Reading about different psychological conditions as someone who deals with severe depression and anxiety is scary. Reading about Robin Williams’ misdiagnosis and thinking about the fluoxetine that I take daily, I couldn’t help but wonder if this medication is really the solution. Even with this prescription I often I feel like I’m losing my mind and I can’t always tell what the source of it is. It’s hard to narrow down. I never really know if I’m overreacting and I wonder where the time hides away. I wonder what happened to my “old self.”
It is depression? Is it anxiety? Is it a combination of the two? Is it the medication? Is it paranoia? Is it really happening?
I feel like I live in a different reality than those around me. Sometimes I think I can sleep away those feelings and other times I realize that I have to get up and get going, just like the rest of us. I know I display certain types of intelligence that — according to some studies — increase my chances of suffering from certain mental illnesses. The first perception and the second truth terrify me, if I’m honest with myself. Particularly considering how people can power through a lot of difficult circumstances in their life merely because there is not another option. When I compare my current self to previous selves I start to get worried.
How sick am I? How much of ‘it’ is in my head? Why can I function so well on one day and so minimally on another day?
Dealing with mental health illnesses is not fun. Add in multiple marginalized identities and it gets worse (or better, for some people). Add in stressors. Add in my past as a high-functioning depressive and you have the ideal recipe for endless guilt when I don’t meet my own expectations. Add in, add in, add in, add in, add in ad nauseum. Nine times out of ten I feel like I’m “being lazy” and the negative self-talk does not end. I blame myself for my reduced activity or, even worse, my inaction. But that behavior is rarely what some would deem “laziness.”
I moved into this apartment about two months ago, I have not finished unpacking, and I’m profoundly ashamed. All around me are walls barren of art, despite the two stacks of art patiently waiting for me to place them. To the right is an IKEA bookshelf that is in dire need of some reorganization. Next to it lies a vision board that I intended to put up in August, yet as October enters the third date it remains diagonal on the floor. I have not swept this room once due to a floor that is never clear enough to sweep. As I ponder, I remember that I have a parking ticket I need to pay, a bill that needs to be filed, and countless documents that slip my mind in the piles that fill my room. The issue is not that my room is not unpacked. The issue is that two years ago I would have unpacked it within at least the first month, if not the first week.
The unfinished state of my room takes up mental space I wish I could free, yet I continue to at least get by in other aspects of my life. I publish a new piece of writing at least once a month and I do the work assigned to me at my 9-to-5. I haven’t been great at eating as well as I should, but I’m not longer skipping multiple meals a day. I sleep at least six hours a night, shower every day, and I make an effort to go outside when I can.
Everything that seemed so simple to me a few years ago is not so simple anymore. Eating, sleeping, showering, and socializing regularly have become much more difficult tasks than I ever would have imagined. I find that I do not have as many spoons as I used to, and some days it feels like I may only have one. The fact that I can wake up at 8am, acknowledge the groans of my stomach by 10am, and still not eat until 12pm? Not a good thing.
An hour before I originally wrote this piece (as a series of tweets), I was feeling great. I had gotten home from work in good spirits. I willingly took our recycling outside. I helped my housemate clean the living room. I had made plans to finally tackle my room. And all of the sudden I felt wiped out. I gravitated toward my bed and began to tweet through the feelings because sometimes that’s all I can muster the energy or the will to do.
Managing your mental health is difficult and unpredictable. I have a lot of people who love me. Between my family, my partner, my housemates, my friends, and many folks I have only met online, I have a lot of folks who are rooting for me with all the love in the world. Yet it still does not stop my brain. Mental illness is a damn beast, I swear. I keep asking myself:
Why the fuck do I care if I haven’t unpacked? Why do I care if folks leave cabinets open? Why does any of this matter and why can’t I stop thinking about it?
This, my personal experience, is why I know it is not useful to compare myself, my resume, and my accomplishments to anybody — including my past self. If you’ve been following me for awhile you know I do some cool stuff, but if I’m daily trying to find reasons to keep going, does it matter? I’m not suicidal. However I do get really exhausted — physically, mentally, and emotionally. I’m only 27 and most of the time I feel like I’m too young to feel this way.
You ever been out and start counting down until you can go home and lay down? Or sleep? That’s me way more often than I’d like. I have really high standards for myself. I only begin to recognize that they’re high when I compare my standards to other people’s standards for themselves. Or when I compare them to how much I have actually been able to accomplish. Inevitably, unattainable standards mean disappointment when I don’t reach them. It’s whack.
Everyday is a new day. I miss not worrying this frequently. I miss being able to let go more easily. I miss not being in bed all the time. This. Shit. Is. Hard. I’m aware that I need to be more gentle with myself. Yes. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. I’m getting better at asking for help and speaking for my needs. But sometimes I don’t know what I need. And sometimes I just want to sleep.
We need to talk more openly, honestly, and more frequently about mental health. I know it’s not just me because whenever I write or tweet about it folks share their stories and support with me. In fact, according to a 2014 national survey by SAMHSA, “an estimated 43.6 million (18.1%) Americans ages 18 and up experienced some form of mental illness.” In addition, NIMH reports that “an estimated 15.7 million adults aged 18 or older” in the U.S. in 2014 “had at least one major depressive episode in the past year. This number represented 6.7% of all U.S. adults.”