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.

depressionchart

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.

depressiongraph

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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The Spiraling Cycle of Depression & Loneliness

Much like the classic question of whether the chicken or the egg came first, it is equally as hard to determine whether depression or loneliness comes first.

Does depression come first, causing a person to isolate, contributing to their own increased loneliness?

Or was the loneliness there first, causing worsening depression because you feel alone, like you have nobody there who cares, nobody who understands?

Often the two go hand in hand, causing a vicious cycle that spirals down, magnifying the impact of both.

In the beginning of the downward spiral, you don’t want to bother or inconvenience anyone with your problems.  The depression is there, but it feels like more of a trivial nuisance in your life than a bonafide issue.  You minimize your struggles because you don’t want to appear weak or helpless.  Your depression fools you into believing that you’re doing others a favor by not bothering them, that they have other, more important things to worry about than you.  You feel like you should be able to handle everything on your own so you begin to pull away, to isolate, and to justify those actions because you don’t want to trouble anyone else.

You feel disconnected and lonely, like you’re completely on your own.

And, over time, your depression continues to worsen, unchecked.

You close doors, put up walls and stop communicating.  It is not long until you’ve distanced yourself for so long that you feel you’re no longer entitled to reach out to those you have pushed away.  You feel guilty for being a bad friend.  You rationalize that it has been so long since you’ve spoken to everyone that to contact them now, just because you’re struggling more, would be wrong.  Even the thought of reaching out to anyone else feels awkward.  You feel like you’re being unreasonably needy for even wanting or wishing someone was there.

By this point, the depression has bled into every aspect of your life.  Everything feels utterly hopeless.  You feel completely lost, isolated and alone, like no one else could possibly understand.  Your depression convinces you of the fact that you are inherently broken in some strange and unique way that nobody else could ever understand.  You are struggling to function, struggling to even pull yourself out of bed.

You have not only pushed away everyone who was close to you, but you have also started to avoid everyone and everything else, as well.  You have stopped doing many of the things that once brought you joy because you feel you don’t deserve to be happy.  You don’t want anyone else to see the mess you’ve become.  You shut yourself off from the world, telling yourself the world is a better place without you in it, mucking it up.

And you have nobody to turn to, no one to talk with, nobody to lean on or confide in.

You’re completely alone.

The farther into the depths you spiral, the worse the loneliness and the worse the depression.  It isn’t a cycle that just loops endlessly in circles.  Instead it is a downward spiral that feeds off each other, making each worse in turn, dragging you further and further into the darkness.

Ironically, at the bottom of the spiral, you feel betrayed and abandoned.  Despite the fact that you intentionally isolated yourself and pushed everyone else away, your depression lies to you, telling you that if others truly cared, they would have seen all the signs, that they would have been there all along.  Your depression deceives you into believing that they would have fought harder to be there, refused to be pushed away.  It convinces you that nobody truly cares, that you are completely alone now and could not turn to anyone else even if you wanted to do so.  Your depression projects onto them the ability to read minds and to see everything you have hidden from them all along.  In the depth of depression, the irrational seems completely rational.

I have been there myself more than once.

Every time my depression begins to worsen again and spiral downward, I find myself isolating more and more.

I pull away because I don’t want to bother anyone else with my issues.  I always feel like a massive burden to everyone in my life.  My family and friends have seen me struggling for years.  I figure they must be tired of it all, exhausted from it by now.  I tell myself they don’t deserve to be plagued by my problems any more than they already have been.  I tell myself I am sparing them from my drama, saving them from any more heartbreak from seeing my continued struggling.

I feel like a horrible friend, a horrible person for even wanting to have them there during my bad times.  I feel like they deserve better than me.

I tell myself that I am doing them a kindness by keeping them away.

I desperately yearn for someone to talk to, someone to lean on, to have someone who truly understands.

Yet I feel completely alone…

…Because I have chosen to make myself alone.

