I like to think I’ve done a pretty good job of keeping a lid on things when it comes to how difficult life has been lately, and honestly for a while now. Hell, if you work with me, you might not even know I’ve been diagnosed with major depressive disorder, anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and possible borderline personality disorder. I take my meds and I smile at work and I act like everything is okay but at home, behind the mask, I am dying inside. And that is why I’m writing this letter. A lot of people don’t realize that depression doesn’t look the exact same on every person; it doesn’t sound the same, act the same, or look the same, because it isn’t the same.
For me, depression is like the worst, most insensitive, degrading, unsupportive, abusive significant other you have ever had, but it lives in my head. So instead of breaking up with it and telling it to leave or physically leaving it myself, I have to do my best to silence it when it is quite literally the voice inside my head. The best way I can think of to explain the illnesses I have and their interconnectivity and the way they effect me is by quoting a metaphor from a letter just like this one that I read not too long ago.
The mental illnesses that I struggle with are like long distance friends from high school or college who aren’t really your friends anymore (and honestly never were) but you stay in touch because you feel obligated. You hope and pray that they don’t come in to town often, because when they do they insist on staying with you and they always overstay their welcome. Usually, they WAY overstay their welcome, and they also interfere with your day to day life in a million ways, some small, some not so small. For starters, trying to keep up with them leaves you exhausted in every way a person can be – mentally, physically, emotionally, psychologically. And then there’s their actual actions, like stealing things from you, trying to keep you confined to the house, keeping you up all night with stories that you know aren’t true and that seem targeted to make you feel bad. This results in you sleeping the days away later, trying to reclaim the lost sleep, or just keeping you in bed, unable to sleep or rest but feeling so, so tired.
Anxiety tells me that my friends don’t really like me, that they’re just pretending so they can use me. Depression tells me not to care. Anxiety tells me to care too much and freak out about it. Depression tells me to cut myself and make sure I can still feel something before I try to determine how I feel about this particular. And then, for a few blissful seconds, ADHD chimes in and distracts me. But then Depression reminds me that I’m a piece of human garbage because I didn’t go to the gym this morning, so I don’t deserve to eat and in a moment of weakness, I listen. I skip breakfast, and soothe my Anxiety with a cigarette and my Depression with a cup of coffee. I take the Adderall I need to function at work with my ADHD and then my appetite goes away anyway, so did I really need the food in the first place?
But honestly, I’m lucky. And here is why: while my mental illnesses do their best to rip me apart, I have a few stalwart souls that surround me and do their best to push me back together and hold me that way, fighting back against the warring voices in my brain. I have friends and family who pray for me, people who leave their phones on at night for me in spite of a six hour time difference, people who will come and sit with me while I cry – no questions asked – and comfort me, people who support me no matter what is going on in my life. I have friends who will literally do my laundry and dishes, who will drag me to the gym, who will bring me ice cream, who will just snuggle up with me and binge-watch anime even though there’s a million other things I “should” be doing. And those people are the ones that keep me going.
Now here’s the catch: Depression (who is just an asshole) likes to lie. Depression EXCELS at lying, and being believable, which makes them even more dangerous. And they will lie to you and tell you that no one cares and that you are a burden and that you’re bothering people and that everyone has their own problems and they don’t need to hear yours.
So if you have a friend, loved one, colleague, acquaintance, anyone in your life who you know struggles with any kind of mental illness at all, help them. A text message, a phone call, a visit. Check on them. Let them know you’re there for them. Because honestly, I have friends who have unwittingly saved my life simply by being in the right place at the right time, or by just texting me something like, “hey, wyd?” So be the one to reach out and offer a hand, because sometimes all we need is to know someone is there and someone cares.
(Also, and I wish I didn’t have to say this, but I do… people who suffer from depression and other mental illnesses are not lazy or selfish. We do not need hackneyed advice or to be told to “just cheer up.” It doesn’t work like that. If someone with any sort of mental illness expresses a need for help to you, it is coming from a very vulnerable place, so please try to be mindful and don’t be an asshole.)