“That’s the thing I want to make clear about depression: It’s got nothing at all to do with life. In the course of life, there is sadness and pain and sorrow, all of which, in their right time and season, are normal — unpleasant, but normal. Depression is an altogether different zone because it involves a complete absence: absence of affect, absence of feeling, absence of response, absence of interest. The pain you feel in the course of a major clinical depression is an attempt on nature’s part (nature, after all, abhors a vacuum) to fill up the empty space. But for all intents and purposes, the deeply depressed are just the walking, waking dead.
And the scariest part is that if you ask anyone in the throes of depression how he got there, to pin down the turning point, he’ll never know. There is a classic moment in The Sun Also Rises when someone asks Mike Campbell how he went bankrupt, and all he can say in response is, ‘Gradually and then suddenly.’ When someone asks how I love my mind, that is all I can say too.”
–Prozac Nation, Elizabeth Wurtzel
When I think about my ongoing battle with mental illness I feel exhausted. It’s exhausting every day to try and “feel better.” To feel “normal.” By the end of the day I’m so tired all I want is to sleep. I’m tired from the trying. I’m tired from analyzing every little mistake as it quickly snowballs into being the reason I lose my family or my job or my friends or my boyfriend. I’m tired of worrying all the time. I’m tired of not being able to respond back to text messages or phone calls from friends because I’m I don’t want them to know. I don’t know what to say. I’m tired of not feeling good enough; a good enough friend, girlfriend, dog owner, teacher. The list goes on and on.
I’m tired from the effort it takes me to get out of bed in the morning and then to stay out of bed to do what needs to be done. Sometimes I’m short of breath just from simply walking to get something from my car and back. I’m tired of making myself eat. I’m tired of making myself shower. I’m tired of not being able to remember things because the new meds I’m on haven’t leveled out yet. I feel exhausted when I think about the fact that I will struggle with this every single day, in some way, for the rest of my life because there is no cure. There is no “quick fix.” There is no blood test that can be done because it’s in my brain.
I struggle. I struggle because I’m so tired of trying to explain to people why I’m still depressed when other people have more than I do. I struggle because I’m so tired of trying to explain to people that I physically can’t make myself get out of bed. I struggle because I’m so tried of trying to explain to people that yes, I do know I finally have everything I’ve ever wanted and no, I don’t want to lose it either.
I have difficulty being happy and staying that way. I have difficulty being happy because I don’t know how to be. I don’t know how to be happy when it’s so foreign to me. My depression is what I know. It’s a comfort for me in a backwards and messed up way.
When everything is going great I’m constantly preparing for the drop. I’m constantly preparing for the spiral down. I know that it’s right around the corner so I worry about it constantly, waiting for it to sneak up on me while I’m sleeping or jump out around the corner at school in the middle of the day. I don’t know when it’s going to happen but I know it’s there, waiting for me.
So I can’t sleep at night. I’m so exhausted in every way a person can be but I can’t sleep. I can’t sleep because all I can think about is all the ways I can possibly ruin my life. I can’t sleep because I can’t sleep and I’m mad at myself because I can’t sleep. And then when I can sleep my dreams make me just as tired. I wake myself up screaming or crying. Bruises on my hands and arms from lashing out at my bedside table while I “get some rest.”
Yes, I know there are people out there who have it worse than me and that’s what makes it harder. Why am I like this when there are other people out there who have it so much worse than me? Why can’t I just be happy? And I hate myself more because of that.
Therapy helps. Prescriptions help. Until they don’t. They help until one day I wake up and I can’t do it. It’s all too much. The thought of going outside terrifies me. I know that probably once I’m out and about in the world I will maybe feel a little better. But as I get out of bed and walk towards the door my heart starts beating faster. Everything starts to move too fast but also too slow. I feel weak. I can’t do it.
You’ve heard about the depression. The anxiety. But what about the bipolar?
When I was diagnosed as bipolar II, I understood. It was a relief. The fits of rage I had experienced were now caused by something. The times that I felt too much. The times I felt nothing at all. The times where I would be happy-go-lucky one moment and crying or screaming the next day with no idea as to why. That was the bipolar.
“We have concluded that you are suffering from bipolar II. It’s not like bipolar I because you get to experience the extreme lows but never really the mania. No worries though! There’s a prescription for that!”
“Also have you ever heard voices or seen things that weren’t there?”
Thus begins the cycle of medication. Of nausea. Of not feeling like myself. Of finding the right medication which means figuring out the wrong ones. And finally hopefully finding one before I forget what it’s like to actually feel like myself again.
I’m still figuring it out.
I struggle because I see my students suffering from the same things I do. And I want to tell them that I feel their pain. That I know how they feel. That I know what it’s like to hear other students talk about suicide and mental illness as if it were a joke and I want to cry because it’s all too much. I worry because I don’t know if it would cross some line if I let them in on my personal life too much. I worry because of the chance that I don’t or I can’t and they continue to struggle and get lower and lower without really knowing what is happening to them.
I falter when I can’t remember the name of a place or person that is familiar to me. I feel like I’m losing my mind. I falter when my students ask a question and I can’t even remember the day of the week. I falter because they see it. They know something is going on.
There are days where I just want to give up. I want to stop taking medicine. I want to stop seeing the pharmacist at the Walgreens multiple times a month to pick up various prescriptions. I want to stop seeing a psychiatrist. I want to stop paying for a psychiatrist out of pocket because I haven’t met my deductible yet according to my insurance. I want to stop seeing a therapist. I want to stop making excuses for why I have to leave school early because it’s the only time my therapist can see me.
I want “I’m sick” to mean my brain is sick instead of the flu. I want people to stop using the term “I’m so depressed” or “I’m feeling so bipolar” as ways to describe their current mood. Because it diminishes what I’m struggling with. It makes it seem not as hard. That it’s just a passing phase or feeling. That it’s something that can be used to flippantly.
I want so many things that can’t happen. My brain is never not going to be sick. I don’t know if there will ever come a time when I’m “well” enough to not have a pill organizer or to see a therapist. And it’s been hard. And it still is hard. Every single day I have to make a decision – to live or to end it all. Sometimes I wake up afraid because I am alive. I want people to know it has nothing to do with them. It has nothing to do with my life. It’s all to do with something I can’t control – chemicals.
But every day I make the decision to live. Sometimes I can’t get out of bed but I’m still alive. There are days when it’s harder than others. There are days when it’s easier than others. I make the decision because of the people who depend on me – my dog, my students.
I make the decision because there are people in my life who do understand. Who are going through the exact same things as me. And that makes it easier. I know there are people who are just as exhausted as I am for the same reasons that I am, so I keep going for them and because of them. I live for the ones out there just like me who just keep bleeding instead of putting a band aid on like other people. I live to be there for them the way that they are there for me.