Most people who know me know that I’m mentally ill. I’m usually not embarrassed to talk about it, or to share my experiences with anyone who cares to ask. The only way to change how the world sees people who are mentally ill is to be loud about our experiences and how we need to be helped. Sometimes, you would have a hard time telling that I’m ill; I have a job, an awesome significant other, loving and supportive parents, patient siblings and friends, a place to live, food to eat, a degree that I worked my butt off for. I laugh a lot. I go out and spend time with my friends. I write. I read. I binge-watch TV shows. I paint sometimes.
But also: I have a very hard time remaining focused on work. I worry consistently about whether my friends are being genuine with me, or whether they actually just secretly hate me. I agonize over doing well at the things that I try to do, and when it’s not good enough, I obviously have to totally start over or not bother at all. I feel sick to my stomach and immediately assume the worst when it comes to probably-should-be-able-to-deal-with-it-things, like when someone says they need to talk to me about something. I don’t believe the people I love when they tell me that they love me. I worry perpetually that I am “too much”, or that my friends will tire of listening to me and leave. I don’t feel like I deserve the things that I have. I feel stupid. And ugly. And uncomfortable in my own body. I feel like I’m a burden. And that I will never. Get. Better. I look at people around me and wonder what it must be like to be able to do real human adult things like real human adult people do, without debilitating worry or apathy… And sometimes both at the same time.
Having both Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Depression is a complex and exhausting existence, a lot of the time. When I was in university (and even still), it was a lot of feeling very, very tired in one part of my brain, and having absolutely no motivation to do the things I needed to and absolutely knew that I could do. And then the other side would be running around like a chicken with her head cut off screaming about how everything was going to be ruined if I didn’t just get myself together and DO IT EMMA JUST GET OVER IT AND BE A REAL HUMAN PERSON AND DO IT OR WE WILL FAIL OUT OF SCHOOL AND EMBARRASS OURSELVES AND OUR FAMILY AND OUR PROFS AND OUR FRIENDS AND NEVER AMOUNT TO ANYTHING AND EVERYONE WILL KNOW HOW PATHETIC YOU ARE AND WE WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO DO ANYTHING…. You get the idea.
It was (and still is) a constant and ANGRY storm rattling around inside my body. I didn’t care, BUT I CARED A LOT. I didn’t really want to be alive all that much, BUT HOW EMBARRASSING IT WOULD BE TO CHECK OUT AND HAVE EVERYONE KNOW HOW MUCH OF A FAILURE I AM. I knew I could do better. I knew I could be better. I know I should be better. I know that if I could just…. DO THE THING I would feel. so. much. better. But I could not do the thing. And it didn’t matter that I couldn’t do the thing because I was worthless and terrible and no one cared anyway. BUT IT MATTERED A LOT THAT I COULD NOT DO THE THING EMMA WHY CAN’T YOU DO THE THING JUST DO IT AND YOU WILL FEEL BETTER. It was a swirling cycle of my mood bottoming out, making me unable to do the things I needed or wanted to do; then feeling guilty about not being able to do those things, sparking a false motivation to do the things. But just kidding. I couldn’t actually do the thing. I tried, but couldn’t. Rinse. Repeat. I was embarrassed when I couldn’t make it to class. Everyone else made it to class no problem. It’s sort of hard to explain to a classmate that you didn’t feel like being a live human being today so you couldn’t do the thing; it’s just easier to say “I’m not feeling well”.
What I do need to tell you here is that sometimes “doing the thing” was writing a paper or going to work/class, or going grocery shopping, or paying bills, or going to the gym, cleaning the cat’s litter box or vacuuming. You know, regular, normal, human adult type things. But a lot of the time, “doing the thing” was something like: getting out of bed, having a shower, eating something other than cereal or a bagel or a handful of chocolate chips, putting on clean clothes, brushing my teeth, making a phone call… Like, things that lots of people do on autopilot; things that I should not have to consciously will myself to do. This is where a lot of the guilt comes from. Why THE HECK can I not remember to take out the garbage? Why can’t I drag myself out of bed today? WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU EMMA JUST GET THE HELL OUT OF BED AND DO THE THING. The problem with all of this is that none of it makes any sense. I have no “reason” to feel the way that I do. That’s the thing; there’s no logic. I cannot reason my illness away, no matter how hard I try. My illness doesn’t care that it’s irrational. It doesn’t care that I’ve got things to accomplish and people to love and relationships to cultivate and things to create.
My illness doesn’t care about any of that. It only wants somewhere to rest… And apparently latching itself onto my bones, making itself very at home in my heart and mind, poisoning every single aspect of my life, is a neat spot for a nap. It makes things foggy and sharp all at the same time. It warps any good feeling that I have into a weapon of sabotage, and magnifies every bad feeling that I have so big that I am crushed breathless under the weight of it. It’s a slow killer. But I’m not dead yet. Not by a longshot.
Using battle rhetoric to describe how we survive our illness is the only way to adequately convey what we feel to those who have never experienced a mental illness. It’s a fight. It’s uphill, every. single. day. Some are easier than others…. Some… Well, I don’t ever want you to feel that. I don’t ever want you to know. What I do want you to know is that I’m trying. That I am fighting. Sometimes, the biggest act of defiance I can muster is moving from my bed to the couch. But I can promise you that it’s a victory.