It isn’t that I’m alone.  I have an amazing fiance who loves me to death and is both caring and compassionate about my mental illness.  I have wonderful children that have grown into incredible adults who want to be there for me.  I have a loyal and understanding circle of friends that have stood by me over the years.  I have a supportive team of doctors and other professionals whose primary goal is to help me.

That is the reality.  I am not alone.

However, the reality is also that I have depression, a mental illness that often convinces me both that I am alone and that I am a nuisance to everyone else in my life.

I don’t want to be alone.

But I don’t want to trouble any of them with my struggles or be a burden, either.

It is a catch-22, spurred on by the lies that my depression tells me.

It takes a continuous, conscious effort to remind myself that I am not a burden to any of them, that they love me, care about me and truly want to be there for me and help me.  I have to remind myself regularly that I am not alone and that others do truly care.  Again and again, I find myself itching to pull away, wanting to distance myself and my problems from everyone else.  It is a constant struggle not to isolate myself for the perceived benefit of others.

I have to remind myself, as well, that I don’t have to carry everything on my shoulders alone.  Often, I have to push myself to reopen those doors, tear down those walls and let others back in.  It is admittedly very hard a lot of the time to lean on others, to bother them with my problems, to even ask for help when I need it.  Instinctively, I always feel like everyone else has enough on their own plates without adding my mess to the mix.  I always feel guilty for needing other people.  Whenever I start feeling that way, I have to remind myself that others are there because they want to be.

Deep down, I know I am not a burden.

I know I am not troubling or bothering anyone with my problems nor am I forcing anyone to be there against their will.

I know I don’t have to face my illness alone.

I know all these negative feelings are lies, though they feel completely legitimate and real to me at the time.

We feel completely and utterly alone because our depression lies to us, convincing us that loneliness is a reality when you have a mental illness.  We don’t have to be alone, though.  Don’t let your depression deceive you.  There are others that care, others that want to be there.

There are people you have pushed away who are yearning to be back in your life, people who truly care about you and your well-being.

There are also others out there who you may not even have met yet who would be willing to be there, who understand what you are going through and don’t want you to have to struggle alone.

There are doctors and therapists, as well, and support groups out there who are willing to help.

I honestly cannot tell you whether the spiral starts with depression or with loneliness, though the two often go hand in hand.  Together they form a symbiotic relationship that feasts on your mental health, starving you of your happiness and well-being.

I do know one thing, though.

You don’t have to be alone…

…So please don’t choose to be.

“..Must Be Nice..”

Whenever my ex and I used to fight, one of his favorite go to mudslings was always that “it must be nice to..”, usually followed by something like “sit home and do nothing but wallow in your own misery” or “sit on your ass feeling sorry for yourself while others actually work for a living” or a hundred other potshots that minimized my struggles with mental illness.

Sadly, it’s not an uncommon sentiment when it comes to mental illness.

“Boo hoo.  You’re sad?  Lots of people have problems. Guess what? Everyone does.  You know what everyone else does when they have problems? They get off their ass, deal with them and keep going.”

“You think you have it bad? What do you even have to be depressed about?  Plenty of people have it worse than you do.  You need to stop making excuses and get your shit together.”

“Everyone has shit they’re dealing with.  What makes your problems and your feelings so special that you should get to sit home while everyone else has to bust their ass?”

I have heard those words, and many other sentiments like them, for years.

I have struggled with mental illness, more specifically depression, anxiety and ptsd,  my entire life.  A good portion of my diagnosis is based upon a genetic mutation which has, in essence, been starving my brain for the chemicals it needs to moderate my moods.  I cannot remember a time when I didn’t struggle, didn’t suffer from severe bouts of anxiety and depression.  My mental illness does not come and go.  It is a battle every single day.

I fought for years to be semi-functional, collapsing again and again into mental breakdowns as the compounding stress of trying to keep myself together proved time and again to be too much to bear.  I became a pro at wearing a smiling mask so that everyone else wouldn’t worry even though I felt like I was dying inside.

