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When You're Depressed and Living In the Gray Area Between 'Sick' and 'Well'

I’m in the “in-between.”

The in-between: sick enough to need immediate inpatient hospitalization, but well enough to keep pretending everything’s fine.

The in-between: needing someone to save me from myself, but competent enough to maintain my autonomy.

The in-between: wanting to give it all up, but having social ties that keep me tethered to this world.

The in-between: where it’s all a little gray, a little hazy and a bit obscure.

I occupy this place where I’m neither “sick” nor “well.” We’re all on this continuum, moving back and forth from day to day, moment to moment, depending on our circumstances. Maybe I get a cold and I slip a little more towards the “sick” end of the spectrum for a few days. Maybe I took my vitamins and that makes me a little more “well” for a period of time. We all have factors vying for our health on either side, pulling us back and forth like a giant tug-of-war. I’m not sure who gets to decide what is “sick” and what is “well.” As much as we throw the word around, there isn’t a census on the definition of  “healthy.” Does it make you more or less healthy to be surviving a debilitating round of depression? Are you sick because you have a diagnosable illness or well because you’re still going despite the symptoms that seem to be multiplying in number and intensity?

I feel myself edging closer and closer to the “unwell” end of the spectrum. I’m watching as my faculties slip and who I know as “me” no longer exists as such. The daily reality I was living as a “healthy” person is being replaced with a nightmare I haven’t faced in years, and I’m not sure I have the resources or the reserves I need to defeat it. The darkness has caused my brain to falter, the truths I once knew are now questionable, the hope of being “well” again is now unreachable. Even as I attempt to claw my way back to “health,” back to “wellness,” back to “neuro-normativity,” I’m hanging from my fingernails on a vertical cliff with no safety net beneath me and no help being offered from above. Because I’m in the in-between… and no one knows I’m hanging on for dear life.

I wonder if being in the in-between is perhaps more dangerous than being on either end of the spectrum. If I were well, I’d be stable with the once a week therapy session that is approved by my insurance. If I were catatonic or took action to end my life, someone else would be acting on my behalf to obtain the services I need. But I’m suffering in-between the two – the outpatient services that are available to me are not enough to address my situation in real time, but I’m not “sick enough” to receive a higher level of care.

It’s not outlandish to see how someone in my predicament might consider suicide a viable option. If the pain is too much and yet I remain “well enough” to not necessitate acute services, taking my chances with suicide seem almost reasonable in the distorted reality that depression creates in my brain.

If you can’t understand the logic jump I just made there, that’s OK, I’m glad you’ve never experienced depression so intense that you can empathize. But if you’re with me, if you follow where I’m going with this, if you see how being just on the cusp of “unwell” can present you with the unique predicament that you have to take your life into your own hands because society isn’t equipped to meet your needs — then I’m here to tell you, you’re not alone. You are not wrong. You are not crazy. You are not selfish. You are a human in pain whose needs aren’t being met by our society that isn’t equipped to acknowledge or treat neurodivergence outside once a week therapy or conversely acute inpatient hospitalization.

You are in the in-between — the gap between what society understands and where services are lacking. You are bearing the burden of a society that makes you beg and pled for your care, for your well-being, for your recovery — one that doesn’t allow you paid time off work, adequate mental health insurance coverage, thorough and unbiased mental health education, timely and evidence-based care or an environment free of discrimination and oppression. You are not the problem here, but yet you have to bear the burden.

I don’t have a quick fix. I don’t know how to mend the mental health system, and even if I did, I’m not sure that those with the power to make real changes would care what I have to say because ultimately the system is serving them or it wouldn’t maintain its illogical and unhelpful reign. This is not to negate how far mental health care has come, but I will not pretend our current mental health care system is anywhere near adequate. We need a huge societal shift and destigmatization of mental illness before services can even begin to address the need that is present in our society. What I can say is this: if you are in the in-between, you are not alone. I am there with you and you do not have to do this by yourself. I will help you shoulder the burden… and maybe if enough of us band together, that burden will get light and lighter until we get the care we so desperately need and deserve.

Unsplash photo via Christian Gertenbach