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What I’ve Come to Learn From My Mental Illnesses After I Officially ‘Snapped’

Sometimes when a bone breaks, you can actually hear the snap. It’s awful. You can imagine the excruciating pain and sometimes you can see the blood if the bone breaks through the skin. I’m sorry to be so graphic but it’s this tangible occurrence people can see or hear that resonates.

When I’ve tried to explain my depression to people who have not experienced it themselves, there can be a sort of disbelief that happens because one can’t see the injury. They may see tears but they cannot imagine the snap, the break that happens in the heart and mind — how your whole life completely fractures.

Nearly three years ago, I snapped. I woke up one morning and started crying uncontrollably. I continued to cry like that for the next few days. At the time, I couldn’t explain what was happening. My husband understood and knew we were in for a long detour. I called my supervisor at the time and explained the situation. He struggled to understand what I was saying between the sobs. He was more than understanding and told me to take my time. I’m sure he didn’t realize I’d be leaving my work for good. Not even I knew that.

And so began a depressive episode that lingers on today. When the snap happened, I was juggling many responsibilities. Like times before, I really thought I could manage all of it — being a loving wife, caregiving for my sick parents, working in a job helping people and being a master’s student. As I write this, I see the ridiculousness of my expectations.

During a two week school intensive, I could not figure out why I was stuck staring at my blank computer screen for hours and unable to write. Time went by and I still couldn’t produce a sentence. I was anxious about my situation but still in complete denial. I kept thinking that if I just slept enough or exercised more, everything would be fine. It would not be fine. I barely completed half of my assignments before heading home.

I kept telling my husband I didn’t see it coming. How could I not know? While I was taking my medication consistently as prescribed, I took for granted that when you have a mood disorder, it takes a lot more than medication to manage life. And I was also under the impression that taking the same medication at the same dosage would always keep things at bay. As complex as I know our neurobiology is, it never dawned on me that prescriptions and treatment plans change with the changing seasons — which is why, by the way, it’s so important to have a team managing your mental health.

Prior to this season of depression, I pretended my life didn’t resemble a rollercoaster. When I recovered from an episode, I’d slip into an “out of sight, out of mind” state. I’m at a loss for what else to call these times. I’d like to find words other than “season” or “episode” or “breakdown.” When I hear “season,” I’m discouraged by the reality that the next depression or hypomanic state is sure to come, just like the falling leaves of autumn. When I hear “episode,” it makes me think life with depression is like a Korean drama — and maybe one could make a comparison there. But I’ve just never wanted to believe my mental illness was an ongoing series. And “breakdown” — well that’s just dismal. I’m not sure what that really means.

A famous clinical social worker and researcher refers to her breakdown as a “spiritual awakening.” I’m not sure what to say about that either. I mean, I get it. And I love this person and her work. And I do acknowledge there can be a great deal of spiritual awakening that occurs when we are praying to be healed. But I’m afraid the terminology makes depression sound almost romantic. And frankly, there’s zero romance in not showering for weeks, staying in bed so long your back hurts or having no motivation or energy to engage with people — even your spouse.

While we may label our experiences differently — breakdown, spiritual awakening, the dark night of the soul or the snap — we can all agree that our lives have been dramatically interrupted. I hope (yes, hope has been rekindled in me) that we all come to understand our identities are not our mental illnesses. I hope we come to know that those irritating, sometimes debilitating merry-go-round feelings and thoughts of worthlessness are lies. I am not my bipolar illness. I am not my PTSD. I am not my anxiety. However challenging, I want to understand and accept with compassion that these are conditions I live with but are not defined by.

I don’t romanticize struggling. But I know I’ve learned more about compassion. I’m learning to like myself. I’m learning about love. I’ve learned that God has blessed me with an amazing husband, family and friends. I’m learning that there’s an entire community of people longing to be understood — a community that listens, empathizes and struggles with me. Ah, the human condition.

Song Bennett lives in California in the Bay Area. She is a wife and mom to two humans and one spunky fur baby. She is a Christian writer and community builder.

Getty Images: Punnarong