“..Must be nice..”

I can tell you, without a doubt, that no it is not.  I would not wish this on anyone.

I spend my life smiling through the tears, lying to everyone I love that I’m okay because I don’t want anyone to worry because I know there’s nothing they could do even if they wanted to.  I’ve learned it’s just easier to pretend I’m okay than try to explain things I know they could never understand.

I spend my life going through cycles of numbness where I feel immobilized, incapable of functioning at all, and downward spirals where my own brain urges me to destroy myself, to tear myself apart, because it says I am useless, worthless, a good-for-nothing waste of space.

I spend my life struggling to find joy in anything.  Food often tastes bland, music nothing more than background noise.  Things that make others smile and laugh are often met with apathy because I am so mentally and emotionally drained just from existing that the pleasure centers in my brain often don’t even respond to happy stimuli.  I am not being a Debbie Downer – I honestly often am so numb I feel nothing at all.

I spend my life fighting with myself, with my own brain, because when even the slightest thing goes wrong, I blame myself and my brain begins another tirade about how worthless I am, how I am a burden to everyone in my life and the world would be better without me in it.  No matter how many times I’ve told myself that it’s all lies, that voice never shuts up, never goes away.  It began as other people’s voices but over the years, it has become my own.

I spend my life teetering on the edge of not wanting to die but not exactly wanting to keep living like this, either.  Everything feels too hard, too much, too overwhelming, too agonizing.  All I want most days is just for the pain, the pressure, to just stop long enough for me to catch my breath.  I often curl up in a ball and cry because I just can’t take anymore.  Through my tears, I beg “no more”.

I spend my life worrying constantly about everything that has gone wrong and every scenario in the future that might go wrong because they all feel not only plausible and possible but probable.  My mind is always racing, always thinking, always calculating, always warning me of everything bad that could ever happen.  It never shuts off, never shuts up, going on and on for hours.  It’s the reason I have so much trouble sleeping.

I spend my life taking everything personally because I honestly believe it all must somehow be my fault.  Somewhere deep in my subconscious, I believe I am fundamentally broken so I always seek out my blame in everything, even when my common sense reassures me that I am blameless.  I apologize constantly, even when I’m unsure what I may have done wrong, or if I know it was something I had no control over, because there always has to be something or someone to blame and it might as well be me.

I spend my life in fear of every dark corner, every raised voice or hand, because my past has shown me that nothing is safe so I wander through life like a deer caught in the headlights, jumping at every little thing and withdrawing at the first sign of danger, real or imaginary.  I’m obsessive about many things like locking doors and keeping my shower curtain slightly open because I never feel safe, not even in my own home where nothing bad has ever happened.

I spend my life struggling to love myself enough to do basic things like eating and showering because there’s a constant booming voice in my head that asks “why bother?” and tells me I’m not even worth the effort.  Though I would bend over backwards for others or give them the shirt off my back if they needed it, I have trouble some days even justifying “wasting food on myself” because someone else might enjoy it more.

I spend my life feeling alone no matter how many other people are around.  My illness isolates me, convincing me that no one else could possibly understand, nor would they even truly care.  I feel like a constant burden, a bother, that it would be better for everyone if I just stayed away.  Even in a room full of people, I feel alone in all the world.

I spend my life afraid to open up to anyone I care about about all I am going through because I do not want to scare them away.  I do not want them to see me as too broken or too damaged, not worthy of their time or their love.  Whenever any of my mental illness surfaces around others, I am sure it will be the straw that broke the camel’s back, the reason that they, too, go away.  The worst part is that I wouldn’t blame them if they did.

I spend my life going through cycles of physical ailments like severe chest pains and throwing up blood because my mental illness keeps presenting itself in physical ways.  I’m not honestly sure whether I might have other digestive or heart issues because they’ve been so often linked to my anxiety in the past that I don’t even bring them up to the doctor anymore.

