A woman covering her face

“So, what do you do?”

When you meet new people or catch up with people you haven’t seen in a while, one of the first questions they ask is, “What do you do?” It’s a basic “get to know you” question. But when you can’t work because of a mental illness — that question isn’t so easy to answer.

In my experience the conversation goes a lot like this:

Person: So, what do you do?

Me: I’m not really doing much right now.

Person: Are you working?

Me: No.

Person: Are you in school?

Me: No.

Person: Are you studying?

Me: No.

Person (visibly confused): Well, what do you do all day?

I know this question isn’t meant to be malicious, but it’s typically said in a way that makes me feel ashamed of not working or studying; as if the fact that I’m not going out and contributing to society in the conventional way, or studying so that I can do so in the future, makes me less than people who are. People see a physically healthy 18-year-old and wonder why she’s presumably lounging around at home when she should be doing something productive.

For me, surviving is the most productive thing I could possibly be doing right now, and it is not an easy thing to do. Getting through each day is my job, and I don’t get a break from it. There’s no paid vacation when it comes to mental illness. My version of work assignments are the basic tasks needed to keep myself alive: remembering to eat, drink enough water, shower, change my clothes, brush my teeth and take my meds. It might not seem like much, but some days even the basics are near impossible.

I would love nothing more than to be working; to have a stable job and stable income. I don’t live week to week because it’s fun; I do it because at this point in my life I have no other choice. My depression drains me of my energy and motivation and my anxiety stops me from interacting with people and putting myself out there. It’s not that I’m just not trying hard enough to push past all that — it’s that I can’t. Sometimes people are able to push through it — but that’s not the case for everyone.

I wish I could say the more I get asked this question the easier it gets, but every time it comes up, I still find myself at a loss for words. Lately my reply has been, “I’m just trying to get through each day.” This seems to work relatively well with most people. I’m trying to accept I don’t need to make excuses or give anyone an explanation, because it’s simply none of their business. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but the stigma that anyone who isn’t currently working is “lazy” makes it difficult and sometimes uncomfortable to be put in that situation.

If you’re like me and unable to work, I want you to remember these few things:

1. You don’t have to be working to be a valuable member of society. Your worth isn’t measured by your ability to contribute something measurable. Your worth is innate. You are worthy of good things simply because you exist. You don’t have to earn that right.

2. You don’t have to prove to anyone that your illness is “bad enough.” Everyone experiences things differently and you don’t need to justify yourself to anyone.

3. You’re not alone. There are many people that can’t work, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of that. It’s out of our control. The best thing we can do is work toward improving our mental health, and that is one of the hardest jobs out there.

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Thinkstock photo via a-wrangler

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This week, we had a power outage. There are around 20 other houses along our road, all of which had a power outage too. It was a storm that bought it on, however the rest of the village had power. In trying to keep my brain occupied with the lack of light, warmth and things to do in general, I found that maybe I have more in common with power outages than I ever thought.

Although we had no power, everything else carried on. I still had to attend sixth form, still had to get work done and still had to attend planned events. To me, this felt all too similar to my depression. Every day, I wake up despite what was whirling through my head the night before. I may have stayed in bed all day, maybe I only had an hours sleep — I don’t even think I managed to brush my teeth — but still the world goes on. The world doesn’t care about how each and every individual feels. They don’t care what happened to you today, or yesterday or even three weeks ago. Because the world will still go on.

Depression stops people, but depression doesn’t stop the world. Depression is selfish. Depression thinks it’s OK to not let someone out of bed to go to work, even though their employer threatens to fire them if they don’t attend. Depression thinks it’s OK to not give someone the energy to eat a meal, even though their doctor demands they eat three substantial meals a day. Depression thinks it’s OK to not let someone complete their assignment, even though their teacher will pull them out of their course if they don’t hand it in.

I really related to Thursday’s power outage. Each and every day, the weather in my head is different. Occasionally there are amazing bouts of sunshine, most of the time it is constant rain with a slight wind and then every so often, there’s a storm. The rain isn’t enjoyable, but it’s bearable. But whenever there’s a storm, it wipes me out. I can’t function. My whole body stops. I can’t move — my God, it’s even hard to breathe. But that doesn’t matter, does it? Because still I’m expected to carry on with my life as if nothing is the matter.

It’s just like a power outage, really. The world doesn’t stop for a power outage and the world doesn’t stop for depression.

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Unsplash photo via Chris Lawton


A couple of months ago, I wrote an article about songs that help me through depression. While I still love these songs, I’m tired of wallowing in the fact I’m depressed.

