Having a Family Isn’t Exhausting – My Depression Is

My youngest just started college.  He took a train upstate for a weekend visit after his last class this past Friday.  I spent the two days prior trying to build up my energy preserves before his arrival.  We didn’t have a particularly eventful weekend, yet I was worn out by the time he left.  It isn’t that he is exhausting.  My depression is.

Even when my children were younger, I found myself building up reserves of whatever energy I could muster, saving whatever I could for them.  It seemed like I was eternally exhausted, forever worn out and hanging by a thread, trying to scrounge up whatever motivation I could manage in a feeble attempt to be the mother I felt they deserved.

We took frequent long walks to parks throughout the city, many day trips to area museums and festivals.  Yet I always felt like I fell short, like I never was able to do even a portion of what I wanted to do with them.  More than anything else, we had quiet family movie nights or game nights at home, days spent home playing in the backyard or drawing with chalk on the sidewalk out in front of the house because I was too exhausted to do anything else.

The fact is that my depression is both physically and mentally exhausting.  I am engaged in a never-ending battle with my own brain.  I begin most days already feeling like I am running on empty.  Even my sleep is restless so I never fully recharge.

On the average weekday morning these days, I am up when my fiance’s alarm goes off.  I scurry around for an hour or so, helping him get ready for work.  It gives us a little extra time to spend together on days when he’ll be gone most of the day.  When he leaves, I collapse on the couch, where I spend a good chunk of my day.  It isn’t that helping him get ready is exhausting.  My depression is.

An hour before he is due home, I muster up what little energy I have left to somewhat straighten the house and start dinner.  There’s always easily a dozen things I wish I had done throughout any given day that will get put off to another day.  I truly wish I had the energy to do more.  Most days, I’m amazed I managed to do as much as I have.

The truth is that I spend most of my time alone in a fog of depression.  I often use up what little energy I do have on my family so by the time they leave I am tired, exhausted, worn out.  Some days, I am caught in a funk, immobile and numb.  On other days, I wait until I have the house to myself to break down and cry, sobbing throughout the day.  Either way, I find myself crumbling and falling apart moments after my family is out the door.

Shortly before they’re due home, I dry my eyes and paint on a smile.  I straighten my hair and tidy the house.  I try my best to hold everything together for them even though I usually feel like I am falling apart inside.  By the time they come through the door, I am already wishing I could climb into bed.  It is exhausting.

I often do my best to keep the true extent of my struggles to myself because I don’t want my family to worry about me or to suffer over my pain.  I don’t want them to question whether they are doing enough for me or whether they have been supportive enough.  They know about my struggles with depression yet I still try to shield them to the best of my ability.  My mental illness is not their fault.  I always feel like I must protect them from it, shield them from it, save them from the worst of it.

I conserve my energy for my family in part because I want to be strong for them.  It is bad enough that I feel weak and helpless – I don’t want them to see me that way, as well.  My family brings out the best in me so I want to give them the best of me in return.  A large part of me is also honestly terrified of letting my family down, of being too broken, too much of a mess to be the person they need me to be, the person they deserve to have in their lives.

Please know that they have never said or done anything to make me feel this way.  I know that these feelings, too, are products of my depression.  I prioritize others over myself because my depression makes me devalue myself.  I internalize everything, blaming and beating myself up far worse than anyone else ever could.  My depression makes me feel like a failure, tells me that no matter how much I do, it will never be good enough, never be enough in any way.

Unfortunately, though, recognizing that it is my depression is not enough to stop these feelings or the behaviors that result from them.  Depression is an illness.  Calling a duck a duck will not make it disappear.  A diabetic labeling their illness will not magically balance their sugar levels any more than someone with a mental illness acknowledging their symptoms will instantly change how they feel inside.  It is good to acknowledge the illness so you understand why you feel the way you do, but comprehending an illness will not make it go away.

Perhaps, in time, I will acquire more self-care and coping skills so that I do not always feel like I am running on empty.  Perhaps, as well, I will heal more and become somewhat more functional again.  But in the meantime, I only have just so much energy to give and I choose to give the majority of it to those who reside in my heart.

