Minimizing Mental Illness: a message to allies

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TW: discussion of depression, thoughts of self-harm and suicide

I’ve been in the midst of a severe depressive episode for the past month. I have barely been able to keep house and home together, and not very well at that. Beyond that I’ve had no get up and go to do much of anything else.

I’ve kept my brain and hands busy, for the most part, by watching TV shows, knitting, and playing video games. This is because during this particular depressive episode if I get too much inside my own head, if I’m too still, I start thinking about hurting myself again. I start thinking about all the ways I’m terrible and I deserve this depression, and it becomes a sneaky spiral of doom and death that I get locked in and have a lot of trouble getting out of.

Driving has been the most dangerous activity for me, because I start to think while I’m driving, and I start thinking about what a horrible person I am, and how I should just put everyone else out of their misery by offing myself. Driving is the most “inside my own head” activity in my life, so I’ve been avoiding it as much as I can this month.

This means I’ve mostly been inside the house. I have a lot to do inside the house and I’ve tried to be productive as possible. Of course, because I have impossibly high standards for myself and I am incredibly hard on myself all the time, this has only added to the depression as I’ve been unable to complete as much work as I want to, and that is, my brain tells me, my fault because I am lazy and horrible.

This is a sneaky way the depression and anxiety manifest themselves: make me have impossibly high standards so when I inevitably fail them I can hate myself more. Huzzah! Ale and whores for everyone, except Katje, because screw zir.

I haven’t really been able to talk to people about this, because some of the conversations I’ve had about it have gone like this:

Me: My fish are dead.
Other person: Have you tried feeding them?
Me: They’re dead.
Other person: I’ll help you look for them!
Me: My fish. are. dead.
Other person: Do you know why they’re missing?
Me: Why can’t anyone see how dead these fish are?

(Analogy courtesy Allie Brosh.)

And it becomes exhausting trying to figure out who will see my fish are dead and who won’t, so I just don’t talk about it with anyone. I’m tired of people asking about the reasons behind my depression, as if 20 years of mental illness has a fucking reason. I’m sick. I have a disease. It flares up. There’s no reason except that’s what happens and I’m stuck dealing with it.

I’m tired of people suggesting going outside and getting oxygen as a way to make me feel better (pro-tip, I get cold easy and have allergies; going outside in springtime is not going to make me feel better by any stretch of the imagination unless it’s a ridiculously sunny and warm day and I have a few hours to kill at the park WITH A DOG and as I have no dog and this is Vancouver where the sun is afraid to come lest it be stabbed by someone, it is unlikely going outside will magically cure my depression).

I’m tired of people suggesting ANYTHING as a magical cure for my depression. These reactions to “I have depression” are accepted and encouraged and yet if you said “Well have you tried vitamin D/being co-dependent on your fiance/oxygen/water/life/not having it/insert newest yuppie health craze item here?” to someone suffering from cancer or some other visible illness you’d be a Grade A Douchecanoe.

I’m tired of people saying “Well you sound really upbeat! You don’t sound depressed at all!” Thanks for letting me know my camouflage is working; I’ve only been perfecting the mechanism for 20 years.

People don’t like you when you’re depressed. This isn’t Hundred Acre Wood, and my friends are not going to continue to be my friends when I’m Eeyore all the damn time. Sad truth about the world — people abandon you when you need them most. Because you “won’t accept their help” (when they can’t understand what help you really need because they’ve never been through it themselves and thus think that suggesting Vitamin D or some good old fashioned exercise will “get you out of that funk” and raring to go again). Because you “want to be depressed” (yes, totally, thinking about killing or hurting myself all the time and being unable to function as a human being and breaking down in tears because I burned dinner is awesome! Who wouldn’t want this?). Because you’re “looking for attention/whining/making mountains out of molehills” if you dare talk about your problems honestly, if you dare answer “how are you?” with anything other than “I’m fine, just tired”.

Having mental illness means you learn to minimize what’s going on with you, or you learn to be alone.

Depression becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that way. Your inner voices say everyone will leave you because you’re worthless; you talk honestly about your problems; people who don’t understand depression leave you because they don’t understand; this reinforces what depression has told you and drives you further into its arms.

So, yes. My Facebook has (mostly) been silent or mainly happy for a month now. I posted once about being depressed but I made sure the post was funny, and not depressing. Because I didn’t want to alienate anyone by being honest about my illness.