I spend every single day of my life in a constant battle with my own mind, a battle nobody else can even see that I am fighting.

..and I can thoroughly assure you, it is NOT nice at all.

There is a reason my doctors have listed me as disabled.  There is a reason they say I cannot work.  They are among a very few people who I have been completely honest with about my struggles because I opened up to them knowing that they were trained to deal with cases such as mine.  Admittedly, though, there have been times I have minimized some of my struggles even with them because seeing their eyes water at my pain is heart-wrenching for me.

No, I do not have a physical disability that you can see.  I am not in a wheelchair nor am I hooked up to machinery to keep me alive.  No, I am not wearing a cast, a brace nor have lost my hair to chemo.  I have no physical signs to point to that would illustrate my disability for those around me.  But that doesn’t mean that I am not disabled.  It doesn’t mean that I am not suffering, not struggling, not in need of help.

I am not being lazy nor am I sitting home taking it easy.  I wish I didn’t have a mental illness.  I wish I could do more, contribute more.  I wish I could even take better care of myself.  I wish a lot of things.  But I would not wish this diagnosis or this struggle on anyone.  I am trying my best to take care of myself, trying to keep living, trying to make it to each new day.  I am fighting to survive, whether anyone else can see it or not.

I am not looking for anyone to feel sorry for me because of my diagnosis.  It is what it is.  Pity won’t take away mental illness any more than it will cure cancer.  All I truly hope for is compassion and understanding.  Acknowledgment that, even though you might not be able to see it, it still exists and deserves treatment just as much as a physical ailment would.

..and please don’t say “it must be nice..” that I am at home dealing with my mental illness because I can assure you, it isn’t nice at all.

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The Isolation of Depression

Depression speaks in lies.  It utilizes absolute negatives, convincing you that no one else could possibly understand what you are feeling or going through.  No matter how many people are around, you feel completely alone.  It seems easier to become anti-social and push everyone away than to explain your condition, defend yourself or make excuses for your behavior.  Those suffering from depression feel alone so they isolate, turning that lie into a truth.

This feeling of loneliness bleeds into every aspect of your life.  You feel constantly out of place, sticking out like a sore thumb.  It feels as if everyone can tell you do not belong.  No matter where you go, you are self-conscious that you’re so broken and damaged that you have no place there or anywhere.  Your anxiety builds and you constantly want to retreat and flee to avoid awkward and uncomfortable situations.

That insecurity leads to guilt.  You want to be there with others, to belong, but you feel so out of place that you retreat.  You beat yourself up for pulling away, feeling bad that you cannot be the person you assume others wish you could be.  You hate that you cannot fit in.  You isolate yourself out of shame because you feel you failed everyone on a fundamental level. You blame yourself for everything, convincing yourself that you’d be better on your own, away from everyone else.

You feel alone even though there are others there.  You systematically pull away from everyone, one by one, until you are alone in reality.  You withdraw from those that you don’t believe understand what you’re going through because it’s too exhausting to try to explain everything you’re feeling.  You reject those you believe will judge you because it is easier to push them away first than to face their harsh criticism.  You isolate from others because you feel awkward or guilty or ashamed of the person you’ve become.

This isolation goes in cycles, a self-fulfilling prophecy.  You do not feel like you belong so you react to that feeling.  You retreat then beat yourself up from the guilt of your self-imposed isolation.  It all begins with a lie, told by your depression.  It ends with you turning that lie into a sad truth where you’ve walled yourself up, pushing everyone else away, until you find yourself completely alone.

Depression lies because its strength comes from its ability to separate and destroy.  In isolation, it can convince you of other falsehoods you would never believe if surrounded by your support system.  If you had reassurance and compassion from others, depression could not trap you in that web of lies.