I do not resent my family for soaking up the majority of my energy each day.  It is my own choice to do this.  I do this not because I feel that I have to but rather because I want to do so.  My family means the world to me.  I would do anything for them – even give them the last little bits of myself that I have left for the day.

Because on a lot of days, that is exactly what it is.  Those little stores of energy I have managed to reserve for them are the only true sparks of myself I am able to muster.  When they are used up, there is nothing left of myself for myself.  All that remains is my depression.

I know many people will say that I must take care of myself as well.  I’ve been reminded often that “you can’t fill from an empty cup”, implying that I cannot truly be there for anyone else until I have tended to myself first.  But, for me, taking care of my family *IS* taking care of myself.  It is an all too common sacrifice for those of us living with depression.  We give the best of ourselves to our children, our partners, our family and friends because in our hearts we believe that they bring out the best in us so they deserve nothing less than our best in return.

Depression is exhausting.  Most days, I have very little of myself to give the world.  I give all I can to my family, even if it leaves little to nothing for myself.  I do this because I am my best self when I am with my family.  I am more myself when I am with them than I ever am when I am alone.  If I only have a little of myself to go around, I want to share it with those who love and accept me, depression and all.

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Republished on The Mighty on 11/2/18.

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Riding Out the Storm

Today is not going to be a good day.

It’s not even nine o’clock in the morning yet, but I already know this for a fact.

There are some people that will insist it is too soon to know anything for sure, that I should pick myself up, brush myself off and face the day with a positive attitude and a brave face.  There are others who will insist it is all in my head, telling me that I will be fine once I get up, get out there and start moving.

There are some who will insist I am being melodramatic, making mountains out of mole hills.  If you have never experienced these storms firsthand, never fought to survive them, you have no idea how bad they can get.

But I know these days all too well.

I’ve struggled with depression my entire life.

I’ve wrestled with this beast many times over, fought this monster again and again.

And I know today will be yet another epic battle.

Today, I will be lucky if I can even pull myself out of bed.  The world feels completely overwhelming, my life utterly overbearing.  Everything seems hopeless and futile.  I feel like I am suffocating under the weight of all the problems and issues I have been attempting to juggle and resolve.  I am mentally and emotionally exhausted beyond words.  The lies depression tells have already begun gusting and blowing around me, their sheer force threatening to knock me down.

I am wrapped in a blanket.  I will be lucky if I can pull myself up at all today.

I am caught in a rising tide of emotions, being pulled back and forth between feeling way too much and being completely numb to it all.  The tears come in waves, the struggles crashing into me, threatening to knock me overboard.

As each wave recedes, I sit here catatonic, drenched in my own tears, unable to even fully process everything I am feeling anymore.

The pain and the numbness each wash over me in turns.  Every time I think I could not possibly feel anything more, I am flooded with more anguish and strife.  Each time I think the agony will never end, I find myself trapped in that moment of stillness again, that nothingness, staring into that void, feeling empty and numb.

I rock back and forth, thrown around in that sea of depression, each crashing wave threatening to pull me down into its depths.

I am trapped in that storm front, between the hot and the cold, feeling too much and feeling nothing at all.

You cannot stop those storms when they hit, but you can feel them in the air when they’re about to arrive.  You know they are coming so the best you can do is prepare.

I cancelled my afternoon appointment.  Otherwise, I know I would spend the morning fighting with myself to get up, get moving, and ultimately tearing myself apart for being unable to do so.  When I dragged myself to the bathroom, I brought back granola bars and my water bottle on the way back through.  I grabbed an extra blanket, extra tissues and the television remote.  There is little time to prepare but I do my best.

I have curled up on the couch, wrapped up tightly, nourishment on hand, ready to ride out this storm.

There’s an old saying that “into every life a little rain must fall” but this isn’t just a little rain.  It is a hurricane.  A tsunami.  A nor’easter.

I would evacuate if I could but there is really nowhere to go.  Like Eeyore, these storm clouds follow me everywhere.  The storm will come.

There will be flooding.

But I won’t let myself drown.

I’ve learned long ago not to push myself during these storms, not to foolishly attempt to wander out when they get bad.  I don’t beat myself up for what I cannot do or where I am incapable of going.  I cannot control the storms raging inside me any more than I can mother nature outside.  They come from time to time because they are part of my depression.

