of light, hope or goodness.  There is no beauty in depression.  So it helps me to create something beautiful out of my despair.  In my artwork, I am reminded that there is more to the world than darkness.

When someone is suffering from depression, the feelings can be overwhelming.  You are often raw and feel everything too deeply.  You feel like you are drowning in pain and anguish.  It helps creating something that will express what I am feeling inside, to release some of the agony that is consuming me.  As a wise Ogre once said, “Better out than in”.

When someone has been diagnosed with depression, it seeps into every corner of their consciousness.  It is exhausting and overwhelming.  It often feels like there is no escape from the prison of your own mind.  It helps to create something that can distract me from everything going on within myself.  When the creative juices are flowing, it is easy to forget for even a little while the weight of this illness on my shoulders.

When someone suffers from depression, they often feel they have no control over anything in their lives anymore.  You often feel like you are on a runaway train, with no way to slow down, stop or get off.  You are held hostage, just along for the ride.  It helps me to create something artistic because it gives me back some control.  My artwork is in my hands.  I choose what to make and which direction to take it.

When someone is struggling with depression, they often feel useless, like an utter waste of space.  Depression distorts reality and destroys self-esteem.  You feel as if you can do nothing right and that everything you touch will become damaged, tainted and tarnished by your very presence.  It helps me to create things because art is about expression, not perfection.  There is no right or wrong so even when I am feeling like a complete failure, I cannot mess up my art.

When someone who has depression feels isolated and misunderstood, it is common to feel all alone in the world.  It can feel like no one is there, nobody cares, no one could possibly understand what you are going through.  It helps me to create things I can show others, share with them, to create something to bring them back into my circle, back into my life.  Art brings people together.  It starts a dialogue where otherwise there would be silence.

There are times when someone who is suffering from depression is at a loss for words to explain how they are feeling.  You might not even be sure what you are depressed about, only that those feelings are there.  It helps to create things not only so that I can work through and understand my own feelings, but so that I can help explain it to others, as well.  Art doesn’t have to be neat and easily explained.  Art can be a messy, jumbled mess and still get its point across.

There are many reasons I create, a multitude of reasons why art comforts my mind and soothes my soul.  Using art to combat depression isn’t about clear and concise thoughts, raw talent or creating masterpieces.  It is about letting emotions out, replacing the darkness with some light and adding your own brand of beauty and creativity into the world.  Art is a wonderful tool for mindfulness because it brings you back into the moment, back to reality to focus on the here and now.

When the world feels broken and hopeless and you feel lost and alone, it might feel impossible to find the motivation to create.  Use your illness as inspiration.  Put into your words or on your canvas how you are feeling inside.  Share everything you wish others knew.  It doesn’t have to be perfect, or even coherent and understandable to anyone but you.  It can be raw and painful, mirroring how you feel inside.  If you have the urge to express how you are feeling through your artwork, don’t hold yourself back.  Art is about letting your feelings flow.

You don’t have to create based on the negativity of your depression, either, because you are so much more than your depression.  The beauty of art if that you are only restricted by your own imagination.  The world around you is full of inspiration.  Look to the future for upcoming holidays and events.  Look to the past for cherished memories.  Take inspiration from friends and family or beloved pets.  Open a window into the nature outside or look to the heavens above.  Revisit your favorite book, movie or television show.  Pick a color that calls to you or an abstract thought and run with it.  Find your inspiration in something beautiful, something that reminds you of light, happiness and hope.

You don’t need to overthink art.  Don’t question things.  There is no right or wrong.  Just go with the flow.  Focus on the here and now and the creative process.  Put yourself into your art, the person you are at this very moment or the person you wish you could be.  Art is also about possibilities.  You start with a blank canvas or empty page.  As you create, open yourself up not only to everything your art can become but everything you can become, as well.  Remind yourself that you are more than your diagnosis.  You are many things, many pieces that are not as dark, bleak and hopeless as your depression makes you feel.  You are an artist!

I created some paper mache pumpkins today.  Those pumpkins might not seem like much, but they helped me get through another rough day.  Though it by no means cured my depression, it gave me a much-needed reprieve from my struggles and a way to add some beauty to a world that would otherwise feel dark and bleak.  Art might not be a panacea, but it is a useful crutch that can help get you through the hardest of times, making you feel stronger at a time when you otherwise might not be able to stand on your own.

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The Depression Chart – Helping Others Understand Depression

*Ever since I created my Anxiety Chart, I have been asked by readers to create a similar chart for depression.  After much thought and consideration, this is the chart and accompanying graph that I designed.

Many people do not understand depression, assuming it is just random bouts of sadness and crying.  Unless someone has suffered through their own struggle with depression, it is near-impossible for them to truly understand how debilitating it can be to live with that diagnosis.

One of the hardest parts of explaining depression is that it is neither rational nor is it predictable.  It is hard to provide relatable examples because the feelings connected with depression would feel wildly irrational to anyone not experiencing them at that moment.  It is also impossible to predict or predetermine depression because it often comes unexpectedly in waves.

Therefore, instead of providing a chart with relatable examples, the chart I devised shows the increasing intensity of this mental illness.  My hope is that the statements provided at each level, combined with the descriptions included, will help those who have never struggled with depression understand how our frame of mind is magnified as our condition worsens.

It is also important to note that depression is not all sadness and hopelessness.  Instead of providing a chart listing levels 1-9, I have split this chart in half.  There is a 1-4N to designate worsening stages of numbness and a 1-4D to describe stages of downward spiral.  This chart is extremely simplified, yet illustrates how, as depression worsens, the intensity of the condition increases.  However, unlike conditions like anxiety that worsen in one direction, depression can and does frequently occur in both the realms of numbness and hopelessness to varying extents.

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It is also important to note that depression is not linear.  It comes in waves and spikes.  It is not uncommon to struggle with days of increasing numbness, only to wake up the following day in the midst of a downward spiral.  Depression randomly alternates between the two, with no rhyme or reason to the length or intensity on any given day.  Some days you feel nothing at all, other days you feel everything too strongly.  There’s no way to predict when you will be pulled in either direction or how long either will last.

