3 Dark, Heavy Truths You Need to Know About Depression This Mental Health Awareness Month
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. During the month of May, I frequently see posts asking what people want others to know about their mental illness. Although this question often comes from a place of genuine concern and a genuine desire to learn, in my experience, people often want the light version. The airbrushed version. The more palatable version. People often don’t want the dark, heavy truth. Some people feel awkward and embarrassed while others simply don’t know what to do with the harsh reality. Unfortunately, I can’t airbrush my mental illness and, truth be told, I often don’t know what to do with my reality either. All I have to offer though is my lived experience.
1. I’m tired all of the time.
I could sleep for two hours or 24 hours and I will be just as tired. I wake up exhausted, unrefreshed and ready to go back to bed. I never have energy. I don’t get all the essentials done every day because I simply don’t have the energy. I don’t have the energy for essentials so I definitely don’t have the energy for fun. Sometimes I’m so tired I genuinely feel as though I could pass away in my sleep. It’s the kind of tired that feels as though it could be fatal. It’s an overwhelming, all-consuming, relentless tiredness. Unfortunately, it’s a tiredness that many people don’t understand. This tiredness is often mistaken as laziness or a lack of motivation. Some people want to take on the world each and every day. I want to take on the shower. I don’t even care if I brush my teeth. It’s not because I’m lazy or unmotivated — it’s because I’m tired!
2. Just because I’ve been depressed for such a long time, it doesn’t mean I’m safe.
People stop caring after a while. I get it. It’s emotionally taxing for people to keep up with long term. I know how it feels because it’s emotionally taxing for me as well. The only difference is, I don’t get a choice. If I could walk away from it, I would too. Professionals get discouraged when their treatment isn’t working and sometimes they decide there is no point treating your depression if it’s not improving. I get it. I’m discouraged too.
However, just because I’ve lived with my depression for so long it doesn’t mean I’m safe. I still self-harm. I think about suicide every day. I don’t talk to anyone about it anymore because they assume that if I’ve lived with this for 25 years already and survived, I’m no longer at risk. Apparently, no one would think about suicide for a whole 25 years before actually acting on it! Apparently, no one would still self-harm after that long and if they do, well surely they know how to treat the wounds themselves after all that experience.
After living with this for most of my life, I’m exhausted. I’m worn down. My supports have dwindled. My hope has faded. I feel like a wrung-out dishcloth. A bad smell that doesn’t go away. Sure, I’m used to this life but that doesn’t make it easier and it doesn’t make me safer.
3. I may not get better.
When I was first diagnosed with depression, my doctor assured me that it was temporary and that I would make a full recovery. He estimated six months. Of all the misinformation I’ve been given over the years, this is by far the worst. The doctor told my family I would be recovered in six months. My family told the school, people at church and extended family that I would recover in six months. I was set up to fail from the start. I didn’t get better and I was blamed for not getting better. It wasn’t until 20 years later that I learned about treatment-resistant depression. I hadn’t even been told of the possibility of not getting better. Had I known then what I know now, my whole life would have been different. Unfortunately, people who don’t struggle with depression, or who did struggle with depression and then recovered, have the same expectations as that doctor did so many years ago. That there’s no reason not to improve. That depression is temporary and not a life sentence. I’ve been accused of “milking it for all its worth” and told that “it’s getting a bit long in the tooth” and been offered ridiculing help such as “do we need to put you in a paper bag and shake you up”.
Considering I’ve been depressed for more of my life than I haven’t been depressed, I’m assuming that this is a lifelong battle. That’s not negativity; it’s reality. I’m glad it wasn’t your reality but unfortunately, this is my reality. That doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped trying. I’ll never stop trying. I’ll continue to take my medication and I’ll continue to go to therapy. I will continue to try to heal past traumas and old wounds. However, I don’t need you to hold the expectation that I’ll get better because as hard as I try, I simply may not.
Photo by M.T ElGassier on Unsplash