When I was clinically diagnosed with a mental illness, I had to take on the responsibility of sitting down with every individual who made up my support system (i.e., my family, my roommates, my close friends, my boss). The first person I told asked me, "What does that even mean, to have a mental illness?" As I was only just coming to terms with the notion of having a mental illness myself, I struggled to explain how I felt.
That was three years ago. Today, I think I have a better grasp on what it means to live with a mental illness. So now I'll finally try to answer that question.
My depression is constant, following me around everyday. I am trapped in this state of mind where everything is dark and filled with sadness. Simply put, I feel sad. Hope and happiness seem far away and even if everything in my life is going well, I still remain clouded with a sense of sadness. Some days, I am able to temporarily push away the monster in my head. Yet, my depression is a part of me and will never leave. It has become an on-going daily fight and therefore, I find myself in a constant sense of recovery.
Now I realize how true strength falls upon vulnerability.
My old coping mechanism was to build walls around all of my emotions or feelings. So, I would put on smile and fill my life with distractions to keep me busy. My hectic schedule allowed me to hide my illness well. It provided me with an outlet to express what I was feeling, by being able to label it as stress. From the outside, I appeared strong and cold, refusing to accept any notion of weakness. Yet, now I realize how true strength falls upon vulnerability.
Some days I struggle to tame my monster, which leads me to a major depressive episode. When this happens, I lock myself up. All enjoyment and motivation, even for the things I love, completely disappears. The little acts such as getting out of bed or visiting a friend seem impossible. Often, I find myself crying for no apparent reason other than the fact that I can't stop the emotions inside my head. The self-loathing begins and I am filled with a sense of worthlessness and guilt. When I look in the mirror, I criticize every detail about the women looking back at me.
Next, the physical symptoms begin to settle in. When I wake up in the morning, I already feel depleted. The simplest tasks use all my energy, leaving me exhausted and fatigued. And so, I spend most of my days sleeping. My senses become dulled and I find even the taste of food unbearable. I refuse to take even one bite as I am filled with a sense of nausea and lack of appetite. Next my body tries to fight back, leaving me with unexplainable aches and pains. My concentration diminishes and if I find myself listening to a friend, I am unable to pay attention to what he or she is saying. When this happens, I begin to back away by avoiding my friends and family.
All I need to do is say "I am feeling sad" and my support network completely understands.
Back then, many of my relationships felt as though they were failing. From the outside, I appeared to be a flake as I backed out of commitments and social events for no reason. However, this was far from the truth. On those days, my depression consumed me and the thought of mustering up enough strength to be both happy and social seemed exhausting.
Some days, I am able to tame my depression and I push myself to fight back. Those days you will find me simply being me, constantly laughing and taking advantage of all the little things in life. However, as soon as my surroundings are silent, my depression slowly creeps back.
Nowadays, I am able to verbalize my depression. All I need to do is say "I am feeling sad" and my support network completely understands.
Some of them will never fully comprehend how it feels to be inside my head, but that doesn't affect their ability to be empathetic.
They understand that some days I need space.
They understand that it is an illness, not a flaw in my character.
They understand that I can't be "fixed" and they let me have my bad days.
They understand that some days I just need to sit and be quiet. And on those days, they sit with me and ask:
"How can I help? What do you need right now?"
They understand, because when they ask, now I am able to show them what it's like to live inside my head.
Frame Of Mind is a new series inspired by The Maddie Project that focuses on teens and mental health. The series will aim to raise awareness and spark a conversation by speaking directly to teens who are going through a tough time, as well as their families, teachers and community leaders. We want to ensure that teens who are struggling with mental illness get the help, support and compassion they need. If you would like to contribute a blog to this series, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
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One in five Canadians will experience mental illness in their lifetime Source: Canadian Mental Health Association
Nearly half of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about this problem. Source: CMHA
Latest studies showed more than 1.3 million young Canadians have a mood disorder or addiction. Two-thirds had symptoms before the age of 15. Source: Statistics Canada, Government of Canada
Suicide is among the leading causes of death in 15- to 24-year-old Canadians, second only to accidents. In 2012, 261 Canadian kids and teens took their own lives. Source: CMHA, Statistics Canada
LGBTQ youth face about 14 times the risk of suicide and substance abuse than their heterosexual peers Source: CMHA Ontario
First Nations youth are at a higher risk. The suicide rate among First Nations youth is roughly five to seven times higher than that of the general population. Source: Parliament of Canada study, 2014
People with mental illness and addictions are more likely to die prematurely than those without. Mental illness can cut 10 to 20 years from a person’s life expectancy. Source: Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
Contending with her bipolar disorder brought Yashi Brown to poetry, and with it, she's trying to end the stigma of mental illness.
If you need help, visit ementalhealth.ca to search for services in your area. Or call the Kids' Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868, it's Canada's only free phone counselling service for youth under 20.
More From Frame Of Mind:
- Sophie Grégoire Trudeau: Why My Family Talks Openly About Mental Health
- Depression Is More Than Being Sad
- Why I Talk About My Depression (And You Should Too)
- To Teens In The Darkness: Tomorrow Needs You, We All Need You
- Suicide Prevention: I Want Other Families To Know What Ours Didn't
- Our Daughter Fell Through The Cracks Of Our Mental Health System
- The Way We Care For People With Mental Illness Needs To Change
Follow Anna Pearson on Twitter: www.twitter.com/dailyinsanityb