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There will be days when someone might even feel fine, or even just more functional.  On other days, you might be unable to pull yourself out of bed or might seem to cry over everything.  There are days that feel like a struggle and others that feel completely impossible, days where you find yourself crying a little bit more and days you just want to give up.

When describing increased emotional pain, the best example I can think of is to compare it to the pain of loss.  Milder stages of depression might be akin to losing something that matters to you, perhaps something of sentimental value.  As depression increases, imagine the pain of losing a beloved pet, your parents, your spouse or your child.  Imagine the ache and the pain, the feeling in that moment of things never being okay again, of wanting to give up, to crumble under the weight of that pain.

Except the person you are mourning is yourself.  Your happiness and who you used to be.  And the loss comes again and again in waves, sometimes mild, other times so severe that the tears and the pain feel like they will never stop.

At the same time, you loathe and disgust yourself.  You feel worthless, a waste of space.  Your own mind lies to you, convincing you that the world would be better off without you in it.  That is where rationality parts ways.  Everyone can understand loss, pain and grieving.  But it is hard to wrap your head around losing yourself, let alone hating yourself, unless you have spiraled down to those depths yourself.

Yet those feelings are there, along with a tremendous amount of guilt.  You feel guilty that you are such a mess.  You feel guilty for subjecting everyone else to your mess, as well.  Often, you are also ashamed of your illness because you feel you should be stronger, more capable, better than you are.  That shame often leads you to lie or minimize the intensity of your suffering for fear of being judged.  Depression makes you feel like a failure just for being sick.

When someone is struggling with depression, their very perceptions become distorted.  It is common for everything to feel much worse than it actually is.  Think back to when you were a little child.  Things on the counter felt up way too high, the door knob out of reach.  Even simple things like tying your shoes were a struggle and felt like a monumental task that took maximum effort and concentration.  That is how everyday tasks feel when you have depression.  Everything feels harder.  Every problem feels bigger.  You feel small and helpless.

Think back, too, to when you were a young child and were upset with your parents, when you felt completely misunderstood and all alone in the world.  Think back on the time when your four or five year old self was convinced you should run away, that nobody would care if you were gone. Think back to any other point in your life, as well, when you felt completely alone, when you had no help, nobody there.  With depression, those feelings are ever-present.  Your mind tells you that nobody understands, that you are alone in the world.  Depression isolates you by telling lies that you do not matter.

Think back to the last time you were sick, laid up in bed with a bad flu or stomach bug.  Remember how physically and mentally exhausting it felt to even move or pull yourself out of bed?  How easily you found yourself worn out, just wanting to lay back down and sleep?  How you put off going to the bathroom for hours because you didn’t even want to move?  How you ate frozen waffles or canned soup for three days because you just did not have the energy or the desire to cook a real meal?  That is what depression is like, too.

The numbness, however, is hard to explain to anyone who has not experienced it firsthand.  If you’ve ever had someone or something upset you so much that you no longer cared, magnify that lack of concern tenfold.  It is similar to that catatonic shock following an accident or trauma.  You feel nothing, lost, blank, numb.  Eventually, you mentally shut down.  You are immobile, held hostage, trapped in your own mind.  You have no interest or motivation to do anything.  You see no point in even trying.

I wish there were more relatable examples I could give but it is impossible to rationalize the irrational.  There are some examples that are somewhat similar in one way or another, but even those don’t quite equate.  The best I can do is to illustrate the directions depression can go and to quantify how bad it can get.

When trying to explain depression, the best someone who is struggling can do is to explain how close we are at the given moment to either shutting down or wanting to give up.  The worst part is that the status can change in a moment’s notice on any given day.  There is no way to predict when it will veer off in either direction, let alone the severity of the bout.  You cannot even predict what will cause your condition to worsen, or whether it will even be something large or small.  Something as tragic as a great loss is just as likely to cause a period of numbness as a simple broken plate is to cause a severe downward spiral.  There are times we are honestly not even sure why we are feeling the way we do, only that the depression is there.  There is no rhyme, reason or rationality to any of it.

It is not something that a person can control in any way, either, let alone simply snap out of on their own accord.  Depression is a mental illness.  It is a medically-diagnosed condition that severely affects the ability to cope with life, negatively impacting and impairing both thoughts and behaviors.  Having a mental illness is no different than having any other type of illness.  Much like a diabetic has a pancreas that is malfunctioning, when a person has a mental illness, their brain is not working correctly.  The only difference is the organ affected.  Both conditions need medical treatment.

I understand how difficult it must be for someone who has never suffered from depression themselves to understand. Depression seems irrational because it is.  It doesn’t make sense, even to those of us struggling with it every day.  We find ourselves on a roller coaster ride that is speeding out of control, flying up and down every which way, with no way to stop or slow down.  Nobody asks for a mental illness.  Depression is not something anyone has done to themselves or is causing because they are not trying hard enough.  We don’t understand how we even ended up on this ride, let alone how to get off.  How can we adequately explain something we don’t even understand ourselves?

The confusion surrounding depression is also in part due to the stigma attached to mental illness in general.  For years, anyone with a mental illness was labeled as lazy, crazy, dangerous or a joke.  Either way, they were not taken seriously.  Mental illness was a dirty word that wasn’t discussed openly.  People fear or mock what they don’t understand.  The lack of education about medical conditions like depression led to wide-spread ignorance and misinformation.  Unfortunately, once that cat is out of the bag, the damage is done and it will take much longer to properly educate people about mental illness than it took to originally spread the falsehoods and misconceptions.

I understand fully that depression makes no sense to someone who has never experienced it themselves.  It honestly makes no sense to us, either.  But please know that depression is much more than just merely feeling sad from time to time.  With depression, you sometimes feel everything so strongly that it is completely overwhelming, the emotions feel agonizingly painful and never-ending, and the world feels utterly hopeless.  Other times, someone with depression is completely numb, feeling absolutely nothing at all.  Either way, everything feels much harder, more intense.  Depression is exhausting, both physically and mentally.  Perhaps worst of all, you feel helpless to do anything, like you have no control over your own mind.  And depression is not linear.  It goes up and down, every which way, changing direction and intensity on the drop of a dime.