Subconsciously I changed my playlist to more inspirational upbeat songs.

Since I shared my previous songs with you all, I wanted to share the songs that push me to get better. Recovery will never come if you don’t separate yourself from the label. You are so much more than depression and anxiety, and here are some songs that might help you:

1) “At My Best” by Hailee Steinfeld and Machine Gun Kelly


If you can’t take me at my worst / you don’t deserve me at my best.

The best thing you can do for yourself during hard times is to weed out the people who don’t care about you. A common name for these people is “fair-weather friends.” These are basically the people who are only down for good times. While those friends are fun to be around, they will never be the ones holding your hand and at the end of the day, they won’t be there for you.

2) “Rise” by Selena Gomez

“You can hold onto the sadness like a souvenir / Or you can close your eyes / and see your life / Like the air / you can trap the strength you never knew you had … You can rise from the rubble.”

To me, this song just proves recovery is out there. It may seem like it doesn’t exist, but it does. You can get better. You will get better. The world is never as bad as it seems because you have so much strength in your heart.

3) “Temporary Home” by Carrie Underwood

“This is my temporary home / It’s not where I belong.”

This world is so temporary. In the moment pain seems like it will last forever, but it won’t. We are guests here. I believe the real life is up in Heaven. No matter what you believe, pain will just be a memory someday. You won’t care what people said — who liked you, or who didn’t. It doesn’t define you.

4) “Girl on Fire” by Alicia Keys

“She’s just a girl, and she’s on fire.”

You are a fighter. Look how far you have come, how much pain you have endured. I’m so proud of you.

You can get through anything. You are unbreakable and there is nothing you can’t handle. Depression has nothing on you.

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Unsplash photo via Siddharth Bhogra


Everything around me was buzzing. There was lively chatter. There were people everywhere. But I felt nothing. I felt numb and alone, and as the lump in my throat formed I knew what was coming. I was going to cry and as someone who doesn’t cry often it was a foreign feeling.

I knew my depression and anxiety were giving me shit. I could feel it when I woke up in the morning and I was starting to forget the reason I was even here anymore. Then the affixation of whether I made the right decision sets in. I focus on it and tear it apart as I try to ease my mind and give me some temporary relief. But it wasn’t going to come as easy this time.

I hate when people say you’re fine or you’ll be fine. I know I’m fine, but I don’t want to be just fine. I want to feel happy. Even as I sat in one of the most beautiful cities in the world with amazing people I had just met, I wondered if this was it. If this is what my life was going to be for the rest of my days. If I was going to have to keep moving, keep meeting new people to feel the momentary high that makes everything worth it.

I was always good at faking my smile. I think it’s because it’s the only thing that came naturally. Even in the saddest, most uncomfortable moments there is always a smile plastered on my face. And maybe that’s what confuses people. Maybe I’m not able to open up and tell people that right now I’m struggling so hard to just stay afloat. To continue to look at myself in the mirror and not hate the reflection and fake smile looking back at me.

I was tired of being nice. I just wanted to be mean, to be angry. But I wasn’t ever allowed to be angry. As soon as my personality changed from bubbly to even slightly upset, people treated me as if I had a disease and they would actively avoid me or bombard me with questions. I hated feeling like I could never be anything but happy because it would burden the rest of the world.

So I hide it. I don’t tell people the shit that hurts or confront the assholes who’ve taken advantage. I bury it down deep until it explodes out in self-hatred. How could I be so stupid to let people come into my life, take what they need and go again? How could I think my life would fix itself if I don’t ever want to confront the issues?

That’s the thing about reflection. Sometimes the deeper you dig, the more things you see that you don’t like, things you desperately want to change. Memories you didn’t want to ever think of again. Or the people who hurt you but you still don’t hate and probably won’t ever, because hating them would take away from hating yourself.

I hate giving people advice anymore. It felt so cheesy and hypocritical to tell people how to be happy when I couldn’t even do it for myself. I don’t mind listening to people who are upset but I feel like I have nothing to offer them but tired old clichés and sympathetic nods. I didn’t even know who I wanted to be anymore, let alone be able to give someone what they need right now.

So what happens when you get so deep down the tunnel that digging yourself out seems like an impossible task?

I think you give yourself a fucking break.

That’s it. Give yourself a break. Worry about nothing but yourself. The people who love you will always be there if they are truly meant to be. Self-care is never selfish. It’s also OK to just not be always happy. Know you’re resilient and that in time you’ll get back to yourself.