It is always harder to go out in the storm so I try to avoid it whenever I can.

I have learned to batten down the hatches, board up the windows and take care of myself the best that I can.  I have learned to take care of myself to the best of my ability, making sure I have what I need on hand.  I have learned, as well, to not beat myself up for not feeling capable of navigating through these storms.  It is better that I stay home, stay safe and warm, then to attempt to venture out and drown in the sea of my own depression.  Especially when the skies appear clear to everyone else so nobody else even realizes I’m drowning.

No storm lasts forever.

I will ride this one out and I will be okay.

Because I am a survivor.

I have survived other storms and I will survive this one, as well.

I refuse to drown in my own depression.  I will do whatever I must to stay afloat.

The Frustration of Explaining Mental Illness to Those Who Have Never Experienced it Themselves

I would not wish mental illness on anyone else.  Having a mental illness is like waging a continuous war within yourself where half the time you are not even sure what is being fought over, only that the battle rages on.  There is never a true moment of peace.  You may have good days, yes, but even on those blessed days there is never peace because you can feel its presence, always looming, weighing down on your soul, preparing to strike again.  There might be small periods of respite here and there, the calm before the storm, but anyone fighting their own battle with mental illness knows it is only a matter of time before another downward spiral or another period of numbness, appears.  One of the worst things about having a mental illness is that we don’t even fully understand what is going on within our own minds and bodies, let alone have the words to adequately explain it to others.  Even more frustrating is when someone else puts us on the defensive because they do not fully understand what we are going through but assume they do because they have been exposed to it from a sideline view.

Someone who has never been in a car crash cannot reasonably say “I know what it is like because one of my family members has been in one” or “because I’ve taken care of someone who has had one”.

Someone who has never had cancer cannot reasonably say “I know what it is like because one of my family members has had cancer” or “because I’ve helped to take care of people who have had cancer”.

Likewise, someone who has never had a mental illness cannot truly understand what it is like to live with one, regardless of whether they worked with people who had one or had a family member diagnosed with one.

You can sympathize with someone else who is struggling but you cannot truly understand what it is like to live with mental illness merely by being exposed to it second-hand in others.  Witnessing others being traumatized is not the same as experiencing the trauma yourself.  It is not something you can experience vicariously and fully understand the suffering.  As much as we might try to explain what it is like in order to help others somewhat understand, there are no words we possess that would adequately explain all that we are going through.  And anything we say is usually just the tip of the iceberg, minimized for the benefit of others because we don’t want to overwhelm or scare anyone else with the horrors of our reality.   Mental illness is something that you truly have to experience firsthand to fully understand.

Nothing is more frustrating than having someone verbally attack the core of our illness as “making no sense”, expecting us to fully explain something that we ourselves have trouble understanding.  Or to be called out, as if we are somehow inherently wrong for even being mentally ill at all.

I have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, major depression and P.T.S.D.

Due to severe anxiety attacks during periods of high stress, one of the agencies I work with recently arranged a home visit as an alternative to my having an office visit.  I had someone interject that their mother is bipolar and has done the same thing, claiming that it is ridiculous that her mother can attend highly populated events such as street fairs but cannot go to a downtown office to complete some paperwork.  She then demanded to know whether I was equally unreasonable, attending random public events while claiming I was incapable of going out to an appointment.

I tried to explain that it isn’t how generalized anxiety works.  I am not anxious being around people.  I do not have social anxiety.  With generalized anxiety, I live in a constant state of heightened anxiety that is worsened by stressful situations.  On a scale of 1-10, most people start off an average day around a one or a two.  If there is nothing to worry about, there’s no reason for an average person to be anxious.  If someone’s rent is coming due and money is tight, their anxiety level might be raised to a two or three.  If, on top of that, they’re worried about being laid off, their anxiety might be raised to a three or four.  Not getting enough time with your kids, needing unplanned repairs on a home or vehicle that you cannot afford, unexpected illnesses and deaths all increase anxiety.  With each newly added stress, anxiety continues to compound and raise.