I wish I could provide a chart that was more relatable for those who have never experienced depression, but, as I have stated before, there really is no way to rationalize the irrational.  The best I can do is to lay out what depression is like in a very simplified form and hope for your empathy, compassion, understanding and patience.

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Republished on The Mighty on 2/18/19.

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Republished on Yahoo: Lifestyle on 2/18/19.

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Republished on MamaMia on 2/23/19.

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I Have Depression.. But I am Happy..

I have struggled with depression my entire life, in part due to a genetic mutation passed down to me from my parents that affects the way my body metabolizes specific chemicals my brain needs to moderate my moods.  I regularly go through horrendous downward spirals where I feel completely broken and worthless, where life feels utterly hopeless.  I struggle with long periods of numbness where I have difficulty functioning or even finding the motivation to get out of bed.  On bad days, I will cry until my face is sore and my voice is hoarse, and it is unlikely I will be able to accomplish much more than basic self-care.  I am battling an illness that warps my very perceptions of life and continuously exhausts and pains me both physically and mentally.

But I am happy.

I have an amazing fiance who is very supportive of me and my diagnosis.  I have healthy, kind, smart and all-around wonderful children who have grown into incredible adults.  My fiance’s children are both amazing, as well. Together we have all formed a beautiful, blended family that I love with all my heart and am proud to call my own.  I have a team of doctors who actually listen to me and a treatment plan that is slowly but surely helping improve my quality of life.  And I have a blossoming writing career that has given me a true sense of purpose and an ability to help others in need.  I have many wonderful blessings in my life to be grateful for, many reasons to be happy.

Yet I have been diagnosed with depression.

That is because a mental illness like depression has nothing to do with happiness.  Depression is not caused by being in the wrong frame of mind or just not trying hard enough to be happy.  Having a depression diagnosis has nothing to do with feeling sad, a little blue or under the weather.  People with depression aren’t being Negative Nancys or Debbie Downers who just need to learn to lighten up and look on the bright side.  My diagnosis wouldn’t just disappear if I just tried to smile a little harder or maintained a more positive outlook on life.  My depression has nothing to do with whether or not I am happy.

I have trained myself to find reasons to smile everyday.  I am usually the first to look for something positive in even the roughest of situations.  No matter how hard my own day might feel, I always try to show compassion and kindness to others.  If nothing else, I am grateful each day I wake up and thankful of all the loving and supportive people in my life and share that sentiment regularly.  I am hopeful for the possibilities the future may have in store for me, as well.  Some of my friends lovingly joke that I am the happiest, most positive little depressed person they know.

Yet I continue to struggle with my depression diagnosis.

My brain does not care whether or not I am happy or grateful, whether I am hopeful, compassionate or kind.  My mental illness is caused by my brain not working properly, much like a diabetic’s pancreas malfunctioning causes their condition.  I have no more control over having a mental illness than someone else having diabetes, heart disease or another medical condition they may have been passed genetically.  Yes, events in my life may have further exasperated my mental illness, much like having excessive sugar might worsen a person’s diabetes or having foods high in cholesterol might affect the severity of heart disease, but my condition preceded any of the traumas and abuses I have endured over the years.  I have even sought treatment to help resolve those issues to the best of my ability, yet my depression has remained.

Because depression is an illness, a medical diagnosis with both mental and physical causations.

It is not all in my head.

It is not a state of mind or an emotion.

Depression isn’t about being sad.

The cure for depression is not happiness.

Like any other illness, depression needs ongoing medical treatment.  Doctors need to not only diagnose the condition, but also to isolate and treat both the mental and physical reasons for the illness, as well. Though doctors often utilize psychological treatments like therapy, meditation and mindfulness, they usually also include psychiatric methods and medications to help treat the physical causation.  That is because doctors recognize mental illnesses such as depression as a verifiable disability that deserves a comprehensive, multi-pronged treatment.

In cases like mine where my depression has a genetic causation, my diagnosis is permanent.  I was born with it much like some children are born diabetic.  You would not blame a child for being born with a pancreas that was incapable of functioning properly so please don’t blame me for the fact that I was born with organs that malfunctioned, as well.  The only difference in my case are the organs affected.  No matter how happy I am or how positive my outlook is on life, my liver will never be able to metabolize the substances my brain needs in order to function properly.  I will have this medical diagnosis and need ongoing treatment until the day I die.

If I confide in you that I am struggling with depression, please don’t try to encourage me to try to be happier and more positive, or point out all the blessings I have in my life.  I am happy and grateful already.  You do not need to remind me to be hopeful for the future because I already am.  Please don’t blame me for my diagnosis either, insinuating that I wouldn’t be ill if I just tried a little harder.  I did not ask for this diagnosis, nor did I cause it.  What I need from you is the same compassion, understanding and support you would give anyone else with any other medical diagnosis.

Because, though I am already happy, knowing you were doing your best to be supportive and treat me with the same respect you would someone struggling with other illnesses would make me even happier.

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Republished on the Mighty on 4/4/19.

What it is Like When PTSD Gives You Flashbacks of Abuse

I had a flashback today.  They don’t happen very often, but when they do, they shake me to the core.

It started with an argument at home.  In a moment of anger and frustration as he stormed out of the room, he shoved a floor fan on the other side of the bed, knocking it over.  He hadn’t meant to scare or startle me.  In that brief moment of frustration, he had lashed out without thinking, not even realizing the effect it might have on me.

It was an instant trigger for me.

I know he has never hit me or laid his hands on me in any way and that he would never do such a thing.  I know he isn’t even normally explosive like that.  I know he’d never hurt me nor would he ever intentionally do anything to scare or trigger me. Yet, in that moment, everything I knew flew right out the window.

I was suddenly that 8 year old girl again, that girl that knew when things went flying it was only a matter of moments until the pain began.  I was that little girl again, scrambling off the bed and cowering in the corner of the room in a tight ball, wishing I could shrink down to nothing and fade away.  I was that girl again, panicked because my arms were too tiny to shield myself, that I didn’t have enough arms to block the whirlwind of hits and kicks I knew was inevitably coming.