This is the time when I need to take my own advice and give myself a break, even though right now all I want to do is tear myself down. Eventually, bit by bit, I’ll get back to me. But it takes time and I’m starting to be OK with that.

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Unsplash photo by Mike Wilson


I’ve been to therapy before. OK, that’s an understatement. I’m what I like to call an “advocate of therapy.” I’ve used it. I believe in it. I basically tell everyone I know they should find a therapist. For me, therapy has always been a positive. Something I would do for me. To help me. I would almost go as far as to say it’s my “me” time. How many parents out there hear what I’m saying? Where else can we go and have peace and quiet and almost one whole hour of uninterrupted time to talk about us? Then add the topping of leaving therapy feeling as though there’s been some kind of weight lifted off our shoulders. Just writing about it makes me want to call my therapist and squeeze in a mid-week session!

But then it came time for my husband to see a therapist. In my heart of hearts, I knew it was a good thing. I was looking forward to it. Hopeful. He had struggled with depression for as long as I had known him, and it was only masked by his use of alcohol in our younger days. Given my love of therapy, you can imagine my enthusiasm when he finally agreed to start counseling! Looking back on the beginning of this journey, I’ll always hear the words of my therapist, “Janae, your struggle is going to be remembering that he is becoming something entirely new.” I shrugged it off happily. Of course he was! He was going to therapy. He was going to be changed. Transformed. It was going to be amazing! Butterflies. Rainbows. The whole happy nine yards!

What I forgot in my enthusiasm was how painful change can be.

I forgot that in between the old and the new, was growth. And growth can only come with an abundance of growing pains.

I had forgotten from my own therapy from years ago — the therapy that probably saved my life and allowed me to become someone who can see butterflies and rainbows — the word I had to memorize was perseverance.

So the day came when my husband came home from counseling, and I was short with him. I didn’t understand why he wasn’t happy. He’d just gotten an hour of “him” time. What was his problem? And in that moment, in my nicest “I’m over being home alone with the kids, why aren’t you completely revived after seeing the therapist” voice, I called him out on his attitude.

One of the first things he was working on was communicating, and I was blown away in that moment at how he conveyed the emotion of being hurt. Up until this time, and throughout his depression, the only clear emotion he could convey was anger. He simply looked at me and explained how not everyone has the same experience with therapy that I had. For him, in order to get to the good, in order to see through the journey to the other side, he has to go through some muck! He was delving into areas he had avoiding his entire life. And this strong as steel man was breaking. He was feeling emotions he hadn’t allowed himself to feel in years. And all the while, he was trying to be what he couldn’t be for us in those times of battling depression. He was trying to be more present. To be more joyful. To be more kind. And to have hope.

In what some would see as a moment of weakness, I saw a moment of strength. I saw my husband fighting a battle that most won’t ever know the pain of fighting. And in that moment, I was humbled by his choice to be honest with me, to be transparent in what he was going through.

As the spouse of someone beginning this journey of therapy, I am learning what my role is. I will be hopeful. I will offer grace. I will listen. I won’t forget that perseverance matters. He will get there. I will continue to be his safe place to land, and I will remind myself my love is so needed.

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Thinkstock photo via shironosov.


I’m trying to be more interactive with people I know are struggling with mental health issues. Twitter seems to be a great place to connect, for whatever reason. Today, it struck me again how we all need to stick together. Alone, as individuals, I believe we’re as weak as a thread when we’re having an “off” day. It can take very little to make us snap. We know it too, and our strength is focused on keeping the few fibers of that thread holding together…

Here’s a thought, however. Take one loop of thread. I’m able to snap that thread with almost no effort. But five threads? That gets a bit more difficult. What about 10? Or 20? So what? You may be wondering what a stupid piece of thread has to do with mental health.

It’s actually quite simple. You see, if I try on my own to keep my world together when I’m having a bad day, it’s gonna be a hell of a tough time. However, if I share my struggles, suddenly I find don’t have a single thread holding things together. Instead, people start coming together in support. They add their thread to mine. And suddenly, instead of a single black thread, there are colors and strength added to my day. And if we step back, those threads and colors are just a bit of this massive tapestry.

Sure, we all have our days, both good and bad. But I’ll tell you this. I know my life has been touched and impacted by people I’ll probably only know online. And I know I’ve touched and impacted others as well.

We’re all flawed, we’re all “frayed threads,” that’s true. But if we work together, our strengths and weaknesses create the most amazing image of strength, all the more beautiful for the the imperfections woven throughout.

This story originally appeared on Medium.

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Thinkstock photo via ogolne.

 

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