Now imagine starting every day at a 4 or a 5.  Even worse, most of the time you’re not even sure why exactly you’re anxious.  You just know that feeling is there.  You’re notably on edge, you’re distracted, you’re hyper-vigilant.  Your body is physically reacting to the stress.  You are visibly flustered, your chest is tightened, you find yourself shaking or bouncing your limbs or no reason, you have trouble focusing your thoughts and forming coherent words.  Each new added stress only raises everything higher.  It doesn’t take much until you find yourself at a 7 or 8, in a full blown anxiety attack.

Consider going to an office to do paperwork, starting at the 4 or 5 those with anxiety might begin each day with.  If a previous visit there did not go well, your mind relates the two and it adheres the past to the present situation.  If there were subsequent visits that did not go well, each of them is an added stress, as well.  Your mind is hyper-vigilant, constantly reviewing situations and drawing connections, trying to protect you from duplicating a previous bad experience.  After a few bad experiences somewhere or with someone, that compounded anxiety becomes too much to bear.   Your mind begins firing off danger warnings and your body reacts accordingly.  Your fight or flight response kicks in.  You want to run away, to scream, to avoid it at all costs.  You freeze like a deer caught in the headlights or you become agitated and aggressive because you feel an overwhelming need to protect and defend yourself.  It all occurs subconsciously in the brain.  Your anxiety rises on its own without any conscious decision on your part.  You are not intentionally overreacting or being melodramatic.  Your mind and body are just reacting to the situation at hand based on the data it has compiled.  It is the truth of living with anxiety.

Attending a populated event is another situation entirely.  In all honesty, each situation is different depending on our previous experiences with the location, the people involved and many other contributing factors.  We cannot even reasonably predict ahead of time whether a situation will feel safe or not because literally anything could trigger a raise in anxiety.  It never takes long before that heightened anxiety reaches dangerous levels and an anxiety attack ensues.  We have very limited control over situations.  Our mind and body are steering the car and we are just along for the ride.

My explanation fell on deaf ears.

Perhaps even worse than trying to help others understand anxiety is trying to explain depression.  Too many people who have either never experienced depression or who have only experienced a temporary or situational, mild bout, have a habit of aggressively attacking those suffering from more severe, debilitating depression for not being able to “bounce back” quickly enough to meet their standards.

We are accused of being lazy and having pity parties.  We are told that they “know what it’s like but..” you have to stop feeling sorry for yourself, you have to be more positive and at least try, you have to pull your shit together and do what has to be done.  We are accused of not trying hard enough, of not even trying at all.  We are asked why we are not even working part time and told of a myriad of other people who were able to magically pull themselves together, shamed into feeling like we are horrible people for being unable to function as well as they or someone else they know did.

I have tried explaining the realities of severe depression, only to have it fall on deaf ears, as well.

Those of us suffering from depression are not having pity parties.  Depression is far more than just being sad or feeling negative about our circumstances in life.  There are days when the world feels bleak and hopeless, where you are convinced you are completely alone and become trapped in an empty numbness that renders you virtually immobile.  It isn’t that you are not aware of everything that needs to be done or that you don’t want to do it – you are trapped within yourself, unable to pull yourself up to do even the simplest of tasks.  You might lay there for hours, beating yourself up as your inner dialogue drums into your consciousness everything you could be doing, should be doing, and how broken, worthless and useless you are for being incapable of doing anything at all.  There are days you spiral down into negativity, tearing yourself apart viciously for being garbage because some part of your brain believes that is what you deserve.  You tear yourself apart for being broken, damaged, and flawed worse than anyone else could ever do.  There are days when the tears keep flowing even though you cannot pinpoint exactly why, beyond “life itself” and days you’ll sit in a fog, doing nothing or randomly puttering, losing hours at a time.

Whether we’re trapped in numbness or spiraling down, our minds are constantly whirling, reminding us of all we should be doing and how much of a failure we are for not accomplishing everything we believe we should.  We desperately want to do more, to do better, to do anything at all.  We hate ourselves for not being able to do everything we believe we should be able to do.  We feel like a failure that has let everyone down.  But our minds have betrayed us.  We are in a constant battle within our own heads.  We have so many emotions, so much hurt, pain, anger, self-loathing, sadness and confusion swirling within our heads that it is hard to sort it all out and think straight.  Though we can pinpoint the cause of some of it, the majority is so broad and vague that we don’t even understand where it is coming from let alone know how to begin explaining or addressing it all.