I don’t know if my flashbacks are the same as other people’s because I wouldn’t dream to even ask anyone else with PTSD how their attacks play out.  I do know, though, that my mind works differently than many people’s.  You see, among other issues, I have a condition called aphantasia.  In simplest terms, I cannot visualize.  When most people are told to imagine an apple, they can create an image of an apple in their mind.  Though I know what an apple is and can list all types of factual things about an apple, I cannot form an image of one in my mind.  The same goes with memories.  I can list all types of facts about an occasion but I cannot create an image of it from memory.

Because of that fact, my flashbacks do not have images from my past.  My body, however, remembers other things.  I’ve always considered it a type of muscle memory of sorts, triggered by my PTSD.  My mind has retained how those blows felt raining down again and again so when I am pulled back into my past for a flashback, it is those sensations and memories and not visualizations that I experience again.

As I lay curled up in a ball in the corner, I swear I could feel that barrage of swings and kicks as if they were happening right that moment.  My ribs ached from blows delivered back when I was a child.  I struggled to catch my breath as the wind I breathed decades ago felt knocked out of me again.  I felt I needed to protect myself, shield my head and my body, bracing myself for damage long healed.  I could feel bruises blossoming on my skin as a far off voice that felt disconnected and not my own pleaded to not be hurt, cried for it to stop, begged to be left alone. I was trapped in that moment, reliving the abuse of my childhood.

I was vaguely aware of his presence and of disjointed words being said that seemed to disperse before they ever reached my ears.  Though some small part of me recognized his presence, he felt no more real at that moment than I did.  The only thing that felt real was that scared little child who desperately wanted to protect herself from any more hurt.

It felt very akin in a way to the sunken place described in that movie Get Out, where a part of myself was watching and witnessing from afar, though disconnected and unable to do a thing.  I felt trapped in the past, cemented into a nightmare from my childhood, lost within my own head.

A small fragment of my consciousness wanted to scream that this isn’t real, to force myself awake and claw my way back to reality.  But it felt so real.  It was like I was trapped drowning in a memory, unable to catch my own breath.

After what felt like an eternity, I was slowly able to wrestle my way back to myself.  I sat there in the corner, shaking and sobbing, rubbing and squeezing my arms and legs, trying to convince myself that I was myself again, back in the present.  I kept reminding myself it was over, I was safe, that none of that had really just happened.  But it felt so real.  My ribs still ached as if blows had recently landed and my limbs all still stung as if they were bruised.

I sat on the floor, shaking and crying for almost an hour, searching deep within for the strength to even pull myself up off the floor and onto the bed.  I was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted from my journey back in time.  I felt like I was freezing.  My teeth chattered whenever I tried to close my mouth, though it was not from the cold.  I was shaken to the core by the whole experience.

I eventually eased myself back up onto the bed and pulled the covers protectively around myself though they did nothing to stop the chill that went down to my bones or to quiet the sobs that still wracked my body.  He held me, doing his best to comfort and soothe me, apologizing again and again for ever even getting upset, pleading for me to talk to him, to let him know I was okay.  It was the first flashback episode of mine that he had witnessed and it scared and shook him to the core as much as it had me.

I laid here in bed, thinking about how badly I needed to share this experience, to try and explain what it was like while it was still fresh in my mind.  I wanted to explain the fear and the terror before the inevitable numbness set in and I shut down in order to recover and recuperate.  I know I didn’t truly go back in time, but I felt just like that little girl again, experiencing one of the many beatings I had endured all over again as if it was happening right in that moment.

I had a PTSD flashback today.

It may have been all in my mind, but it felt devastatingly real to me.

mamamia

Republished on MamaMia on 4/14/18.

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Allowing Love and Happiness Into My Life

Recently, in one of the online support groups I am in, I stumbled onto someone who was experiencing something very similar to some of the struggles I have gone through.  As we began to talk in earnest about our lives, it felt more and more like I was speaking with my former self, the person I was not so long ago before I began my journey for mental wellness.

They talked about being unlovable.  Not FEELING unlovable. BEING unlovable.  It resonated with me because I have spent the majority of my life feeling the exact same way.  As I began responding to her, I found myself writing to my former self, as well, and to everyone else struggling with those feelings of worthlessness associated with mental illness.  I said:

… Please don’t believe even for one moment that you are unlovable.. trust me, I have been there.. lived with that feeling for years. Growing up, my mother (who suffered from often untreated, always undertreated mental illness herself and had a lot of abuse in her own life she never fully processed or healed from) was extremely abusive, particularly toward me..

The first time I remember her telling me she hated me and wished I was never born I was eight.. She used to tell me often that I was “inherently unlovable”.. that there were some people that, through no fault of their own, just did not possess anything truly good or lovable within them.. She used to tell me to never let anyone see or know the real me or they would see the truth of it themselves and leave.. I grew up thoroughly convinced I was broken, faulty, completely unlovable on a genetic level..

When you feel that way inside, when you convince yourself that it is an undeniable truth about yourself, you put up walls that prevent anyone else from ever being able to get in and love you..

I was the queen of walls.. I shut everyone out.. Even people who believed they were close to me barely even made it into the courtyard outside.. I was always there for others because I’ve never wanted anyone else to experience even a small portion of the pain I had been through in my own life.. but deep inside, I felt unlovable.. I felt unworthy of love.. so I never allowed myself to experience it..

It took far too many years for me to come to terms with my childhood and the abuse I endured.. far too many years for me to be able to even say I liked anything about myself let alone even consider the possibility of loving anything about myself or to accept that I needed to treat myself with the same kindness and compassion that I gave others..

Please know this though: You are NOT broken. You ARE worthy of love. And you MUST open yourself up to the possibility of accepting and loving yourself first and foremost because as long as you treat yourself as unlovable, you will never allow anyone else to fully love you, either.

