Hiding the Depression That Came With My Chronic Illnesses
Being chronically ill is not something particularly new to me. When I was 14 years old I was diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and learned all about the many wonderful symptoms of that illness. I was teased and bullied not only for being overweight but also for having excess facial and body hair. I was also slut-shamed for being on birth control at such a young age even though I wouldn’t have sex for another six years. I struggled consistently with depression and anxiety, but being someone who is not typically vocal about my feelings I was told repeatedly by psychologists that I was fine, and I was functioning well enough that they could not really help me. No offense to psychologists, but I was drowning. I hid it so well that even when I wanted to express it I had no clue how to begin. It would not be until a decade after that first diagnosis that I would be diagnosed with major depressive disorder, something I have struggled with for as long as I can remember.
This has haunted me throughout my chronic illness journey and through all my interactions with health professional. They cannot see how much I struggle. I was taught to be “strong.” Growing up I watched my dad, and I learned from him how to hide immense pain with a smile and a joke. At some point my ability to appear fine and make it seem believable became my biggest obstacle to getting the help I needed. It would not be until I was 25 years old and in excruciating pain, so exhausted I was falling asleep in classes, at work, driving, that I finally broke down. I needed help and I wasn’t going to accept that I was too good at appearing “functional” as a reasonable answer any longer.
Since when does being able to function, to drag yourself through your life, mean you are OK? For years I was drowning in depression, my social anxiety so bad that anytime I was in a room all I could think of was all the terrible things people must be thinking about me. I had tried to reach for help. I asked to be examined, but all they saw was the façade that I had worked so hard to perfect. The student with a bright future, the hard-working employee who never stopped moving. They saw what I wanted everyone else to see. What they didn’t see is the girl who knew if she ever stopped moving she would fall apart, that the exhausting continuous movement was what forced all the pieces of her to stay together. What they didn’t see was me.
For so long I refused to accept that it was OK to not be OK. I had perfected the lies and the stories I told to the point where I couldn’t even speak the words myself. I couldn’t say what was wrong because I had pushed it so deep down that I no longer even had words to describe the pain I felt, the emptiness. I had to be OK. I had to keep going. If I stopped even for a second, I thought, I would be the disappointment everyone expected me to be.
Now at 25 years old I have officially been diagnosed with PCOS, osteoarthritis, hypermobility, major depressive disorder, migraines, anxiety, fibromyalgia, and I am post-op two and a half years from a vertical gastric sleeve. It took having to fight my own body and mind on a daily basis for me to find some acceptance in who I am. My conditions are not all I am; I am an anthropologist, a twin sister, a daughter and so much more. I have spent years in college and have an advanced degree, but learning that it is OK to feel broken and that it is OK to not be OK was by far the most important thing I ever learned. Be honest with yourself and with others. If they judge you, that says far more about them than it does about you. May the spoons be ever in your favor.
If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.
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Photo by Aidan Meyer, via Unsplash