Any job, even part-time, is difficult when we cannot plan from one hour to the next, let alone one day to the next, whether we will be spiraling down into that abyss or frozen in numbness.  Yes, e may have good, functional days, but they do not appear on any set schedule.  We have no idea how or when our depression will strike next or how long it will last. We are not being lazy or just not trying hard enough.  We just cannot reasonably commit ourselves to a schedule when we don’t know how well we’ll be able to function an hour from now, let alone a week from Tuesday from 8am to 4pm.

Perhaps the most asinine assertion I have ever heard from people who did not understand and had never experienced what I was struggling with was the claim I hve heard numerous times that “only soldiers suffer from P.T.S.D.”, as if I was somehow disparaging the armed forces with my diagnosis.  Post traumatic stress disorder is more broad-reaching than the military.  It is fairly common with those who have suffered from years of abuse, especially during their childhood as I have, or have experienced traumatic or violent events in their lives such as rape, as I have.  Flashbacks, nightmares and night terrors are not exclusive to those in a uniform.  Do not minimize my trauma because I fought a different kind of war on a different type of battlefield.

I truly appreciate when people acknowledge my diagnosis and attempt to empathize with all that I am struggling with because it really is a daily battle.  It is heart-wrenching and honestly makes me want to cry whenever someone has been through something so similar that they can truly relate to what I am going through because I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.  My heart goes out to everyone fighting a battle within themselves that they cannot seem to fully explain and constantly feel judged for having because I have been there and understand how exhausting it is to have to defend yourself for your diagnosis.  But please don’t ever use the second-hand experiences you’ve witnessed others having to minimize what I am going through.  Knowing someone who has mental illness or even working around people that have been diagnosed with a mental illness is not the same thing as living with one yourself.  Even individual diagnosis can differ greatly, as well, so you cannot measure two personal experiences by the same bar.  You cannot truly understand what a person is going through before walking a mile in their shoes so please stop judging me for my diagnosis when you have no idea of the battles I am fighting inside.  I truly appreciate compassion and empathy but please leave your judgment at the door.

What Suicidal Ideation Looks Like

I am not suicidal.  I have no active plans to kill myself.  I just honestly don’t want to live right now either.

Most people don’t understand there is a distinct difference between being suicidal and suffering from suicidal ideation.

When someone is suicidal, they actively want to die.  People who are suicidal rarely talk about how they are feeling because they have already given up.  They see no point in bothering anyone with their decision and aren’t looking for anyone trying to talk them out of it.  They’ve already made up their mind.  They spend their days taking a mental inventory of accessible means to follow through with their decision and planning their departure from this world.

I have been suicidal in the past.  Before each attempt, I had a mental tally of all the medication I had access to, I knew which knives in my house were the sharpest, and had pinpointed where in my house I could string up a rope that would hold my weight.  Thoughts of death consumed me.

Suicidal ideation is different.  I am not actively looking to die or making plans to end my life rather I am struggling with wanting to live.  To anyone from the outside looking in, they might think it is the same thing.  I can assure you it is not.  There is a big difference.

People struggling with suicidal ideation are usually vocal about their exasperation with life.  However, they are usually afraid to fully open up about it because whenever many people hear the word “suicidal”, they panic, assuming that if they don’t intervene right away, the person might harm themselves.  Others respond cruelly, claiming the person is having a pity party or just looking for attention, that they would have just killed themselves if they were truly serious.  Either way, the moment anything involving suicide is mentioned, most people stop listening altogether and just react and respond out of fear or judgment.

I spend a good portion of my days feeling mentally and emotionally exhausted.  I feel almost constantly overwhelmed and weighed down by the pressures of life.  My mind is filled with repetitive thoughts about how I can’t keep living like this anymore.  I am not looking to kill myself or making any plans to do so.  I’m just so tired of struggling.