If I feel like posting about how something in my life has gone awry, or how I’m feeling shitty, I don’t. Not because I believe in the power of positive thinking, or because I think posting about it will make me feel worse (often I think it’ll make me feel better). Because I have learned how to minimize my problems to the rest of the world so they’ll continue to like me. (And because I’m tired of dealing with the fallout of “helpful advice”.)

This is why I’ve been silent on this blog for so long. I couldn’t find anything to say that wasn’t “I’m really, really depressed right now and having trouble finding the will to continue existing.” And heavens forfend I’m honest about that on my blog, where I need to be happy and funny all the time, or I’ll lose readers.

And I’m tired of it. I’m tired of minimizing my problems; I’m tired of constantly arguing against the minimization done of them by others.

I’m depressed. Deal with it. I have for 20+ years. It is not a small deal. It is a big deal, but don’t worry, if I can handle it so can you.

I will not be magically cured by oxygen or water or vitamin D or whatever thing is being heralded as a magical cure for depression. My meds and going to therapy will help. They will not “fix” me, not overnight, and perhaps never. I cannot always function because of my depression, and that means I might not be able to come out to meet you for coffee or even talk to you on the phone. I might not be able to do much more than stay in and try to keep the ever-creeping mess from swallowing me and Mr. Katje whole. This is not me being lazy; this is me desperately fighting to survive.

I’m not minimizing anymore. I’m speaking honestly about what’s going on with me.

I’m ill. I’m fighting a battle against a disease that is often terminal. I have good days and bad days. Sometimes, it’s mostly bad days. So far I have not succumbed to the disease. So far I am still alive.

That is more than a lot of people can say, including my late aunt, who lost her battle with depression when I was a child.

If my honesty depresses you, if you think I’m just looking for attention, if you don’t want to read about my battle with the illness because the illness is killing my optimism cells and making it difficult for me to look on the bright side of anything, if you think I am exaggerating — the door is over there. Leave my blog, leave my life.

I’m fighting a battle where the best support you can give me is a listening ear and unconditional belief that I am telling the truth. If you can’t give me the former, that’s fine. But you must be able to give me the latter, or I can’t have you around. Because you will be helping the depression win.

If you claim to be a friend or ally to me and yet don’t believe it is as bad as I say it is, if you minimize what I’m going through, if you refuse to listen to me when I speak of my life experience, then you are fighting on the side of the depression. You are supporting my illness, which is often terminal.

So it’s time to choose a side, because I’m no longer taking this lying down. I am not going to let the stigma against mental illness silence me anymore.

I refuse to minimize my disease for the convenience of others. My disease is not convenient to me. You do not get that luxury where I lack it, and especially not at my expense.

The first step in being an ally to those of us suffering from depression or anxiety or anything similar is to put your convenience and your comfort aside. No, it is not convenient being friends with someone who has depression. Sometimes it is downright uncomfortable. But what is more uncomfortable is living in this skin, this skin that never sits right, that whispers lies to me, that I feel is transparent so everyone can see the monster inside. What is more inconvenient is having my depression ruin good things in my life because it destroys my ability to function. I get that it sucks you can’t have coffee with your friend. It sucks more that I just fucked up an entire month’s worth of work, leaving me scrambling to find rent at the end of the month.

Fight the minimization. Listen. Believe. Choose our side. Choose us.

7 thoughts on “Minimizing Mental Illness: a message to allies

  1. Léithin Cluan

    I get a LOT of suggestions for everything from vitamin D to reiki – all the time. Although there’s a lot of this going on for mental illness, it happens to all of us with all invisible long-term illnesses (which are most of them).

    Thanks for the excellent post.

  2. Raine

    I support you in not being silent anymore about your mental illness. I’m also a listening ear if you ever need it, and I have depression myself. I understand what it feels like.

  3. style704

    I’m sorry your fish are dead, and that you’re not well. I know there’s no cure, but I hope you can catch a break with your symptoms. Let me know if there’s anything you need, or if you just need an ear. <3


  4. Chabas

    ((((Katje)))) Listening ear and belief in you are available aplenty. Wish I were closer so I could do some small practical thing for you like drop off dinner or something.

  5. The Real Cie

    I have type 2 bipolar disorder. I’ve lost a lot of so called “friends” because I have a tendency not to be a “good crazy.” I’ve always been honest about how I feel.

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