I know the concept of loving yourself sounds improbable.. impossible.. baby steps.. Learn to acknowledge that there are things about yourself that you don’t hate.. things about yourself that aren’t all that bad.. Whenever you find yourself beating yourself up or being extremely harsh with yourself, stop and question whether you would ever say those words to anyone else.. Would you ever treat anyone else that way? if you wouldn’t be that hard and unforgiving to someone else, don’t do it to yourself.

Allow the possibility of happiness into your life. We are struggling with mental illness – a physical and mental disability that revolves around our brains not working properly – THAT DOES NOT DEFINE US. IT IS JUST OUR DIAGNOSIS. Having depression and anxiety does not mean we are forbidden from being happy.

We are going to have those blah days where we feel numb and struggle to do anything at all. We’re going to have those devastatingly negative days where our world spirals downward out of control and we feel the world will never be right again – they are all symptoms of our illness. But they are not reality.

We need to train ourselves to look for positives every single day, seek them out, embrace them. They don’t have to be big positives. Just little things to make us smile and remind us the world isn’t a hopeless, terrible, soul-sucking place where nothing good exists.. the feel of a snowflake melting on your nose.. cute fluffy little kittens.. the smell of freshly baked cookies.. We need to allow ourselves to smile.. allow ourselves to enjoy the little things in life.. the happy things..

Because that is a part of loving ourselves.. it makes it easier to consider allowing ourselves to have bigger things, better things.. to allow happiness and love into our lives.. We need to change our mindset.. refuse to let our illness dictate our lives.. I’m determined to be the happiest person with depression anyone ever meets because I refuse to let it control and dictate my life any longer.. It is an illness. It is not me. It is not you, either.

Reading over all I had written, I realized just how far I have come.  It wasn’t very long ago that I was in her shoes,  convinced that I was completely and inherently unlovable and broken beyond repair.  It wasn’t all that long ago that I was held hostage by my mental illness, convinced that my life was hopeless, unable to see any identity for myself beyond my illness.

I know now that life doesn’t have to be that way.  I cannot change my diagnosis or the symptoms that present themselves.  But I can refuse to let it control me or steal away any more of my life.  I AM going to struggle but I am also going to fight it every step of the way.  I not only deserve love and happiness in my life but I truly want it, as well.  I have taken one of the biggest steps towards truly loving myself: Giving myself permission to be happy.

To the Last Person Who Abused Me..

I have suffered many types of abuse at the hands of many people in my lifetime.  I have been raped, beaten, mentally and emotionally battered.  I have been lied to, cheated on, had my heart torn in two.

There is no doubt in my mind that the abuse I have endured has a direct correlation to my struggles with mental illness.  Over the years, my depression has convinced me that I was worthless and broken, that nobody will ever truly love me, that I will never be good enough.  When someone walks through life weighed down by so much negativity, any attention, any affection, feels like a miracle.  I found myself settling for less than I deserved just to have someone there.

When I was a child, I suffered through abuse because I was too little, too afraid, felt too weak to do anything or change anything.  As an adult, I’ve accepted so much abuse at the hands of people who swore they loved me, minimalizing it with such ridiculous justifications as “it isn’t that bad – it could be worse”, “it’s not like he hit me – I would never put up with that!” or “he didn’t really mean it – he’s just upset or having a bad day”.

The fact is, abuse is abuse.  And all abuse is wrong.  It doesn’t matter if they have laid their hands on me yet or not.  And abuse tends to escalate.  It starts out small.  The more someone forgives, the more they are condoning.  If an abuser believes they can hurt someone without consequence, they will not stop.  I can tell you from experience that, over time, it only gets worse.

You said to me “I hate that you make me hurt you”.  You pulled me in repeatedly, swearing you loved me and wanted to be with me, only to hurt me, shove me away and discard me again and again.  You accused me of pushing you into hurting me by loving you back, by being confused by your actions, by not understanding what was going on whenever you threw me away.

Since you walked out of my life, I’ve seen this one saying appear again and again:

“Normal people don’t go around trying to destroy other people.”

There is so much truth in that statement.  Normal people don’t.  When someone intentionally tries to hurt someone else for no other reason than that they can, they are being abusive, whether or not they lay their hands on anyone else.  Lashing out and trying to destroy a person, whether mentally, emotionally or physically, is abuse.

It is also abusive to blame the victim for the damage you inflict.  Nobody asks to be hurt or have their heart broken.  Nobody asks to be manipulated or mistreated.  When you abuse someone else, you and you alone are to blame for your actions.

I write to the “last” person to abuse me because I have drawn my line in the sand. No more.  No more abuse, no more lies, no more pain.

For years, I tolerated abuse because I didn’t believe I deserved any better.  I accepted abuse because I thought any love, even a warped and unhealthy love, was better than nothing at all.

Things have changed. I have changed.  I know now that my depression has been lying to me all these years.  I have always believed that nobody deserves to be abused but somehow never added myself to the collective.  I have since learned that I have just as much right to be treated well as everyone else.

I will no longer let anyone talk down to me or demean me.  I will never again tolerate someone lying to me or cheating on me.  I will no longer let anyone manipulate me with threats to withhold their affection if I do not comply with their demands.  Most importantly, I will not take the blame for anyone else’s cruelty nor will I apologize ever again when I have done nothing wrong.

I have finally found someone who treats me well.  He doesn’t mistreat or manipulate me.  He is considerate with my feelings and gentle with my heart.  Now that I have experienced what it is like to be loved and accepted unconditionally, to be treated with kindness and respect, I will never again settle for anything less.

I may struggle with my self-worth from time to time because of my depression.  However, I will never again mistake attention for affection or accept abuse in lieu of love.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 2/28/18.

Logged In: Video Games & Mental Illness

Video games have become a large part of society today. While once considered a past-time for nerds, in recent years they have become mainstream, incorporating popular culture, movies, tv shows and sports in a way that appeals to the masses. From computers to consoles to games and apps on phones and tablets, video games are now seen as a widely accepted way for people to relax, unwind and pass the time.