Not too long ago, I had a very bad bout of suicidal ideation.  I laid in bed for hours crying because I just could not handle my life anymore.  Curled up in a fetal position, I sobbed about how I could not take feeling like nothing ever works out no matter how hard I tried, that I was so tired of fighting, so tired of being stepped on, so tired of not being heard.  Again and again, I cried out that I can’t keep going like this, can’t keep feeling like this, that I’m just not strong enough, that I’m broken beyond repair.  I sobbed and I shook, coughing as mucus poured both out my nose and down my throat.  I rocked and I cried, feeling so lost, so hopeless, more of a mess than anyone should be saddled with.

I cried and I cried until I eventually wore myself out and went numb.  Never once did I start to coordinate a plan to kill myself because I was not suicidal.  I just had the overwhelming feeling that I just could not take living any longer.  I was suffering from suicidal ideation.

After my tears subsided, I laid in bed shaking and shivering.  Eventually, I wandered out into the living room, curling up on the couch with my knees pulled to my chest and a blanket wrapped around me.  I sat there in a fog for hours, mechanically sipping from a cup in my hands.  I didn’t watch anything, do anything, think anything.  I just sat there.  I felt empty, numb, exhausted, worn out.  Never once that day did killing myself cross my mind.  I just was overwhelmed by the feelings of not wanting to live.

I won’t lie.  Suicidal ideation can eventually lead to suicide if gone unchecked for too long.  There is only so long that a person can struggle through life feeling like everything is pointless and all hope is lost before they eventually break.  But if someone is talking about not being able to take living their life any longer, what they need more than anything is for someone to be there, to listen.  They don’t need panic and to be locked up against their will and they don’t need to be called out for “just wanting attention”.  They just need to know they are heard and they are not alone.

Suicidal ideation is a common part of depression.  When life begins feeling like it is too much to bear, it doesn’t take much to trigger that downward spiral into hopelessness and despair.  If someone is talking about feeling this way, they are trying to help you understand just how bad things are inside their head.  No one struggling from suicidal ideation wants to scare anyone else nor are they looking to have some sort of pity party.  They are overwhelmed with life itself and desperately need someone to understand.  Even though there is nothing anyone can say or do to make things better, those suffering do take solace in knowing that others care enough to be there and to listen.

“..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.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 3/2/18.

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Republished on Yahoo News – Canada on 3/2/18.

Republished on Yahoo News – UK on 3/2/18.

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Republished on Yahoo Lifestyle on 3/2/18.

Living on the Corner of Functionality and Falling Apart

For years, I was a barely functioning depressive.  I struggled to at least appear like I had myself together, living panic attack to panic attack behind the scenes.  When my facade of togetherness would begin to crack and show wear, I would pull away and isolate as I slapped on layers of concrete to hide all my breaking points.  I lived in a land of make believe, pretending I was okay while I fought against my own mind to keep functioning.

Over time, however, as is usually the case with anyone residing on that precarious perch of functional depression, the cracks continued to grow and expand.  What I once was able to find ways to get through with a manageable amount of struggle began to feel more like insurmountable obstacles.  Bit by bit, it became harder and harder to continue to function.

It is not that I wasn’t trying as hard anymore.  If anything, I was trying harder and harder to hold things together.  The weight of each added stress, each added emotional pain just kept building up over time.  You often hear people describe the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.  I never had a camel.  I carried my mental illness on my own shoulders and eventually found myself broken under the weight of my own problems.

One of the hardest things I ever had to do was admit that I needed help, that I could no longer manage to do many things on my own.  Even harder still was trying to explain to others why I was no longer capable of working through things like I had somehow managed to do for years.  Many people seem to believe that once you have done something, you’ve set a precedent and you should then always be able to complete that task again.

It is easy for people to accept that, over time, a person’s body cannot physically do as much as it once did.  On average, a physically fit person in their forties cannot lift as much as they could in peak fit condition in their twenties.  They cannot run as fast or as long and they tire much faster.  It just makes sense.  Bodies get older and wear down over time.  Aging takes a toll.

The same is widely accepted with other physical attributes.  A person’s metabolism slows over time so it becomes harder to maintain a healthy weight when eating the same diet.  Eyesight and hearing are both dulled over age and often need extra aids in order to perform as well as they did in our youth.  Added stresses on our bodies build up over time, compounded with age-related issues such as arthritis.  These are all accepted facts.  Bodies physically wear down over the years.