The truth is that no one suffering from depression is truly alone.  According to recent studies, one in five people will struggle with mental illness at some point in their life, with depression and anxiety at the top of that list.  That means that, though no one else may have walked directly in your shoes, there are so many others walking along that same path.  So many of us understand exactly how you are feeling.  We can empathize.  You are not alone.

Don’t believe the lies depression tells you.  Don’t isolate or push others away.  People do care.  You do belong.  You do matter.  People care.  Let others in.  Talk.  Do not let depression win.  You do not have to be alone.

A Long Overdue Letter to Myself

I have been struggling with mental illness my entire life.  Just recently, I began writing and speaking out about my struggles with depression, anxiety and ptsd, as well, shouting from the mountaintops to anyone who could hear, hoping not only to help others understand but to battle the stigma attached to mental illness, as well.  When I was approached by another author to write a segment for his upcoming book about depression and recovery, naturally, I jumped at the chance.

You see – when my world fell apart, I had two choices.  It was either sink or swim, live or die.  Though a large part of me wanted more than anything to surrender and have the pain stop, there was this little kernel inside of me screaming to never give up, never give in.  I mustered every ounce of strength I possessed and began to fight like I’ve never fought before.  I began to write about all I’ve been through.  I wrote like my life depended on it because in so many ways it did.  By pulling my demons out into the light and exposing them, I felt I was finally able to begin to heal.  I had found my voice.  Writing had become my passion, my life blood.

I published a book about my life.  I began blogging, as well, hoping to reach out to those struggling with depression themselves so they would know they were not alone.  I found myself writing to help others understand mental illness and to speak for those without a voice.  With each new piece I published, I hoped to start a dialogue and reduce the stigma.  While I found some healing in trying to help others through my writing, the focus had shifted off of myself.  I was no longer writing for myself; I was writing for a cause.

When a fellow author, James Withey, asked me to contribute something to his The Recovery Letters project*, a book set to be published next year, it was enormously huge for me.  He wanted me to write a letter to someone out there struggling and suffering, to let them know I understand; To give them encouragement and inspiration to hold on, be brave, be strong and continue to fight on.  The idea of such a letter struck a chord with me.  Everyone deserves something like that.  Unfortunately, though, what you deserve and what you get are sometimes entirely different things.  I could wait a lifetime and never receive such a letter from anyone else.  So I decided to write one to myself.

Today, I go full circle and return to where I first began, first found my voice.  I shift my focus inward and once again make myself a priority.  It is so much easier to reach out to others with encouragement than to face my own nightmares.  The truth, however, is that I must face my own demons if I have any hope of slaying them.  Once again, it is sink or swim time, live or die.  While it terrifies me to look inward, I am not ready to surrender quite yet.  I have too much living still to do.  I deserve to matter.  I deserve encouragement.  I deserve hope.  And so I write to myself:

Dear Beth,

I know you are scared.  You’ve been through so much in life and are so tired of fighting, of struggling and of hurting, but you have to be brave and hold on.  You’re so much stronger than you know.  You’ve come so far in life.  So many people have tried to break you, yet here you still are, still surviving, still holding on.

All your life, you’ve had people telling you that you were unwanted, unlovable, broken, damaged and a waste of space.  You’ve let other people define you and determine your worth.  You’ve bought into every cruel word they’ve spoken, believed every lie.  You need to stop listening to others and begin listening to yourself.  Listen with your heart.

All your life, you’ve faced abuse from others.  People have laid their hands on you in anger, treating you like a punching bag instead of a person.  Men and boys have touched you in ways a little girl should never be touched.  Their abuses have stolen your identity, broken your will until you felt more like an object for others to use and abuse than as a person.  You never deserved that.

Everyone you’ve allowed yourself to love has torn your heart out and stomped on it.  You’ve begun to believe that love and pain go hand in hand and that sooner or later, everyone leaves.  They’ve made you feel like you’re not enough so often that you’ve begun to believe it.  You internalize their actions, always blaming yourself for never measuring up.  Even when they’ve cheated, you believe somehow you’re at fault.  You’re not.  You never were.