Many people who struggle with mental illness have come to fully embrace the world of video games.  Though gaming is seen as an acceptable past-time for others, unfortunately the stigma surrounding mental illness makes people assume that anyone struggling with a diagnosis such as depression is just being lazy when they play video games.  The fact that someone is able to play, or even excel, at a game is seen as some sort of undeniable proof that a person is just “faking” or “exaggerating” their illness and that they would be fully capable of working and functioning to their full potential if they just “applied themselves”.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

Playing video games as a tool for coping does not make a person lazy.  Excelling at a game does not automatically mean a person would be able to excel at all other aspects of their lives equally.  Playing a game does not negate or minimize a diagnosis.  Gaming, however, can make some of the symptoms of mental illness more bearable and can be a healthy addition to our lives.

Video games can be very beneficial to someone struggling with mental illness.  The focus needed to complete tasks in games can provide a much-needed distraction from aggressively looping negative thoughts.  The repetition of many games can be soothing, helping to lower and lessen anxiety.  When the world feels completely overwhelming and unbearable, video games can give a temporary escape so that someone on the verge of a meltdown or anxiety attack can catch their breath.

Though many are quick to counter with the fact that both meditation and exercise can do the same thing, they often don’t understand how the mentally ill mind works.  I personally have taken classes for meditation, yoga and tai chi.  While they are beneficial in their own way during times when I am already relatively calm, none have managed to silence the inner turmoil when my brain is already caught in the throes of an anxiety attack. While focused breathing might calm me long enough to stave off the panic attack for the moment, I often need to find some seemingly mindless task to distract my mind until the dust fully settles.  When my mind is in an over-active loop, I usually need some type of busy work to pull my attention away before I can even begin to consider calming techniques.  Video games provide those menial tasks to help distract my brain long enough to re-center myself.

Though exercise might be seen as a healthier alternative, as well, most do not consider the fact that, for many struggling with mental illness, it is hard some days to even pull ourselves out of bed.  There are days we lay there for hours having to pee, not out of laziness but because, mentally and emotionally, the world feels so overwhelming, so unbearable, that we cannot bring ourselves to face it.  Though simple exercises like going for a walk might seem like an ideal low-impact workout to others, when we are struggling with our illness, we tend to isolate, terrified of others seeing how much of a mess we truly are.  It is not that we don’t want to get out there, exercise and be healthier.  Some days, it takes everything we have to just go through the basic motions of life.  Video games give us a way to virtually “get out there” on our terms and at our own pace even when we do not feel capable of physically facing the world.

Video games also give us a temporary escape from a world in which we feel broken.  Instead of being that “crazy, unbalanced person” who “is lazy” and “can’t seem to pull their life together”, we can for a few moments in time be something more: a brave knight, a fierce jedi, a wise wizard, a pro athlete or an ingenious arch-villain.  We can solve puzzles, reach goals, and build things, all on our terms at our own pace.  We can achieve a sense of accomplishment at something, which is greatly needed at times when we feel we mess up everything we touch.

Many people struggling with mental illness feel like outcasts.  Much like any other social platform, multiplayer games also give those who feel isolated and alone a way to socialize with other people with similar interests without the stress and anxiety of face-to-face interactions.  Over the years and a variety of video games, I have chatted with many wonderful people and forged numerous lasting friendships.  One thing I have discovered over many late night discussions with others is that there are many other people struggling with mental illness who are using gaming, as well, as a coping mechanism.  None of us are alone when we log in.  More people understand our struggles than many realize.  We are a growing group within the gaming community.

There are people who ask why we can’t apply the same effort and energy to other aspects of our lives as we do to gaming.  The answer is absurdly simple. Gaming does not run on a set schedule.  Mental illness makes it difficult to function on a schedule because we are at the mercy of the chemicals in our brain.  We do not know if from one day to the next, one hour to the next, we will crash, spiraling down uncontrollably.  There is no way to predict our highs and lows.  Most people cannot set their own work or school schedule, calling in to say “today’s looking like a good day – I’m going to work for ten hours straight” one day and then call in unable to function at all for the next three days.  Most jobs expect a consistent level of productivity and won’t accept a person showing up, chatting and puttering around for a few hours because they don’t want to be alone.  Most people cannot pop into work for a couple hours on a random Thursday night at 2 am because their anxiety won’t allow them to sleep or they keep having nightmares and need a distraction.  Video games give us a virtual universe of vastly different worlds we can visit any hour of the day or night as needed without expectations beyond those we set for ourselves.

Video games have become a safe haven for those struggling with mental illness.  Gaming is an outlet we can embrace any time, day or night.  When our minds are caught in a negative loop or our anxiety is through the roof, we can distract ourselves from the safety of our own home.  We can be anyone we want to be and achieve some sense of accomplishment, even when we feel otherwise broken.  We can socialize and surround ourselves with others so we do not feel completely isolated and alone in the world, but on our own terms.  We can build friendships and be a part of a community without the pressures of face-to-face interactions during times we do not feel capable of facing the world in person.  Perhaps most importantly, we can log in and out at our own discretion.  If we begin to feel overwhelmed at any time, we can leave the game or play something else.  In a world that often feels like it is spinning wildly out of control, it gives us a sense of control.

I personally have used gaming for years as a coping mechanism and an outlet to work through overwhelming feelings such as depression, anxiety and anger.  While video games have many benefits for those struggling with mental illness, they should never be used as a constant and continual escape.  There needs to be balance and we must stay grounded in reality.  We should never become so caught up in our gaming worlds that our actual lives suffer.  Like any other illness, we need treatment to manage our symptoms and help us function to the best of our ability.  We can, however, embrace video games as another tool in our arsenal to help us get through those overwhelming rough patches and to further enrich our lives.  It’s a brave new world out there where we can log in and be whoever we want to be.  Gaming has become a socially acceptable past-time these days and we have just as much right to enjoy and embrace it as everyone else. Many of us are already logged in and playing.

selfgrowth

Republished on SelfGrowth.com on 10/17/17.

Life Happens..

They say life happens, whether it happens while we’re making other plans or it happens so we must deal with it or one of many other overused cliches meant to help usher us into reality.  I’m not quite sure who “they” are but they definitely hit the nail on the head with this one.  Life happens without a doubt.