Yet very few people seem to grasp that mental and emotional health might decline over time, as well.  Many people assume that a mental illness is a temporary thing that will fade away over time as people just “learn to cope better” and “try a little harder to get over it and be happy”.  If I had a nickel for every time someone looked at me, befuddled and bewildered by the fact that I can no longer function even as well as I did five or ten years ago and that my mental health has instead deteriorated in many aspects, I’d be able to take a very nice extended vacation somewhere sunny and warm.

I have days where my depression leaves me in a thick mental fog, struggling to remember basic facts and information that I know is in my head somewhere.  I have days where my anxiety has reached such heights that I cannot reasonably verbalize simple or complex thoughts or information, stumbling over my words like a child learning to speak a foreign language.  I have days where my PTSD has flared up, all my senses become heightened and everything around me feels unsafe and dangerous.  There are days I cannot stop crying and days I feel like more of a mess than anyone deserves to be saddled with.  There are days when life itself weighs down so heavily on me that I pull away from the world and isolate, all the while assuring everyone that I’m fine, that they don’t have to worry, because I just don’t have the words, or the energy to adequately explain everything I am feeling.  My mind and my emotions are often all over the place.

The worst part of those feelings and many others I experience due to my mental illness, though, is that I cannot plan for any of them.  I could wake up one day numb, feeling nothing at all, or wake up completely frazzled as one or more conflicting emotions battle themselves out inside my head.  There’s no knowing, either, whether any state of mind will last an hour or a day or a week, whether it will exist on its own or build upon other emotions already wreaking havoc.  Every single one of those feelings has increased both in potency and frequency as I have gotten older. Every day feels like a game of Russian Roulette in my brain where the game is fixed and, no matter what the outcome is, I know I am going to lose.

Over the past year or so, I have begrudgingly accepted that I’m struggling more than I used to and that I need extra help, that I sometimes need others to intervene on my behalf and to work with me to get the care I need.  I’ve begun building a safety network, a support system of people who can advocate with me, for me and speak on my behalf if I find myself struggling too badly to adequately do it on my own.

I had a home visit recently to go over some paperwork.  Instead of being proud of myself for holding myself somewhat together that day, though, I found myself stressing that I might have seemed too together.  You see – that day was a good day for the most part.  I was able to think of important and relevant questions to ask, I was able to constructively contribute to the meeting and didn’t collapse into tears over all the stress hanging over my head.  I really should have been proud of myself.  Yet, after they left, all I could do was worry that I might have appeared more together than I actually am on a regular basis, leaving them to determine I no longer need the assistance I have had to fight so hard to receive.

I panic and I worry about having even a somewhat functional and manageable day because society automatically puts people with mental illness on the defensive.  It isn’t enough to say that you simply cannot manage to function on a reliable schedule anymore or function on some days in particular at all.  You’re always put on the spot.  Why can’t you do it?  Why some days but not others? Are you even trying?  What do you even have to be depressed about? That’s especially true if you used to be able to function better in the past or if your level of functionality varies day by day.  Physically, the body can deteriorate and nobody questions it but mentally, it apparently is a different story.  And heaven forbid you have a good day where you’re able to contribute more than expected.  If you’re semi-functional today, people will demand to know why you might not be able to function as well, or even at all, tomorrow.  Your diagnosis is often irrelevant, not even taken into consideration.  If you’re able to do something today, you must always be able to do it.

I live on the corner of being able to somewhat function and falling completely apart.  Sometimes I go slightly down one direction before boomeranging back to my corner again.  I have good days and bad days.  I have days that I might genuinely smile and laugh when, even though my depression is present, I still feel like I am running the show.  I have moderate days where I’m still able to pretend I’m okay and do enough for myself that others don’t readily worry.  And I have days where I desperately need help if I have any hope of getting anything constructive done, otherwise I would just sit there in an agonizing numbness, staring blankly into the abyss.  But to be fair, I’ve seen people who struggle with painful afflictions such as arthritis that have good days where they are able to get out, go for a walk and run errands, powering through the pain, and other days where it is difficult to even pull themselves out of bed.  The difference is that mental illness presents itself in the mind instead of the body and is not as easily seen.

