Mental illness is never truly accepted as a "real" illness. Oh sure, many many valiant people fight tirelessly so that the masses can learn that mental disorders are not less important or devastating than physical ones. Throughout the year, admissions of my illness to friends, family, and occasionally co-workers -- if the situation calls for it -- demonstrates their presumable understanding of what it is to live with depression, bipolar II, borderline personality, ADD, but to name a few.
Though you might get a sympathetic nod from someone to whom you tell that you take handfuls of medication daily to ward off the dark being in your head who tells you that you're shit, the information is often quickly repeated to others in a way that doesn't depict the gravity of the situation. Rather they describe your mental state as one of exaggerated proportions -- one which is only attention- and validation-seeking.
During the year, this entire song and dance of trying to explain, convince, and promote the necessity of mental health initiatives does, on some level, rally the masses. People are open to the concept that mental illness is prevalent in our culture. Statistics based on the Canadian Mental Health Association resonate and are repeated often during such promotional initiatives like the Bell Let's Talk program which aims to end the stigma of mental illness.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, eight per cent of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives. One per cent of Canadians will experience bipolar disorder. Those who have yet to experience this or who, hopefully never will, might think these facts are irrelevant in the scheme of their lives. Personally, I can't win at bingo, but my odds were pretty good when it came to mental illness, as I was recently diagnosed with several disorders -- major depression and bipolar II being two of them. More staggering though are the rates of suicide associated with mental illness, placing its deathly tentacles as the leading cause of death for men and women between adolescence and middle age.
This is real shit, people. Of course I could go on and on, and believe me, when I'm not clinging to the rays of light that teasingly appear through the haze of medications, I do and I will.
But during the holidays, a time when goodwill towards men and women is being expounded upon by every Christmas movie, television program, and YouTube video; during these few weeks leading up to the holidays and into the new year, suddenly I find myself lonelier in my quest to remain afloat in my sea of ragged emotions.
Sinking beneath the waves of the expectations of family and friends, I'm not quite certain where to turn. Everyone is so happy and excited, and Santa is on his way, and his sleigh will be filled with shitloads of materialistic crap; while those of us who struggle year round to fight our diseases, are pushed to the side, and told that our emotions, depressed, manic, or otherwise, are but an extension of the holiday pressure. We will be fine in the new year apparently. Apparently, mental illness takes a break when baby Jesus is placed in the manger over at the church display.
Of course I'm excited about Christmas. Who doesn't love hanging out with loved ones and trying to guess what each Black Magic chocolate actually contains? But the good moments are just that: good moments. They don't mean you are cured. They don't mean that now life will resume the way it did before you fell into the fetal position, and were unable to speak to those around you who wanted nothing but to hear your voice. It simply means you're lucky.
And I'll take all the luck I can get. But when my voice is raised an octave in the excitement of the party that is to come, leading family to believe, "She's better now!" an entirely new expectation is placed upon me, which in turn only creates a new brand of coping. I can only fake my holiday happiness for a little bit. After a couple of days -- if that -- my head hits the nearest soft surface, and hour upon hour of sleep allows me to escape from how everyone expects and wants me to be, rather than who I am. I am waging a battle on my own, and it's even lonelier during the holidays.
Nobody wants to be Ebenezer. But during the holidays, when all are merry, and my eyes are watering with the unexplained tears of depression -- which has not left me, but has only fooled those around me -- the oft-repeated, "What's wrong now? You seemed fine yesterday," only serves to make the demons in my head cackle a little louder.
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