My writing has been put on a back burner for a couple months now.  Both my ongoing blogs and the books I have in the works have been delayed.  It is not that I have lost interest or my passion or that I have run out of topics to write about.  Far from it. My mental health and my journey towards mental wellness are still very much a priority and are nothing I would ever give up.  Life just happened.

On a high note – after almost a year battling my insurance company over covering my Deplin, I finally won my last external appeal.  CDPHP has yet to start paying for it, but it has been deemed medically necessary by outside sources with the ability to overrule their decision.  It is a huge victory and more than worthy of a large celebratory post, but again, life happened.

On a very low and tragic note, I have hit some painfully rough waters with the man I love.  There is no need for anyone to prepare themselves for the drama or heartache of a love grown sour for we are still very much together.  Our relationship is truly one of the best things in my life right now.  It was a different sort of heartache.

His father had been ill.  Terminally ill.  We understood he did not have much more time with us, but we had expected much more than what we had been given.  It went so quickly from an untimely fall to a trip to the emergency room to the intensive care unit to hospice.  No one was ready.  I know that no one is ever truly ready for such a loss but it all happened so quickly.  Too quickly.

I’ve spent the last year deconstructing and reconstructing myself piece by piece.  I’m by no means back together quite yet.  I am a work in progress in every way.  But everything going on with myself was cast aside on the back burner so that I could be there for the man I love.  There wasn’t even a question in my mind.  I had to be there.

The man I love is a good man.  Beyond good, in my opinion, but I’m far from impartial. He has been through a lot in his life – we are kindred spirits in that sense.  He has such a warm, loving and compassionate heart.  And life had torn it clear in two.  Nothing, not my writing nor even my own well-being, was as important to me as being there however I could for him.

This was his Dad.  He had already lost his mother a few years ago and was still recovering from that.  Losing both parents leaves a hole, an emptiness that nothing else can ever truly fill.  Life had rendered him an orphan.  I knew that feeling all too well and I could not leave him to face it alone.

Hospice itself was beyond agonizing.  Nothing in life can prepare you for watching someone who was once larger than life slowly fade away.  I’ve been there myself, as well. Hospice is where my father spent his final days as his cancer ate him alive.  Though every moment of the days in hospice with his father held me in a death grip, threatening to pull me back into the past with my father, there was nowhere else I could be but at his side while he spent his final days with his own.

Next came going through the motions of the final preparations and the flurry of condolences that come with a great loss.  Though the words are heartfelt and well-meaning, they cannot even begin to penetrate the numbness that comes with the realization that someone who has always been there is truly gone.  I understood completely how he felt and where he was mentally and emotionally because I have been there myself.  It is a feeling you never forget.

As they often say – “When it rains, it pours”.  Life was not satisfied with dealing that one large heart-wrenching blow.  The last couple months provided a steady barrage of ill-timed hardships to rival even the most depressing country or blues song.  His truck – the last vehicle his mother had driven – needed work to pass inspection and stay on the road. His boat – left to him by his father as a reminder of better days and a multitude of fishing trips together – wouldn’t start and needed repairs.  His cat – given to him by his parents to help him through rough times in his past – was injured and needed to go to the vet.  It was as if every aspect of his life that was tied to his parents was collapsing and crumbling under the weight of the tragedy of his father.

Add to the mix us scrambling to find a place together.  Neither of us could continue to stay where we have each been nor did we honestly want to live separately any longer. One of the only truths we have embraced during these very uncertain times is that we not only wanted but that we NEEDED to be together.  In the short time we’ve been a couple, we’ve become a rock for each other, that light we each cling to when trying to find our way out of the darkness. We understand each other in ways no one else ever has and find a comfort in one another that has been lacking from our lives.  We belong together.

We eventually found a place in his old stomping ground out in the country, literally next door to where he had lived a few years prior.  It is a small place and I’m honestly not sure how we will fit everything into it, but we will manage.  It is familiar territory for him and we are together.  It is home.

Since moving in, we honestly have not been as productive as we probably should have striven to be, but we both needed some downtime to catch our breath, recuperate and heal.  Life has been overwhelming and we both honestly needed a break.  Some avenues of our life have suffered a bit but we have been doing our best to keep going, take care of ourselves and each other.

Life happens.  I’m numb to it at this point.  I’m honestly not sure how I have managed to not crumble into a million tiny pieces by now but somehow I’m still going.  I have to keep going because he needs me there.  Like me, he is an orphan now.  I have to keep going because I need to take care of myself, as well.  We will be okay, though.  We HAVE to be okay because in each other we have finally found what we’ve both been missing in our lives.  We are both seriously overdue for our happily ever after.

We are going to get through this, get past it.  We are going to find some way to heal and to keep going.  We are going to be okay.  We will survive and we will be okay.

They say to fake it until you make it, to keep telling yourself things until you believe it and it becomes truth.  Again, I don’t know who “they” are, but they’ve been right about everything else so I’m hoping this pans out as well.  I shall embrace my hopes for future wellness as my mantra, repeating them in the hope that in time they become reality. Because life has definitely happened and we need more than anything to be okay again.

Finding Love Within My Mentally Ill Heart

I’ve struggled with mental illness my entire life. Though I hoped to one day find love and happiness, I always believed I was broken and damaged beyond repair and questioned who could possibly want or love what I have to offer. A friend once told me that two mentally unhealthy people could not have a healthy relationship. I took that to heart, believing love might indeed be beyond my reach. That is, until a twist of fate brought someone from my childhood back into my life.

My childhood was a jumbled mess of abuse, trauma, dysfunction and mental illness. Even as a child, I had struggled and learned early on to wear a smiling mask, reassuring everyone around me that I had everything together and was okay. I went through the motions, striving to be the person everyone else expected me to be. The real me beneath it all felt unseen and unheard, irrelevant and invisible.

Growing up, he was one of my older brother’s friends, a few years older than me. Though that fact rendered us off limits to each other, he was still always very kind, friendly, gentle and sweet to me. Where everyone else only saw the mask I wore, that bubbly, smiling cheerleader with straight As and not a care in the world, he always talked to me and treated me as if I was more than that. He saw the real me even when I felt invisible.