You were taught young to put up walls.  Never let anyone see what hurts you because it makes it that much easier for them to hurt you next time.  Never let anyone in.  Never be vulnerable.  You are so terrified of letting yourself be hurt that you walk around numb, afraid to feel anything at all.

You’re so used to hurting inside that you’re not sure how to feel anything else.  Though you paint on a smile so others don’t worry, you’re always crying inside.  You’re not even sure what happiness is most days.  You’re afraid of letting it in because it’s always fleeting.  Happiness never seems to last.  You greet it with wary suspicion because you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Though others have abused you and broken your spirit more times than you can count, you’ve picked up where they left off.  You need to own that sweetie.  You’re harder on yourself than anyone else has ever been.  You’ve let them all convince you that you’re worthless so you treat yourself as such.  You beat yourself up for everything, regardless of whether or not it was even your fault.  While you’re able to accept the flaws and mistakes of others, you tear yourself down for every misstep and every defect.  You never give yourself any breaks.  You need to stop that.  You’re slowly killing bits of yourself every bit as much as all their abuses have.  Please be kind to yourself.

In so many ways, you’ve surrendered to your depression.  You’ve accepted that this is just how your life shall always be.  You’ve begun thinking of it as something familiar, akin to a friend.  Your depression is not your friend sweetie.  It is not there to comfort you or help you.  Your depression speaks in lies.  It wants to beat you, to break you, to tear you into little pieces, shattering you so badly you can never recover.  You need to stop being polite and welcoming it in.  You need to stop accepting it as your reality, your lot in life and fight it.  It only has power and control over you if you let it.

I know you’re terrified of life, of letting anyone else in and of being hurt again.  You’re scared to death that you’re not strong enough.  So many times you’ve cried out “no more! no mas!”, positive that you could not survive anymore heartache, sure than any more abuse would kill you.  It’s okay to be scared.  It’s okay to be vulnerable.  But never let your fear keep you from fighting.

Whenever you’re not feeling strong enough, you need to remind yourself of everything you’ve survived in life.  Keep reminding yourself of your strength.  You are a hurricane, a tornado, a force to be reckoned with.  You’ve been battling monsters and demons for over forty years now and you’re still going strong.  There is not anything you cannot overcome.

I know you’re scared, too, of putting your heart out there again and that is okay.  Love will come again in time.  Don’t give up on it.  Don’t let the actions of a few bad apples make you jaded or close off your heart.  Love is a beautiful thing and you deserve that in your life.  You deserve to be loved and cherished with as much fervor as you have always given everyone else.  Just make sure to learn from your mistakes next time.  Never again settle.

You need to let go of all those negative labels others have used to define you because none of them are even remotely true. You are fierce.  You are beautiful.  You are smart.  You are strong.  You are a warrior.  You are a survivor.  You are an incredible person Beth.  You have such a warm, loving heart – no matter how much other people have broken it, you always manage to reach out to help others.  You have so much to give to the world, Beth, and to yourself.  You are a blessing.

Stay strong.  Always keep fighting.  Never give up.  The world needs you in it.  Your children need you.  You need yourself.

With all the love you deserve in this world,

Beth

* The Recovery Letters is a labor of love created by James Withey.  Amongst other places, The Recovery Letters has been featured on the BBC World Service, BBC Radio 4’s ‘All in the mind’, the BBC News app, ITV’s ‘This Morning’ and Vanity Fair magazine.  He has a book contract with Jessica Kingsley Publishers to publish a book of current letters from the site alongside new letters. It will be published in the US and the UK in August 2017.

 

biplogo

Republished on Bipolar Life on 9/26/16.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 10/13/16.

helpmindsheal

Republished via The Mighty on Help Minds Heal on 10/14/16.

selfgrowth

Republished on SelfGrowth on 10/17/16.