Over time as I get older, my completely functional days are becoming less frequent.  I find myself struggling more and more as my mental illness compounds upon itself.  I honestly need to give myself a break on my functional days and learn to count them as blessings instead of worrying what others might think or how they might judge me.  Being able to function again, albeit for a short unexpected period here and there, should always be celebrated as a good thing.  After all, I’m right on that corner and could go either way.

mightylogoRepublished on The Mighty on 2/7/18.

yahoolife

Republished on Yahoo on 2/7/18.

The Blah Days of Depression

Today is a blah day.

It isn’t that there is anything terribly wrong today.  There are issues looming, yes, but there are always issues of late.  There is nothing pressing, though.

It is just a blah day.

A day where I lay in bed, struggling to find a reason to get up.  I have had to pee for a couple hours now yet the dull ache in my bladder is not enough to pull me from under my covers.  I should probably get a drink, too, and brush my teeth, maybe get dressed and get a bite to eat.  I have been awake for over 5 hours now, since even before the sun rose, yet here I still lay.

I feel blah.  While the world around me continues with it’s hustle and bustle, I have no motivation, no desire to do anything.  Nothing seems interesting or important, nothing is pressing enough to pull me from this funk.  I would go back to sleep if I could, call in sick from life itself.  I feel like nothing myself.  I feel numb.

Days like this are common with depression.  Those who have never suffered themselves assume that depression is all bouts of random sadness and tears.  Yes, I have those days, too, and it is draining when everything and anything feels heart-wrenching and makes me want to cry.  But even worse, perhaps, than the days when I feel everything too strongly are those days I feel nothing at all.

On these days, I have trouble pulling myself up or doing anything.  I’m not being lazy.  I just don’t see the point.  I am pulled into this gray abyss where there is no purpose, no joy, no motivation, no will to live.  It isn’t that I’m suicidal and actively want to die, either.  I just have no will to live today.  The emptiness is all-consuming.

People suggest I should just *try* to be happy or to be positive.  If only it were that simple.  Again and again, the ‘should be’ and ‘could be’ options roll around in my mind, but I am numb to them all.  Deep down, I know I should be getting up, doing something, living life.  Yet my brain has me in a death lock.   “What’s the sense?” and “Why bother?”, it parrots to me again and again.  It’s voice is booming and deafening.  I can hear nothing else.  I would love to just smile, think a happy thought and have it vanish away like a puff of smoke but it is very solid and very real to me.  It takes the form of four solid walls, caging me in, holding me hostage, refusing to budge or listen to reason.

Those blah days are the worst because I feel trapped in this numbness from which I cannot escape.  I never know whether it will last one day or one week.  There is never an end in sight, never a scheduled sweet release.  Blah days drag on and on until at some point I begin to feel everything too strongly again.  On blah days, I would welcome the tears, the anguish, the pain and the suffering just to feel anything at all.

It has been over 6 hours now and I’ve barely managed to write a few paragraphs, yet those feel like a tremendous accomplishment.  I call it a victory.  I have done SOMETHING which is more than I am able to achieve on most blah days.  I still have to pee, though the dull ache has grown into a steady cramp.  Breakfast time has come and gone and lunch time has arrived, yet I still don’t have any desire to eat anything, let alone get up.  There are calls I should make, things I should be doing, yet my depression is still echoing in my head that I shouldn’t bother, that nothing is worth the effort.  It tells me to stay in bed, just let this day drift on by, that it doesn’t matter.  Nothing matters.  It is all I can hear.  It is deafening.  I am adrift in a sea of hopelessness and emptiness.  I feel paralyzed.

I swear I am not being lazy.   I’m just trapped in a battle with my own mind.  I feel lost and alone.  I feel trapped in this emptiness.  I feel nothing.  I feel numb.  I feel blah.

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Republished on The Mighty on 10/31/16.

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Republished on To Save A Life on 11/1/16.

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Republished via The Mighty on Help Minds Heal on 10/31/16.

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Republished on Daily American News on 11/1/16.

 yourtango

Republished on Your Tango on 12/1/16.

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Republished on Clear Mind Group on 11/7/16.

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Republished on HowTipz on 11/19/16.

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Republished on Great Minds on 10/4/18.