I was thoroughly smitten by him all those years ago. In my head, he became the embodiment of all that I adored. He was sweet, smart and funny with just the perfect amount of cheese. He had this off the beaten path nerdy side and was never afraid to walk to the beat of his own drum. He was the epitome of the boy next door archetype and would influence every other man I would ever find myself drawn to or interested in. Whether or not he realized it, I saw him, too, and he quickly became my first puppy love crush.

As often is the case, life happens. My world collapsed beneath me, spiraled out of control and I found myself living another life, a world away from the world I grew up in and everyone attached to it. My childhood was firmly behind me. I spent many years running from that time, hoping to put as much distance as possible between myself and the demons of my past.

I learned the hard way that you cannot outrun your past. It is attached to your heels like your shadow, always connected, always behind you hanging on. Mental illness and trauma compounded over time. It became harder and harder to function. That beautiful, smiling mask I had worn for years started to crack. I began to fall apart piece by piece.
In an effort to pull myself back together and bring myself to a healthier place, I started to talk and write about all I had been through, hoping to heal and move beyond it. Reopening old wounds also reopened old doors. I found myself back in contact with people from my childhood that I hadn’t spoken to in over twenty five years.

He arrived within the tidal wave of my past that washed over me, knocking me off my feet. The remnants of old, long dormant feelings flowed in, as well. It was not the strong, passionate flood of a love fully formed but rather that innocent, sugary sweet trickle from a young heart that still believed in fairy tales and happily ever afters. I had been caught for so long in a fierce storm of very deep, very serious, adult issues and problems. Though I was thoroughly unprepared for his re-entrance into my life, it was oddly refreshing.

We arranged to meet, to just sit down and catch up. Sparks flew immediately. For hours, we talked and talked. There was this incredible comfort I was unaccustomed to feeling and an instant trust that threw me off-guard. Though we had lived our lives seemingly a world apart, we had been unknowingly been walking down the same path. Our journeys had left us both riddled with scars and pain. Yet somehow, we had both found ourselves at the same destination, wanting to live a healthier, happier, more positive life above and beyond the damage caused by our past.

As we talked, it became increasingly clear how well he understood everything I was saying. Topics that I normally hesitated to discuss or that I often minimized for the comfort of others, flowed freely without restraint. All the scars I normally hid for fear of making others uncomfortable or scaring them came into full view. I had no fear or shame of sharing myself with him because he always truly understood where I was coming from. He could see beneath my scars to the person I was beneath. Once again, he truly saw me.

And once again, I saw him. Life had given him some deep scars as well. Like me, he was still raw and hurting in some ways. But like me, he had this incredible drive and desire to no longer let his past define or control him. Beneath all the scars, though, he was still very much the boy I remembered from years ago. He still had that same sweet, warm heart, that same adorably cheesy sense of humor, that same lovable nerdy side. He was still very much himself.

Everything has steamrolled from there. It seems impossible that a relationship could have grown and blossomed so quickly until you stop to consider that we have spent many whole days, whole nights, whole weekends together. Not a day has passed since we reconnected that we have not talked throughout the day from good mornings to good nights. Even on the busiest days, we find time for each other. We have not wasted a single moment making up for lost time. And no matter how much time we spend, we still hate to part ways and miss each other minutes after we’ve parted.

That is not to say that our relationship is perfect. We have had a few misunderstandings along the way as our old baggage crept in. Even those moments feel drastically different from anything I have ever experienced before. We know the pain we’ve each been through and don’t want to inflict anymore on each other so we are both conscious and cautious of our words. We take the time to talk things out instead of letting our insecurities, fears or frustrations control our emotions. I’ve never before experienced such peaceful or rational resolutions, never had anyone so fully consider my feelings even during moments of conflict. We’ve both lived through emotional war zones and refuse to allow our relationship to become another casualty.

For the first time in my life, I have someone there who truly saw me, who fully understood me, who accepted me wholly without judgment. For the first time, I could fully be myself, not hide my scars or minimize my pain for the comfort of anyone else. I could openly discuss my insecurities. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel I had to be ashamed of the person I truly was underneath.

We spend a lot of time talking and are brutally honest with each other not only about our feelings in the moment but also the baggage that our feelings stem from. We have quickly become a safe place for each other, where we can share all our thoughts and emotions, the good, the bad and the ugly. We understand each other because we have both been there. There is no discomfort, no shame, no second-guessing whether we can speak our mind, no walking on eggshells wondering how our words will be taken. We can both finally just be ourselves.

I find myself thinking back to the friend that told me that two mentally unhealthy people could not have a healthy relationship. I am beginning to think that perhaps the only way I could have a healthy relationship is to be with someone who has been down the same unhealthy path I have traveled. I needed someone who could truly understand my pain and who could empathize without judgment. Only someone who understood what it is like to be riddled with scars themselves would be able to see past my scars to the person I truly am inside.

I have honestly never felt more accepted, more heard, more adored for the person that I am. I feel safe. He feels like the home I always wanted for myself, the sanctuary I always hoped to find. Like me, he is a survivor. Like me, he wants more from his life. He refuses to let his past or his scars define him. We are two peas in a pod, two puzzle pieces that fit together, two souls that just work and make sense.

I love how he makes me feel. I love him. We know it may seem irrationally fast, bordering on insane to anyone outside looking in but it’s the first thing in a long time that makes sense to either of us. We’re already looking toward the future and making plans. Neither one of us was looking for or expecting this but we’re not going to question it, either. We are what has been missing from each other’s lives for all these years – someone who truly sees us, accepts us without judgment for who we are and loves us completely, scars, baggage and all.

Love and acceptance are much needed in life. You can’t let go of that hope for love and happiness. It is out there. It can happen. Sometimes it appears in the most unlikely of places but it does exist. You just have to keep your heart open to the possibility. No one is beyond hope, no one is too broken to find or deserve love. Sometimes it takes two people who have each been thoroughly broken before in order to create and build something beautiful and whole.

The Harsh Reality of Mental Illness: The Darkness that Exists in the Light

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.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 7/31/17.