…Perhaps Another Time

Explaining the Obstacles of Maintaining

Friendships when Suffering from Mental Illness

 

I know I am not an easy person to be around.  I know that I can be a handful.  I’m fully aware that I have a lot of issues and can be very intense at times.  I know it cannot be easy being my friend.  Mental illness is a scary beast and mine is chained to me like a rabid animal, likely to lurch out, snarling and baring its teeth, at any given moment.  I truly never blame anyone that feels they need to exit stage right and not look back.  While my friends might tout all these wonderful qualities they feel I possess, I am under no misconceptions or illusions.

I am a great listener and genuinely care about how my friends are doing.  I will often look my friends straight in the eye, though, and lie to their faces.  When asked how I am doing, it is usually easier to paint on a smile and reassure them that I am peachy than to unload everything that is going on in my world at the moment.   It isn’t that I don’t want to trust my friends.  My trust issues often have nothing to do with my current friendships, but rather revolve around the traumas of my past. I also don’t want to scare or overwhelm anyone.  I don’t see myself as a priority because my friends have enough issues of their own and I know that unloading my problems onto my friends won’t change my situation but will negatively impact their lives.  Truth be told, I’m also terrified that if I begin talking, the floodgates will open and I’ll end up terrifying them.  I don’t doubt the sincerity of my friends offering to be there; I just am often physically, mentally and emotionally unable to share.  Perhaps another time when I’m in a better place and feeling like less of a burden.

I am very empathetic.  Though I can sympathize and give comfort and reassurances, I’m hesitant to give any advice when it comes to matters of the heart.  If you need suggestions with recipes, crafts, or local outings, I’m your woman.  However, it makes me severely uncomfortable when friends ask for relationship advice regarding their friends, family or romantic lives.  My life has been a wreck so far in many ways.  I’ve been wrapped up in so much dysfunction over the years that it feels like the normal status quo to me.  I can feel their pain but am afraid to offer advice because I don’t want to be responsible for my friends crashing into the ten car pile-up that is my life.  Please know, though, that while I don’t give advice easily, if I toss a warning out there, I truly need my friends to listen.  I’ve lived through enough disasters in life that I have learned to spot many of them from a mile away.  If I suggest being careful or running, I have a concrete reason even if I am unable to share it at the time.  While I would love to go beyond just listening and sympathizing and genuinely help my friends with all of their problems, I rarely feel I have any positive or helpful advice to share.  Perhaps another time after I’ve learned to have successful relationships myself.

I am sad a lot of the time.  Not dropped-my-ice-cream-disappointed, but to the depths of my soul depressed.  There’s days I must repeatedly bite my lip throughout the day just to avoid breaking down into tears.  It does not mean I do not enjoy time with my friends.  I often have no control over my emotions.  I try to paint on a smile so my friends don’t worry but there’s often visible cracks in the facade.  I know friends care and want to reassure me that I don’t have to pretend to be happy for their sake, that they’d be there regardless, but it is easier for me to pretend life is okay, even if just for a short time.   While I appreciate when friends trying to share encouraging cliches about life eventually working out, merely trying to be more positive or learning to let things go will not solve my issues.  I often find myself smiling sadly, conceding “perhaps,” but inside, I am know depression is not solved that easily; It has never worked before, will not work in the future, not now, not another time.

I always seem eager to make plans with friends and find ways to rearrange and juggle everything to make things happen.  Though I do truly love seeing my friends, please know that my eagerness stems from the intense loneliness of depression.  There are times when my anxiety is so high and thoughts have been racing in my head, driving me crazy, for so long that I’d happily do almost anything suggested just for the distraction.  I am more likely to offer to be there for friends than to ask for anything myself.  While I might toss ideas out there, it is hard for me to outright ask for help or to be a priority in anyone else’s life; If I cannot fathom making myself a priority, how can I imagine anyone else volunteering their time and energy towards my interests and goals.  Even when tentative plans have been thrown out there, I will check repeatedly with friends, making sure they truly want to hang out – it isn’t that I’m hoping to cancel or don’t want to do anything – I’m trying to offer others an out in case they’ve had second thoughts about our plans.  Admittedly, I always expect friends to jump at that easy out, telling me “..perhaps another time”.

I take scheduling plans more seriously than most people do.  My depression saps my energy on a regular basis.  There are days I have trouble even finding the energy to get out of bed so dedicating my entire energy storage to spending time with friends is a huge commitment for me.  While it’s easy for others to cancel plans at the last minute on a whim, it’s a large blow to my psyche.  I’ve dug deep into my reserves just getting ready.  Putting things off until tomorrow is rarely a viable option for me.  Cancelled plans are severely mentally and emotionally defeating and take days to recover from, especially if I have gone out on a limb to ask for something I consider personally important.  I have severe abandonment issues.  My feelings are easily hurt and I withdraw when I feel others see me as unimportant or insignificant.  I agonize and internalize over cancellations, tracing back over previous events to make sure it wasn’t caused by something I said or did.  I will always try to reassure friends that it is okay when they cancel, that real life happens to us all, but it is truly difficult for me when it happens because I feel I’ve wasted a good portion of my stored energy for nothing and that, on some level, I do not matter.  While saying “..perhaps another time” at the last minute might feel like nothing to my friends, it is truly agonizing to me.

Much like I agonize over cancellations, I  beat myself up whenever things do not go according to my own plans.  Friends might tell me that my being late is no big deal, but I feel like I’ve let them down in a severely drastic way.  Even when it is not entirely my fault, I internalize every miscalculation, blaming myself completely for not living up to the idealistic view I have of the friend I should be.  I hold myself up to higher standards than I expect from anyone else and am my own worst critic.  If I have to cancel for any reason, I will apologize profusely, over and over again, because I feel like I’ve committed a cardinal sin.  It is heart-wrenching for me to suggest “..maybe another time?” because I cannot imagine anyone wanting to perhaps reschedule after I’ve ruined the day for them.

I think a lot.  I analyze.  I overthink.  I analyze my overthinking.  I internalize everything I have over-analyzed.  Friends have told me many times not to let my mind run away with itself but there’s no controlling it once my anxiety has taken root.  Perhaps another time if I can find a way to stop myself before it begins.  I also often isolate and pull away.   If I feel I’ve let down friends, I isolate out of shame.  If friends mistreat me or repeatedly blow me off, I isolate because I begin to feel abandoned and figure they do not care about being in my life.  If I am faced with a difficult time and my facade has begun to crack, I isolate because I do not want to overwhelm anyone or become a burden.  I isolate because it is easier to be alone than to cause drama in other people’s lives.  Friends try to remind me not to pull away, but my flight response is so high that isolation has become my go to move.  Perhaps one day I’ll find a way to stop myself from wanting to run, another day, another time.

There are so many ways my depression and anxiety present itself every day, leaving a glaringly negative impact on my relationships with others.  Friends may reassure me that I’m sweet, funny, compassionate, smart and fun, that everyone has their demons and it is no big deal, but all I can see is the giant gorilla that is my mental illness in the room .  I would love to be a better friend, to not need so much reassurance, to not over-analyze, not internalize, not isolate and not spend every day depressed and living in fear of disappointing the people that matter in my life.  Unfortunately, I have very little control over this giant rabid beast chained at my side, pulling me every which way, forcing its will upon me.  I am trying to work through everything and to heal.  Perhaps, one day, I’ll be in a better place.  For now, however, I’m struggling just to stay on my feet and function. Perhaps another day..

 

~ Dedicated to all those friends of mine who have stuck with me, despite my struggles, over the years and have forgiven me whenever I’ve isolated and disappeared for periods of time.  I sincerely love you all and appreciate the kindness, compassion and understanding you all have shown me time and time again.  I could not imagine my life without any of you in it.

 

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 8/10/16.